Why You Should Skip the Amalfi Coast for Puglia and the East Coast
All photos by Josh Meister Photo.
After almost three weeks hopping around northern Italy and hitting up all the must-see sights, we were ready for some less tourist-heavy destinations. We had one week before we had to be in Ancona (sort of northeast Italy) to catch an overnight ferry to Croatia, and we decided to head to the southeast coast, the heel of the boot.
Why did we decide to go there? Because I spent way too much time trolling Pinterest for destination ideas, and my jaw dropped when I came across stunning images of gorgeous natural pools and rock formations – that was Puglia. So it got added to the list.
Puglia is the heel of Italy's boot and a region north of that, bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto to the south. It's full of those aforementioned gorgeous pools and rocks as well as expansive beaches, two of which are often referred to as “the Maldives of Italy,” and we explored as many of them as we could.
We made Lecce our home base, staying in a cute (and much less expensive than in Amalfi) Airbnb ($55/night). In two days, we visited five spots. Day one, we headed straight south to Sant'Andrea and the amazing rock formations, Grotta della Poesia, which is all about jumping from the rocks into the crystal water, and Piscina Naturale di Marina Serra, a gorgeous natural pool. On the second day, we cut across to the other side of the heel, visiting Gallipoli, an adorable fishing town that has some great seafood, and Pescoluse, for the long sandy white beach and clear water.
We also let our Airbnb host convince us to make a detour on our way north to check out Matera. Even though it was only two hours away from her (and really not quite on the way for us), she had never visited until this year and kept gushing about how amazing and special it is. Before we got to Matera, we made an easy pit stop in Alberobello to see the Trulli, limestone buildings with an iconic stone conical roof. They're adorable in an odd way, very fairytale-like, but it was unfortunately a very touristy destination. Then it was back on the road to the “special place”.
Matera is an ancient city also known as the Subterranean City, lying in a small canyon carved out by the Gravina River. It's considered the third-longest continuously inhabited human settlement in the world. Additionally, it was chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2019.We figured it would be a good place to break up the drive north and booked a night at the Basiliani Hotel ($0 and 10,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points), which was a study in contrasts. It's essentially dug out of the rocks, basically a cave hotel, yet designed with a modern and minimal style. It also happened to be the most remote of the hotels in the central area, which was cool, because it felt as close to the ancient Matera as possible. The city is beautiful, and we wished we had a little more time there to take a tour of the Sassi (ancient cave dwellings), but with just a few hours, we did a self-guided tour, and still saw a ton! It's a small area, easily covered on foot in that time, and there's a lot to explore – churches, museums, crypts, and restaurants.
All in all, we spent significantly less on the east coast than we would have on the west for equally (or more) beautiful landscapes, and we were able to explore some ancient culture as well! Win-win for sure!