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The much loved but often-overlooked city of Bari boasts grand boulevards, a fabulous opera, and an ambiance of sophistication and youthfulness alike that emanates from the popular university. The Basilica of San Nicola, in the historical center of the city, holds relics of St. Nicholas and Castello Svevo was erected in the 12th century over ruins of a Byzantine fortress. The port bustles with commercial activity and ferries shepherding tourists to Greece against the backdrop of the glistening Adriatic Sea. Your private transfer will greet you upon your arrival at Karol Wojtyla Airport ready to escort you to the charming Gargano promontory and the seaside town of Vieste.
The scenic drive will take you along the naturally diverse landscape as it juts out and into the Adriatic to contrast with the verdant trees of Umbra Forest and accentuated by the combination of sandy beaches and historical villages. The colorful tower homes of Vieste descend down the hillside over the eastern shores of the Gargano promontory with steep cobbled lanes that are filled with the aromas of fresh espresso and grilling squid topped with freshly squeezed lemon juice. The narrow alleyways lead to open vistas where you will marvel over the Pizzomunno cliffs. Locals swim in the harbor waters or venture into the scenic protected paths of the Parco Nazionale del Gargano for a day spent cycling or hiking along the craggy slopes.
The remainder of the day will be yours to immerse yourself in the comforts of the enchanting seaside destination. The medieval center exemplifies the warren of lanes with friendly cats shuffling between the homes. The blend of history and scenery welcomes you to Vieste with a breathtaking first impression.
The morning light sweeps across the eastern seascape of Vieste returning the glow of the whitewashed walls and golden pebbles scattered across the beaches. The maze of staircases and alleyways circle the 11th-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta’s Romanesque façade. After breakfast, your guide will meet you in the comforts of your hotel lobby and lead you to the remarkable site of Castle del Monte, located less than 40 miles from the center of Bari. Much like the origins of the Vieste castle, Castel del Monte was erected under the orders of Frederick II of Swabia in the 13th century and has become a shining example of genius design and quality engineering during the medieval period.
The diverse styles of the structure embody different periods of history combining the clean lines of the Romanic-style lions at the entrance and the immense 85-foot tall towers. The octagonal floorplan was meant to blend the symbol of the earth and the sky with eight interconnected chambers, and the doors gleam with colored marble while the interior is mostly barren with the treasures stolen or removed centuries ago. However, the view from the towers offers a sweeping panorama of the Puglian countryside.
The scent of the olive groves fills the air as you overlook the verdant farms and tranquil sheep grazing in the pastures. You will then continue to a private cooking class taught by a local woman eager to share with you the secrets of regional cuisine. Her kitchen will exude the scent of flour and fresh herbs with the slightly bitter aroma of extra virgin olive oil. Ingredients like nuts, fruits, and legumes litter the table alongside a bottle of red wine. Before touching the abundance of produce, you must first learn the art of making orecchiette, the famous ear-shaped pasta of the region.
One of the most popular pastimes in Vieste is strolling along the seaside at the edge of town. The breeze carries the refreshing aroma of the briny water, and the scenic walkway offers views over the water to the preserved Norman castle and renowned Pizzomunno rockface. At breakfast, the scent of espresso accompanies the spongy texture and crisp, crumbly surface of a traditional pasticciotto, a small cake stuffed with custard, chocolate, cherry, or pistachio. The slightly bitter flavor of the coffee balances the decadent sweetness of the pastry.
You will venture out of Vieste after breakfast to reach the welcoming ambiance of Monopoli, a historical fishing port decorated with whitewashed buildings and crystal-clear turquoise water. The small town somehow contains 99 districts known as contrade, each distinctive when viewed from the Loggia del Pilato lookout. The natural terrace overlooks the countryside and the town sweeping across farmsteads and churches surrounding the collected neighborhoods.
The Castello Carlo VI crowns the Punta Penna promontory and the street market brims with gorgeous local produce set beneath the 17th-century bell tower that stands over 196 feet tall. Dig your toes into the warm, thin stretch of sand of Cala Porta Vecchia set beneath old walls. You can bask in the comforts and enthusiastic ambiance of the public beach where the water gently laps against the shoreline. Continue to the charming and more famous town of Polignano a Mare, birthplace of renowned Italian crooner Domenico Modugno who wrote and performed Volare.
Beyond the classic pride in their native-born artist, Polignano a Mare charms with the perfect blend of whitewashed architecture and antique churches as quiet streets lead to the Porta Vecchia gate and the shimmering crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic Sea. The historical city center fills with the aroma of espresso spilling into the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II while the local teenagers dive from the soaring bleached cliffs into the sea from nearly 65 feet above the water. Caves pothole the rockface to uncover the remnants of Greek settlements dating back to the 4thcentury BC. Outside of town stand the Castellana Caves, a remarkable network of tunnels that reach over 9,842 feet long with temperatures averaging 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The natural elements carved the limestone with mineral deposits to decorate the walls with dangling stalactites and rising stalagmites taking unique shapes and shimmering with flecks of crystallization in the light.
The returning morning light brings the bright peach-hues back to the walls of the Church of San Francesco, which was built in the 15th century along Punta San Francesco. You will travel southbound with your private guide to reach the pearly-white town of Ostuni located topping a promontory like a crown. The remarkable, authentic gem contains a series of narrow alleyways, arches, and staircases dating back to the Middle Ages with each ascending step offering a view of the Adriatic. The surrounding hills shine with green that contrasts with the slight pink hue of the church. The city was settled as far back as the 1st century BC and later overtaken by the Romans, sacked after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and controlled by the Normans.
The city of Taranto is located approximately 37 miles west from Ostuni and was once a magnificent colony established by the Spartans. The historical city center overtakes a small artificial island constructed to protect the lagoon with the newer city boasting wide avenues alongside the antique architecture. TheMuseo Nazionale Archeologico di Tarantohouses an incredible collection of 1st-century BC glassware, as well as one of the largest gatherings of Greek terracotta figures.
Along with the history displayed in the museum, the city celebrates its past with an annual competition of wooden rowboats known locally as the Paliodi Taranto. In 2019, the Taranto Palio celebrations being on May 8th, but the most exciting round of competition takes place in June during the Festival of the Sea, when musical and civic performances accentuate the festive ambiance surrounding the race between 10 wooden rowboats representing the different neighborhoods of the city steered by men dressed in traditional costumes.
Before returning to Vieste for the night, you can stop at a family-owned olive orchard for a lesson in harvesting and producing quality local olive oil. The scent of the countryside fills with a semi-sweet aroma deriving from the trees mixing with a subtle spice. The landscape provides the olives with their distinct flavor that differ from the olives grown in other parts of the country. Your guide will take you through the trees and introduce you to the ancient bark that has produced olives for centuries. The oil, once called “liquid gold,” by the epic poet Homer, is made when nearly-ripe olives are ground into paste. Producers separate water and oil ensuring supreme flavor in the grade Extra Virgin, meaning the producer makes little or no alteration to the essential oil during its extraction. In the tasting room, you can let a small sample of oil coat your palate to find a touch of bitterness giving way to a bit of delightful spice.
Wake as the water laps against the golden sands that edge the base of Pizzomunno rock. The beach stretches for nearly two miles with the best spots covered with sunbeds and umbrellas and neighbored with popular bars. You can step away from the water for the day to reach the charming city of Lecce, often referred to as the Florence of the South. Lecce’s beauty derives from the 17th-century Baroque architecture featuring decorative gargoyles and spindly columns. The graceful historical city center delights with shop windows displaying extravagant paper-mâché figures. The Piazza del Duomo acts as the focal point of the city with all winding lanes seemingly leading to the festive public space bordered by the 12th-century cathedral and episcopal palace.
The Basilica of Santa Croce embodies the creativity of the Lecce Baroque movement created during the 16th and 17th centuries with a fascinating display of sheep, dodos, cherubs, and captivating beasts adorning the façade. You continue south reaching the town of Otranto on the edge of Italy’s famous geographical stiletto. The once-thriving Roman port retains a sense of wonder stemming from Greek origins and occupation by Romans, Longobards, and Byzantines before the infamous 15th century sacking by the Turks. The historical city center stands on a low promontory that overlooks the tranquil bay. Cafes offer views to the water and the constant aroma of espresso while narrow lanes weave between whitewashed homes leading to the pentagonal-shaped castle.
The nearby marina entertains with sailboats and other vessels wading in the waters as the 11th-century Romanesque cathedral boasts mosaic floors that rival the famous Christian artwork of northern Ravenna. Forty-two gigantic columns have been made from granite and marble and support the structure that frames the mosaic work that runs the length of the 12th-century nave. The artwork depicts scenes from the Old Testament alongside traditional tales of chivalry. Nearby, the town of Scorrano holds an annual night of lights to celebrate Santa Domenica each July, and the Night of Lights attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually to see the artistic decorations and fantastic glowing choreographies. Each evening the astounding parade of lights ends with the cracking of fireworks filling the night sky.
The sunlight pours over the antique trabuco, a fishing machine typical of the southern Adriatic region made of a massive wooden structure with a platform anchored to the coastal rocks. The traditional mechanics of the machine date bake to the Phoenicians with the earliest documented existence of a trabuco on the Gargano promontory occurring in the 18th century. After breakfast, you can board the ferry bound for the stunning Tremiti archipelago, a collection of three islands situated approximately 22 miles from the Vieste’s coast. Ragged cliffs and hidden sandy coves spread beneath the verdant pine woods to fill the air with a mixture of spiced evergreen aromas and the salty sea breeze.
The main island of San Domino offers lush beauty but was once used for crop growing and eventually turning the stunning combination of sandy beaches and magnificent limestone cliffs into a hotspot for sunbathers. Venture into the water for a remarkable snorkeling tour of the Tremiti Islands Reserve with its clear waters and a rich collection of sea flora and fauna. The water is refreshing beneath the warm Southern Italian sun, and you can dip up to 16 feet below the surface using the snorkel and mask. The largest rocky bay on the island shines a deep, clear blue and teems with marine life resembling a dreamlike postcard including the secret life of lobsters, sea breams, and seahorses.
The island of San Nicola is the smallest of the three islands but boasts the largest year-round residents. Benedictine monks founded the Santa Maria a Mare Abbey in the 11th century on earlier foundations, but have since transformed the grounds into an eclectic structure through 15th and 18th-century renovations. Relax on the sand or enjoy a boat ride across the crystal-clear Adriatic at a leisurely pace as you circumnavigate the island in search of the celebrated coves. Marinella Beach is one of the most popular stretches of pristine sand and stoic water on the island and is only reachable by boat or a difficult walking path obstructed by sharp boulders and sheer drops.
As the day begins, the water below the cliffs will fill with kitesurfers catching the morning wind. The produce market on Via Jenner bustles with locals searching for delicious olive oil and locally produced cheeses like creamy burrata. At breakfast, you once again indulge in the delightful balance of bitter and sweet with an espresso and decadent pasticciotto.After the meal, your private transfer will greet you in the hotel lobby when you are ready and escort you away from the stellar antique homes of Vieste to reach the airport in Bari, where you will board your flight home.
The coastline of Puglia brings the gorgeous landscape, vibrant coastal life, and unique history relatively unknown to tourists for an authentic and enchanting adventure. Your 7-day Italy vacation will be enjoyed as the Adriatic Sea and Ionian seas wrap around the region’s more than 308 square miles for marvelous views of azure waters against rocky cliffs, jutting promontories, and distinctive antique towns. The interior woodlands carry captivating folklore while the cafes overlooking the water host fishers retelling historical tales of the town that edge into myth.
Your gorgeous escape to Italy will begin with your arrival at Bari’s international airport. The beauty of the Adriatic coastline quickly comes into view with layers of sparkling azure, turquoise, and cobalt waters. Norman castles and Spanish forts bring a touch of the past before your reach into the present in the quiet clifftop town of Vieste. Settle into the comforts of the narrow walkways and breathtaking panoramas with six nights spent nestled into luxurious accommodations in town. The beauty of using Vieste as a home-base is that you can experience all of the pleasures of exploring the Puglian coastline and countryside without the hassle of moving to a new hotel every few nights. This will allow you to soak up the charm and bask in the sunlight as it pours over the whitewashed walls of the old city and across the sandy beaches.
The region of Puglia opens a new vision of Italy absent of Roman ruins and medieval towns replaced by warm southern waters, verdant olive groves, magnificent seafood, and a breadth of history that spans the Phoenicians to the Spanish. Whitewashed homes overtake the image of structures crafted from brick, and the images of old women dressed in black perusing the produce at the farmers market fade to teenagers leaping from the cliffs into the depths of the sea.
Visit impressive castles and wander through the narrow medieval lanes before arriving at beautiful basilicas situated in the heart of town. Snorkel in the secluded coves of the Tremiti Islands and then bask in the shade of an olive tree before sampling the distinct flavors of the different classes of olive oil. Dive deep into the art of Southern Italian cooking by learning the array of dishes to separate the quality, consistency, and tastes of Puglia from other regions of Italy. Interested in learning more by seeing some of our travelers’ Italy vacation tour reviews? Click here for more.
$1920 per person (excluding international flights)