If you want to holiday in Italy like a true Italian, then head down to Puglia.

While no longer the true underappreciated gem it once was, the region – stretching across the heel of Italy's boot – is still less visited by foreign travelers than other coastal areas of the country.

From the best time to visit to the local rhythm of life, here are some things you need to know when planning your stay in Puglia.

1. A couple of days just isn’t enough

You’ll need more than just a couple of days to truly see all that Puglia has to offer, from the splendid beaches of the Gargano and Salento peninsulas to history-filled cities like Bari, Lecce and Taranto and the picturesque towns like Ostuni and Monopoli. A couple of weeks will give you ample time to have the best of both worlds and enjoy both getting lost in old historic town centers and sprawl down on a beach under the sun.

Puglia is quite a long region, and driving from its northernmost point to its southernmost tip takes around five hours. To make the most of your time there, plan to stay in a couple of different bases so you can reduce your travel time around the region.

Plan your travels in Puglia with this guide to the region's 8 best places to visit

A row of yellow and white umbrellas and sunloungers with a sole figure sunbathing on a lounger on an otherwise empty beach
September is one of the best times to visit Puglia, with glorious weather and few people © corradobarattaphotos / Getty Images

2. Summer is amazing, but shoulder season is better

If you want to experience a true Italian summer, then July and August are the months to do that. It doesn’t get much more summery than this, but you’ll have to share cities, towns and beaches with quite a lot of fellow tourists. Since it’s the high season, prices shoot up — as does the temperature, which can become difficult to manage especially if you’re walking around historic city centers filled with stone buildings that are just reflecting their heat onto you.

The best time to visit Puglia remains shoulder season, so mid- to late-spring and then September until mid-October. The weather is milder but still lovely enough to allow you to take a dip in the sea, and there aren’t as many crowds – especially if you visit in September, when most Italians have returned to their everyday lives of work and school.

3. It's possible to get around by train 

While renting a car remains the best option to move around Puglia at your own pace and with all the flexibility that making your own schedule allows, you can still reach major cities by train. And when it comes to trains, the Trenitalia app is an absolutely must-have. Relatively easy to navigate, the app will tell you everything there is to know about routes, schedules and the price of tickets. You can also buy your tickets through the app, which allows you to skip possible lines at ticket offices or bypass the problem of not there being a ticket office altogether.

4. Ticket offices are not the only places that sell tickets

Ticket offices might not be that easy to find, especially when it comes to buses or train stations in smaller towns. In that case look around for a tabaccheria (tobacco shop) or an edicola (newsstand), where you can usually purchase valid tickets while avoiding the possible additional fees of buying them directly on board the bus or train.

5. Know the restrictions on the roads

As mentioned, having your own car is the best way to explore all that Puglia has to offer. But betware of the risks of fines. When in bigger cities, look out for ZTLs or "Limited Traffic Zones". Entering one of these ZTLs might land you with a pretty considerable fine that is sure to put a damper on your vacation, so make sure to check street signs carefully. They will usually be white with a red circle and the writing “Zona a traffico limitato” in black marking the entrance to any ZTL.

Don't miss Puglia's 8 best experiences

A swimming pool built into a seaside cliff
From restaurants to lidos, book in advance for everything during high season in Puglia © GoneWithTheWind / Shutterstock

6. Always make your summer bookings in advance

If you’re traveling during the high season, booking in advance is recommended for everything, but especially for a spot at one of the many beach clubs, or lido, that dot the coast of Puglia. While you can definitely find some "free" beaches where all you have to do is lay down your towel and maybe plant your beach umbrella, if you want to enjoy the amenities of a lido — like beach chairs, changing rooms, a bar, sometimes even small soccer pitches and beach volleyball courts — it’s best if you reserve your spot well in advance.

7. Swimwear is for the beach, not for the town

Even if you’re in a coastal town with the most magnificent beach you’ve ever seen, keep in mind that swimwear should only be worn when you’re actually on the beach. Several towns have regulations against wearing swimwear when strolling around their centers, and it’s also generally something Italians don’t do — just throw on a dress or shirt to cover up and you’re good to go.

8. Do not disturb during the pennica

There’s only one solution when it comes to beating the high summer heat and that is sleeping through the hottest hours of the day. This is a sacred moment for locals in Puglia, and in Italy alike. The pennica (afternoon nap) can happen anywhere from midday to five-ish and you shouldn’t be surprised to see shops and others activities close up during those hours and reopen later in afternoon. That’s just the rhythm of life in Puglia, so take it in your stride and nap away.

9. Some basic Italian goes a long way

While people at your hotel or hostel or restaurant in a major city in Puglia will probably know some English, the same isn’t true for the people you might encounter in a small village along the road. Learning some basic sentences in Italian is a good way to make sure you’re not completely cut off from locals around you should the need arise and it’s also something that is generally appreciated and that immediately puts the people you’re talking with in a good mood.

Greet people with "buongiorno" (good morning) or "buonasera" (good evening). Instead of "please" and "thank you" say "per favore" and "grazie." To ask about the price of something, say "quanto costa?" and to find the nearest bathroom, ask "dov’è il bagno?" To make it back to English, you could explain that you don’t speak Italian well ("Non parlo bene italiano") and ask if the other person can talk to you in English ("Parli inglese?" or "Parla inglese?", to be polite).

A small souvenir store in a traditional round stone house
Be sure to greet people when entering stores and restaurants in Puglia © Littleaom / Shutterstock

10. Perfect your greeting etiquette

You may have noticed that Italians usually exchange two kisses on the cheek as a form of greeting. While that is usually reserved for friends or relatives — you won’t be expected to do the same with someone you just met — there’s definitely a greeting etiquette to keep in mind. It is considered polite to always greet people when entering a shop, especially if it’s a smaller one, or a restaurant, with a quick “buongiorno” (good morning) or “buonasera” (good evening), which will always be well-received.

11. Always keep some cash on hand

While almost everywhere in major cities and tourist areas will have no problem with accepting electronic payments, cash might be appreciated in smaller towns and villages. Keep a small amount of euros in cash with you just in case the place you’re eating at or the shop you want to buy a souvenir from doesn’t take cards.

12. Take common sense safety precautions

Don’t believe rumors that say that Puglia is an unsafe region to travel. This stereotype – with some foundations in truth but not as extreme as some might have you believe – still sadly lingers in the south of Italy. Just use the same common sense you would use when traveling anywhere and be especially aware of pickpockets. If you have a car, don’t leave anything of value that can be seen through the windows.

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