The best way to get around Puglia is definitely by renting your own set of wheels, be they four or two. While you can easily navigate major cities with trains and buses, the same is not true when you leave the city.

With your own car, camper van, bike or motorbike you can roam the region to your heart’s content and stop along the road for whatever catches your fancy, from the many breathtaking natural landscapes that Puglia has to offer to its picturesque villages to tiny restaurants where you can sample the delicious local food.

Make sure to check whether or not you need an International Driving Permit to drive in Italy, and follow this guide to five of the best drives in Italy's boot heel.

Scene in Otranto a small touristic town in Salento, Italy
Stop in photogenic Otranto during your journey along the Litoranea Salentina © Wirestock / Getty Images

1. Litoranea Salentina

Best road trip in Salento
Otranto - Santa Maria di Leuca; 47 km (29 miles); a day

All beaches in Puglia are what dreams are made of, but Salento is undoubtedly you'll find the most popular ones. To take in some of the incredible scenery, drive along the road informally known as Litoranea Salentina – actually the Strada Provincial 87, which then turns into the Strada Provinciale 358 – that connects the town of Otranto the village of Santa Maria di Leuca.

The road takes you along the Adriatic Sea, passing through a number of villages and picture-worthy spots: the Punta Palascià lighthouse, blinding white against the sunlight; the Torre Minervino, a road-side ruin of what once was a watchtower; Castro, where you can visit the small 12th century castle and its archeological museum, or take a guided tour of the fascinating Zinzulusa cave.

Stop for a dip in the sea in any village you pass before finally arriving in Santa Maria di Leuca, located at Puglia’s southernmost tip. Once there, stop by the church of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae, scope out the village's many 18th century holiday villas, and a tour into one of the several caves that dot the shoreline on both sides of the village.

Planning tip: The beaches here are more rocky than sandy – consider bringing a pair of water shoes so you can still enjoy your swimming time.

People walk through Castellana Grotto in Puglia, Italy
Castellana Grotto is a subterranean wonderland © Maremagnum / Getty Images

2. Valle d’Itria road trip

Best for village-hopping
Taranto - Ceglie Messapica - Ostuni - Locorotondo - Alberobello - Castellana Grotte - Taranto; 167 km (104 miles); two or three days

Starting out from Taranto, take a couple of days to explore the Valle d’Itria that surrounds it, also known as "the valley of the trulli" for the abundance of the extremely picturesque conic houses that are typical of this area of Puglia. While all of these villages can be visited in one day, taking it slow and making a small road trip out of it allows you to really appreciate all the wonderful details of these places.

Start from Taranto and head to Ceglie Messapica, a town that dates all the way back to the 8th century BCE with a historic center that is worth getting lost in, and then continue onwards to the famous Ostuni, with its white buildings and winding roads. From there, it’s time to visit the trulli – head to Locorotondo and especially Alberobello, whose trulli have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. For a truly unique experience, stay overnight in one of these characterful buildings – plenty of trulli here that have been turned into bed and breakfasts.

Your last stop is Castellana Grotte, whose main draw is the caves that give the village its name; they're open for visitors of all ages who want to explore this subterranean universe of incredible rock formations.

Planning tip: Finding parking in some of these villages and towns might be tricky, especially during the high season. If you don’t mind walking, try searching for spots away from the town center. Remember that only parking spots marked by white lines are free; blue lines are meter bays, while yellow lines indicate a spot reserved for people with a disability.

3. Bari coast

Best family road trip
Bari - Monopoli; 43 km (27 miles); a day 

It doesn’t take long to drive down from Bari to Monopoli, which makes it the perfect road trip if you’re traveling with kids who might get bored spending a long time in the car. 

The drive offers some incredible views over the Adriatic Sea and a myriad of interesting stops along the way. Stretch your legs in the tiny but picturesque village of Cozze and stop for a seafood sandwich at the famous pescaria in Polignano a Mare before continuing onward to Monopoli.

People walk among white rock formations on Pizzomunno Beach near Vieste
Walk among the white rock formations on Pizzamunno Beach © Maremagnum / Getty Images

4. The road to Gargano National Park

Best road trip for nature sights
Peschici - Vieste - Mattinata; 70 km (43 miles); one or two days

The "spur" on the northern side of Puglia is occupied almost entirely by the Gargano National Park, one of the most extensive protected natural areas in Italy. While there are many ways to visit, this short drive allows you to enjoy park landscapes and that obligatory stop at the beach.

Starting in Peschici, drive eastward towards Vieste, a town that boasts one of the best shorelines in Italy. It's also home to a massive white monolith known as Pizzomunno that towers 25m high from one of Vieste’s beaches and is the de facto symbol of the town. 

Once you’ve had your fill of sun and delicious food in Vieste, backtrack to the Strada Provinciale 52bis, which will lead you right through the Gargano in the area known as Foresta Umbra, literally "shadowy forest." Its groves of beech trees were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017 and the parts of the forest that allow visitors will make for a magical walk.

Then continue south until you reach Mattinata, a town with another one of the most beautiful shorelines in Italy – as evidenced by the various Blue Flag certifications the town received over the years – and a picturesque historical center to get lost in.

5. Roundtrip to the castle

Best road trip for history lovers
Gravina in Puglia - Castel del Monte - Gravina in Puglia; 95 km (59 miles); one or two days

One of the most famous sights in Puglia is Castel del Monte, a 13th century fortress with a peculiar octagonal plan – it's been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996 and is pictured on the back of Italian one eurocent coins. Its particular shape has contributed to the many legends that surround the castle, from the esoteric to the mundane. What’s certain is that it’s an incredible place to visit, and it sits within a short drive from Gravina.

The drive will take you through the Alta Murgia National Park, home to beautiful natural sights and a number of towns and villages you can stop in to explore. Don’t skip the town that is the start and end of your round trip, Gravina; this place has been continuously inhabited by more than ten thousand years and it's known for the canyons that give it its name (gravine in Italian). The town’s most famous sight is the Ponte dell’Acquedotto, a bridge stretching over one of these canyons – you might have seen Daniel Craig’s James Bond jump off of it in the movie No Time to Die.

Detour: If you love hiking through nature then consider visiting the trails of the Bosco Finizio, located a ten minutes’ drive away from Castel del Monte. Several companies offer guided tours through the area.

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