An outsider destination in southern Italy, Puglia is a good place to stay with the family. Ideally located between the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic, this little piece of unspoiled land is the perfect place to enjoy a seaside holiday, including the charm of cities now known (but not too much: great!) for their bubbling and friendly atmosphere.
Less popular than Tuscany and Sicily, although the region is gaining popularity with each season, the heel of the boot is a little paradise for families craving sun and dolce vita. If Puglia is obviously known for its paradisiacal beaches (the white sand of some has given them the nickname of Maldives of Salento), the baroque churches, the astonishing trulli or the museum city of Lecce, there are a billion very good reasons to explore the far south of Italy. You just have to walk around Ostuni or Monopoli at the end of the day, to fully immerse yourself in the Apulian art of living. Whether you decide to watch the sun go down on a beach or over a century-old olive grove in the heart of the countryside, the charm will work anyway. If your children are still very young, we advise you to stay there in June. In a region where temperatures tend to rise sharply in summer, this is a real luxury.
From mid-May, the lidos are already open and you will find less tourists than around August 15. Across the country, Ferragosto is the time that Italians choose to enjoy their summer vacation. Note, however, that if you want to impress your children, the two summer months also coincide with several religious holiday celebrations all over the place. On this occasion, different cities offer great illuminations. Those of Scorrano (in the province of Lecce) for the Festa di Santa Domenica at the beginning of July are among the most impressive.
A large family farm property that you will find in southern Italy and more particularly in Puglia. The authentic character of these charming buildings has given some landowners the idea of transforming them into exclusive resorts. Like Masseria Torre Coccaro, one of the hotels in the Little Guest selection. Ideally located between Ostuni, the white city, and the adorable little port town of Monopoli, Torre Coccaro is an intimate address where the Apulian art of living takes is at its best: whitewashed facade, swimming pool lined with typical stones of the region, magical gardens… Not to mention the proximity to the Adriatic Sea. If you are used to travel far to bathe in turquoise water, the beaches bordering the Masseria should leave you with unforgettable memories. While you bubble in the Aveda spa or take a cooking class with the chef, the kids enjoy the swimming pool and the secure areas of the hotel.
Observing landscapes and preserving the environment are some of the values you like to pass on to your children? Book a family stay at the Marenea Suite Hotel. Given its proximity to the Marina di Marittima nature reserve, this hotel decorated in a sober spirit tinged with romantic touches is the ideal base for enjoying the seaside, but also the many natural sites to visit in the surroundings. Little girls will fall in love with the periwinkle blue four-poster beds. The boys in the mountains of cakes served every morning for colazione. From your hotel, you are just ten minutes from Grotta Zinzulusa, one of the many sea caves to be discovered along the coast of Salento. On the program of this boat visit: a landscape made up of rocks in technicolor and an abundant and varied marine fauna.
The Porto Selvaggio Natural Park is another essential base if you like to spend your family holiday in a magical and unspoiled landscape. Located on the Ionian coast, this little piece of nature between the sea and the maquis is an invitation to relax. Recently refurbished in a sober and contemporary style and equipped with two swimming pools, including a large pool with a view of the sea, and with a Kids-Club, the Grand Hotel Riviera could make you want to stay in for a whole week or more. It would be a shame as the region is so rich in hiking trails, to be explored on foot or by bike. Good thing: you can actually hire them from the hotel.
While all the hotels in our selection have a private beach, we still recommend that you explore other lidos. Because in Puglia, you can find some very pretty beaches, both trendy and totally kids-friendly. Like Lulla Bay, a relaxation area with bar and restaurant decorated in a nomadic-chic spirit; a place where you dance, between two colored parasols, and where you can eat specialties revisited in a fusion spirit. Young teens will love the inspired atmosphere of the Coachella festival. A magical place which, at sunset, turns into a sort of fun fair, to be enjoyed with your feet in the water. For a seaside lunch with the kids, book a bed (and table) at White Beach, a lido located in Torre Canne, between Ostuni and Monopoli. Children will love the playground, but especially the pretty swings with a view of the sea. Unless they decide to take a nap under the white sails of your beach bed.
. If you are staying in the south of Puglia, don’t forget to book your deckchairs at Lido La Castellana: a beach – between sea and garden – hidden a few steps from the pretty village of Otranto. If the call of the sea is, like everywhere in Puglia, irresistible, this small family beach club is an invitation to laze on the sand. A place to play, dream and enjoy small regional dishes, that you will enjoy in your swimsuit. On the way back, stop at Gelateria Cavour (Largo Cavour, 8 in Otrento). Their incredible frozen brioche is just one of the many reasons to try this address. While the kids share this XL-sized ice cream bomb, treat yourself to a little local combo: a scoop of San Marzano liqueur cream ice. Also try their incredible apricot sorbet from Salento. Are you a fan of heavenly sunsets? Take a detour to Bahia, a beach in Porto Cesare. The fleeting moment when the summer sun kisses the turquoise waves is absolutely magical.
In Puglia, there is nothing that makes children laugh as much as a trullo, this small white house with a conical roof: an architectural rarity only found in this region of Italy. If you are traveling out of season, take the kids to Alberobello, the town of trulli. If it lacks a bit of authenticity (especially the main street), it remains a little paradise for kids. Walk through the Monti district (the most touristic), and, for once, let them enter the souvenir shops. They will love to slip into these funny little houses. Note that the prettiest photo of Alberobello is the one you take from the top of town; the ideal spot for a family selfie. A little hunger along the way? Rather than stopping in an over-crowded place, take a break at La Lira, a foccaceria where you can try the famous Puccia, an Apulian specialty so trendy that it can now be found in some trendy Parisian spots.
Also, don’t miss Grottaglie, a ceramics village located south of Taranto, on a rocky escarpment overlooking the Ionian Sea. Very trendy for a few years, the colorful patterned plates of Nicola Fasano, the star of the village, dress the most beautiful tables in the region and beyond. If you are planning a visit to Grottaglie with the family, be sure to stop by the many workshops in the village. All located in caves (a feature that explains its name), they offer pretty pieces, some of which are linked to local folklore, but also demonstrations of their know-how. The must-have souvenir: a pine cone, one of the symbols of the region. Placed on the gable end of houses, it is supposed to bring good luck to its occupants.
It’s hard to separate Italy from its cuisine. In Puglia, it is rather simple, because it focuses on local products: those that are harvested with love, then prepared with passion. If you want to introduce your family to the art of « mangiare bene », book a typical Apulian cooking class. In the beautiful city of Lecce and its surroundings, you will find different packages suitable for families. Salento Cooking Adventures, for example, is located in San Cesario di Lecce, in an old palazzo from the 17th century: baroque decor, classical music, the chef’s explanations … and, at the end of your lesson, the satisfaction of having prepared pasta or pizza that really tastes like it should.
For fans of even more unusual experiences, you can book a « cheese challenge » at a farm in the region or set sail for lunch at sea. You don’t need to know how to sail to fill up with iodine. Salento Cooking Adventures has experienced skippers who offer children the opportunity to combine this gourmet adventure with a snorkling activity they will definitely not forget. Before lunch, they can safely observe the fish in the transparent waters of the Adriatic or Ionian seas. Do your children prefer adventures on dry land? Puglia is a small paradise for horseback riding in the heart of the countryside or by the sea.
As in most parts of Italy, the cuisine of Puglia is divine. Are you staying by the sea? The grilled octopus is an absolute must. If the beast in question will probably frighten your children, this emblematic dish from Puglia will certainly make them want to stick their fork in the plate of the grown-ups. Some lidos (this is the case of Lido Bambu in Monopoli, a beach with incredible charm, to be tested for its restaurant installed under a pretty straw pergola) offer it on the menu. If your flight to Puglia lands in Bari, a stopover in Polignano a Mare, a town perched on top of a cliff, is a must-do. Stop for a moment on the Ponte Lama Monachile. The view of one of the most iconic beaches in Puglia is worth a visit. Right after, treat the children with a giant panino. The best ones are those from Pescaria, an Italian fast food chain specializing in seafood. You will love the decor of the place, but also the menu. Apart from with the panini filled with tuna, octopus or shrimp, the choice of raw fish should reconcile you with fast food. Normal: we are in Italy.
Have a great trip!
Marie, lifestyle journalist, curious traveller, passionate swimmer & step-mother of Charlie (9 y.o)