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Italy has some pretty incredible destinations! I have been lucky enough to visit a lot of Italy over the years! When I visited the Adriatic coast I stumbled upon some of the most incredible Italian coastal towns in the Puglia region! I hope you enjoy these 7 best-hidden gems on the east coast of Italy!
When people hear the coast of Italy, the assumption is usually the Amalfi coast. And though I highly recommend the west coast, it’s pretty overrun with tourists. The Adriatic coast is where the Italians go on vacation!
So if you are looking for a post with all the secret places that are less traveled, you have come to the right place!
The Best 7 Hidden Gems in Puglia: East Coast of Italy
Starting on the east coast of Italy, let’s talk about Bari! This lesser-known beach town and the port city of Southern Italy is a great place to base yourself in the heel of Italy.
Bari is on the coast located in the Adriatic Sea, the body of water that separates Italy from the Balkans. You can fly directly into Bari International Airport and take the train or rent a car to reach the old town.
If you are doing a short trip to the area, I highly recommend taking tours from Bari! it is the best way to see as much as possible in a short time. Bari made a great base for me to shoot off from and explore other beach towns.
If you are visiting Bari you should stay in the old town or as close as possible to explore the beautiful piazzas.
Visit ‘Bari vecchia’, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of Bari. The area is filled with narrow cobbled streets, ancient churches, and colorful buildings.
With plenty of shops and cafes, there is something for everyone here. A stroll along the waterfront is also a must, as is a visit to the nearby Bari Castle and the Petruzzelli Theatre.
Bari is home to some of Italy’s most important religious sites like the Basilica di San Nicola and Castel del Monte. There are so many things to do in Bari I recommend an itinerary of about 3 nights. If you love fresh seafood, Bari is the top place to visit!
The most beautiful beaches in Bari are:
Best Hotels in Bari, Italy
La Felicia is the ideal place to stay in the city center. It is within a 2-minute walking distance from Bari Cathedral, 1,200 feet from Teatro Margherita, and a 5-minute walk from the Basilica of Saint Nicholas! Click here to check availability and prices.
VIS Urban Suites & Spa
VIS Urban Suites&Spa is a fantastic place to stay in the center of Bari! This pet-friendly hotel has a swimming pool which you will appreciate if you are staying in Bari in the summer!
📍 Download my pre-pinned Google map of all the best locations in this post!
My favorite restaurants, bars, hotels and top sights are all saved and ready to use!
Polignano a Mare, Italy
If you are looking for the true hidden gems of Italy, you must visit Polignano a Mare. Of all the small villages on the Adriatic coast of Italy, Polignano a Mare is my favorite.
Just 20 miles south of Bari you can reach this magical place via train or by renting a car. There are also many day trips from Bari to consider.
Italy in the summer months is HOT! I spent time in Italy in September and it was still very warm. So don’t forget sunblock and a hat. The natural beauty of the limestone cliffs and swimming in the turquoise waters is something I will never forget!
I had the best time just strolling around admiring the beautiful buildings and interacting with the friendly local people.
Polignano a Mare is not super touristy; most of the tourists appeared to be Italians. So you can count on a more authentic experience. A local did say that with each passing year, tourism is increasing. Get there now before it’s totally found out!
The most pristine beaches in Polignano a Mare are:
Best Hotels in Polignano a Mare, Italy
Dei Serafini is one of the best places to stay in Polignano a Mare! This hotel is in the historic center of Polignano a Mare, close to the pedestrian area and panoramic sea viewpoints!
Another hot spot in the Salento Peninsula is Monopoli. The most iconic site in Monopoli is the Porta Vecchia. Here you find the traditional blue and red fishing boats. These boats are used today by fishermen looking for octopus and other fish in shallow waters.
Spend the rest of your time in the main square of Monopoli, strolling around the streets of the old town. There are a few local churches of baroque city architecture. My favorite was the Basilica Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia.
A noteworthy stop when you are hungry for a snack is Sottocoperto Pub. I enjoyed a quick bite and cocktail when my feet got too tired from walking. They have a lovely outdoor patio that I hope to someday return.
There are several good beaches to visit in Monopolio such as:
Best Hotels in Monopoli, Italy
Vittorio Emanuele Charming Suites is an 8-minute walk from Porta Vecchia Beach, this hotel is a straight-up luxury. Very well located in the old town of Monopolio, I would book early as it does book up fast. Click here for availability and pricing.
Borgo Albergo 35 Relax & Spa is the perfect place to stay in Monopoli for a romantic stay. Just a 2-minute walk from Porta Vecchia Beach! This property also has a hot tub and hammam! Click here for availability and pricing.
Bellariva Monopoli B&B e Relax is an incredible hotel with sea views and private hot tubs! This hotel is located a little outside the historic center of Monolpoli, but only 12 miles from Alberobello. Click here for availability and pricing.
When looking for hidden gems in Italy I stumbled upon a post about Trulli di Alberobello in Puglia. All it took was seeing one picture and I was booking my plane tickets to Bari.
As I mentioned, I stayed in Bari for my east coast of Italy tour. You can easily visit Trulli di Alberobello from Bari by renting a car or joining a day trip.
Trulli di Alberobello can be traced back to ancient times. In the Middle Ages, these distinctive conical-roofed homes were used as simple dwellings for the poor farmers of Puglia.
Now, Trulli di Alberobello gained popularity and was adopted by wealthy landowners as well.
Today, they are a symbol of Italian culture and architecture, with many of them listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The architecture of Trulli di Alberobello is unique and consists of a dry-stone wall topped with an iconic conical roof, which is made from limestone slabs.
Inside the dwellings, you can find simple furnishings such as wood-burning stoves, stone benches, and cupboards. The outside of the dwellings is often decorated with a series of symbols known as “pitture”, which depict religious and mythological scenes.
Best Hotels in Alberobello, Italy
Brindisi is a port city in the southern region of Apulia, on the Adriatic Sea in Italy. It is known for its beautiful harbor, stunning beaches, and rich history spanning more than 2,500 years.
Most people will have never heard of Brindisi if you ask them. Brindisi’s top attractions include Aragonese Castle, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Castle, and the Church of San Giovanni al Sepolcro.
An amazing way to spend your time here would be to take a hike or bike ride along the Via Traiana, an old Roman road that stretches from Brindisi to Lecce.
For those interested in art and culture, there are plenty of galleries and venues throughout Brindisi such as the Museo Archeologico Provinciale and the Centro Studi e Ricerche Astratte. The Castello di Montebello, an old fortification, also has a museum and offers guided tours.
I loved exploring the city’s rich history of ancient sites like the Torre dell’Orologio, the remains of a watch tower from the 9th century. The spectacular Piazza del Duomo is also worth a visit with its array of Baroque architecture.
Best Hotels in Brindisi, Italy
ApuliaLux Marietta Luxury House is the perfect apartment to stay in Brindisi! You will be close to everything the charming town has to offer. The apartment is within walking distance of the train station. Click here for availability and rates.
A little more inland in the heel of the boot is Lecce. Lecce is a small town known for its rich historical and cultural heritage. It has a long history of being an important crossroads on the Italian peninsula, occupied by various civilizations over the centuries.
The ancient city of Lecce is home to many monuments, buildings, and works of art from various eras, making it a popular destination for tourists interested in exploring Italy’s past.
When a city is known for its gastronomy, I visit! Traditional dishes such as parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan) and orecchiette pasta are just two of the local specialties.
Lecce also has a vibrant nightlife scene which I care less about the older I get, but it is notable. It is also home to some of the country’s best wineries, with vineyards producing excellent wines that can be sampled in many local restaurants and bars.
Best Hotels in Lecce, Italy
Palazzo Rollo is a wonderful place to stay in the center of Lecce. Located in the heart of the city, just overlooking its bell tower, Palazzo Rollo. It is a small hotel that will book up quickly for the summer months. Book early to ensure you get a room! Click here for rates and availability.
The beautiful town of Otranto is known for its historical significance and its beauty. It was the site of the famous Battle of Otranto in 1480, a crucial battle in the Ottoman-Venetian War.
The town also boasts stunning views of both land and sea with its rocky coastline dotted with miles of sandy beaches.
Its ancient architecture is remarkable, including the Aragonese Castle, which dates back to the 15th century and is still standing today.
Additionally, Otranto’s old town is a popular destination for visitors looking to explore its winding streets and small piazzas filled with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.
For those interested in religious history, there are several churches located in the city, including the Church of St. Peter and the Cathedral of Otranto.
Best Hotels in Otranto, Italy
Tenuta Centoporte – Resort Hotel this incredible oasis is set back a bit from the town but is the perfect escape! Surrounded by olive groves, this property named after the Monastero Le Centoporte Abbey dates back to the 6th century. It is a pet-friendly hotel that offers dog sitting! Click here for rates and availability.
B&b Lungomare Otranto is a seaside hotel with sea views! It is conveniently located inside the old town of Otranto! It comes with free parking which will come in handy if you are on a road trip. Click here for rates and availability.
Fun facts about Puglia
1. Puglia is the region of Italy that produces more wine than any other region in the country! It boasts a wide variety of grapes, making it perfect for both red and white wines.
2. The city of Lecce is known as “The Florence of the South” due to its historical architecture and artistry. Many of the ornate buildings in Lecce were built with a unique type of limestone quarried from local hillsides.
3. The historic city of Ostuni is known as the “White City” because its entire old town is painted white, creating an iconic view that can be seen from miles away.
4. The region is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Trulli of Alberobelli and the Sassi di Matera. The Trulli are traditional stone dwellings found in the province of Brindisi and the Sassi are ancient cave dwellings located in Matera.
5. Another fun fact about the Puglia region is that Italy’s oldest olive trees live there. Specifically in, Melendugno. Olive oil is one of Italy’s largest export, next to wine and other fine food exports. Italian olive oil makes a great souvenir from your travels.
Hidden Gems in Northern Italy
Bologna, located in the Emilia Romagna region, is known as the food capital of Italy! Hard to believe it would be considered a hidden gem, but it is! Far fewer tourists in Bologna than I was expecting.
Another Northern Italian gem is Verona! Verona is a charming village filled with romance and plenty of interesting places! I visited Verona while staying in Bologna. For the best day trip to Verona, check out my guide!
Final thoughts on visiting the east coast of Italy
Italy’s east coast is a good place to really experience Italian life. The Puglia region is the part of the coast I really connected with.
The food, Roman ruins, and medieval towns all have a magical quality about them. Finding these hidden gems is what I travel for!
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