Great picks for family fun in Puglia

Aaaaaaaand, drum roll please!  I’m finally talking about Pul-Pul-Puglia.  We had a great trip in April.  Here’s how we did Puglia and you can too.

But first, a little on this region, known as the breadbasket of Italy.  This is farm country.  We drove by endless groves of olives and flowering orchards.  We saw giant tractors driving down the roads.  (Henry:  “where?” every time he just missed one.)  The relatively flat land made it easy to zip between sights. 

Puglia is a region, like Tuscany, so you have plenty of options on things to see and do.  (You can’t just “go to Puglia” and be done with it as I learned when I started planning the trip.  That is like saying you are going to “go to California.”  And then?)

Puglia is the heel of Italy’s boot.  This was actually our first trip south.  It was also our first trip “off the grid,” meaning it was not covered in our trusty Rick Steves.  We talked to friends and scoured the internets for things like 10 Best Places to Visit in Puglia, Puglia tourism, and any blogs we could find.

We spent five days on our trip, and I’m glad we did.  First, the drive is a little longer than our usual day trips.  From Rome, it will take you five-seven hours depending on where you are going.  (We stopped at Reggia di Caserta to break up the drive.)  Second, there is just SO MUCH TO SEE.  I could have filled a month with things to do.  Here are some things we managed to check off our list.


Bari – Puglia’s capital is a port city where life is literally overflowing into the streets. As you stroll narrow streets, crisscrossed with laundry, you can see locals sipping caffe and cooking snacks.

5.28_puglia 10 5.28_puglia 9 5.28_puglia 15

Believe it or not, many cars head down these streets

Believe it or not, many cars head down these streets

We saw a bakery of some sort, or so we assumed.  It could have just been someone’s house where they had a lot of bread.  I remembered once upon a time in 2007 when James and I went wine tasting and a guy tried to sell us a baguette to eat along the way.  And I said no!  Since then, my motto is to always buy the bread.  We ripped off glorious hunks as we walked around the city.  It was an excellent idea.

5.28_puglia 14

The Basilica di San Nicola, which holds the remains of St. Nicholas, has a unique, white-washed interior that perfectly fits with a town by the sea.  Henry’s takeaway:  “Santa Claus is buried here.”  We showed up a little late for Easter services, and stuck around even though it was standing room only.

5.28_puglia 11

St. Nicholaus.  His remains are in the crypt under the church.

St. Nicholas. His remains are in the crypt under the church.

Restaurants line the Piazza Mercantile, but we enjoyed a seafood feast at Borgo Antico, a restaurant we were escorted to by a produce vendor after we asked for a recommendation.  Like we asked the guy where we should eat, he whipped out his phone to try to call but they weren’t answering, so he walked us across town on his own and told the restaurant people to take care of us.  Even though the exterior looks like a tourist trap, I can vouch that the restaurant was packed to the gills with locals on Easter. Our 6-course seafood extravaganza was 25 euro/person, but pastas started at just 5 euro.

5.28_puglia 4

James: “You just ate like an aquarium.”


Matera – Technically, this one is just outside of Puglia, but if you are all the way down there, don’t pass up the Sassi of Matera.  You know how rare it can be to see something completely new that it just takes your breath away?  Well, that is here.

The steps up and down this cave city (inhabited by humans for 9,000 years) are not stroller friendly, but the walk is definitely worth the views.  There are several rock churches you can check out as well.

The city’s Old School Holy Land feel means that many movies are filmed here, including the Passion of the Christ.

We hoped to try ristorante Trattoria del Caveoso for lunch after a recommendation, but it was booked solid.  We settled for a decent meal down the street at Il Morgan Ristorante Pizzeria.

4.15_Matera 2 4.15_Matera 16

Want to see more?  Check out bonus Matera pics on facebook.


Castel del MonteCastel del Monte is so famous that is is on the back of the Italian one cent coin.  Entrance to this imposing octagonal castle costs 5 euro for adults.  There is a shuttle that runs from the parking area to the castle (one euro/person).  If the weather had been nicer, we may have walked, given how crowded the buses were, but it is a little over a mile.  In the end, the buses worked fine and we didn’t have to wait too long.  Bar-type food is available at the parking area.  The restaurant by the castle was closed during our April visit.  Thankfully, there is a bathroom outside the castle.

5.28_puglia 5


Polignano a Mare – This city by the sea with breathtaking views is a great stop for a stroll with a gelato.  It is less great for trying to carry a stroller down the steps and across the rocky beach to touch the Adriatic.  We should have just strolled around the old town or sat down in a restaurant overlooking the sea.  But noooooo, we wanted to touch the Sea.  The path to the water involves lots of stairs.  And rocks.  You’ve been warned.

4.15_puglia 18 5.28_puglia 3 4.15_puglia 22


Trulli – Puglia is known for these conical gnome-like huts, which dot the olive groves and fields, but you can see a town full of them in Alberobello.  (Why the funny shape?  Think about tax avoidance.)  I’m mixed on recommending because the town is a kitschy tourist trap, but it merits at least a short stop.  I tried to look past the tchotchkes, but they were everywhere.

5.28_puglia 2 5.28_puglia 1


Grotte di CastellanaTwo tours of these stunning caves are offered: partial and complete.  Know that the partial does not include the world-famous Grotta Bianca.

5.28_puglia 6

It was about 100 steps to get into the caves, but there were minimal steps inside and an elevator out.  (Bonus!)  I was definitely questioning the wisdom of bringing the kids in as we started down all the steps, surrounded by the large Italian tour group.  (Tours are offered in Italian or English/German.)  But the tour groups separated once we got going and the kids liked it.  At least Mac really did.  I think Henry would have been more impressed if we didn’t opt for the 6:00 pm tour.

5.28_puglia 7


ZooSafari – Your 22 euro (free for kids under 4!) buys you hours of entertainment with animals. You can drive through lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my) with the windows up and then try to pet giraffes, camels, and goats.  For the fierce animals, you have to drive through double gates.  You know, to get into the animal paddocks.  I definitely did not feel like I should be watching behind me for velociraptors all the time.  Haha, what could possibly go wrong?

4.15_puglia 8

Faces of awe

The car did not feel like sufficient protection at times. We were all, are they really letting us do this??

4.15_puglia 24


4.15_puglia 2

After your drive, there are more sights to see inside the park.  This is included in your admission (although I think we paid a few euros for parking) so definitely don’t skimp on adventure.  (There is also an amusement park, but rides cost extra.)  For example, we rode this sturdy, self-driving contraption over monkeys and other critters.  (Seriously, this is like the Jurassic Park of animals.)  We also rode a caged vehicle straight into a monkey enclosure, which was guarded by dudes with guns, where the monkeys jumped all over the cage.  (Clever girl(s).)

4.15_puglia 10

This park was great for the kids, but I think James and I would have enjoyed it on our own.  Let’s just say you don’t see too many zoos like this back home.  (Unless your back home is very different from my back home, in which case please leave suggestions for your awesome zoo.)

4.15_puglia 13

Even more animals on the facebook.


We packed as much as we could into our five-day visit, but we had to leave a lot out as well.  We didn’t make it to white-walled Ostuni or Baroque Lecce, known as “the Florence of the South.”  Even though there are about a million and one other things we want to see while we’re here, we just may make it back to Puglia.

A series of unfortunate events OR that time I was pooped on by a peacock

My beautiful, feathered nemesis

My beautiful, feathered nemesis

Henry hasn’t made it to school all week.  Poor kid.  He still has that cough and cold, and he had a few days of fever earlier in the week.  We even went to the doctor, but there wasn’t anything to be done.  Just the usual fluids and rest.  While sitting there hacking with snot dripping off his face, Henry keeps looking up and saying “What happen to me?”  It is adorably heartbreaking.

At my request, James called school on Wednesday.  By “school” I mean “completely voluntary pay by the hour day care,” so they didn’t really need to know, but because the whole thing is so new, I didn’t want them to think we had just vanished.  They reminded James about the upcoming facilities move next week.  James said cool and Henry would try to make it on Friday.

Fast forward to today.  I fight to get everyone out the door.  We roll up to day care.  I’m greeted at the door by one of the English speakers.  She’s apologetic.  They packed up all the toys already.  It’s a busy day preparing for the move.  It’s not the best time.  You can leave him if you really need to . . .

I get it.  It’s fine.  I was proud that I said exactly what I wanted in that moment (rare for me) which was, “it’s no problem.  I wish you had told me, but it’s fine.”  (I also wish they had told me before I unloaded both kids from the stroller, but that’s another story.)

A small part of me was irked, but I quickly shook it off.  It was a truly gorgeous day.  Warm.  Sunny.  Not a cloud in the blue Mediterranean sky.  We were already dressed and out the door; we could do anything!  I quickly assessed my mom gear.  I had packed standard gear (diapers, wipes, Puffs) instead of heavy duty outing my gear (more snacks, sippy cups, etc.), but I thought we’d be fine for a trip to the zoo.

And so we zoo-ed.  Definitely more people there than usual.  On most weekdays, I count more people working at the zoo than visiting it.  But today we saw school groups and families.  I don’t know if it was the Friday or the warmer weather, but other people had the same idea.

We made it through our usual faves.  Monkeys.  Giraffe.  Skipped the farm animals today.  Plenty of peacock sightings.

2.27_peacock 3

One of the things I love about Rome’s zoo is the roaming hordes of peacocks.  I guess more properly the roaming musters or ostentations of peacocks.  My zoo growing up had a one or two peacocks strutting around and it was always a hunt to try to spot them.  Here, there is no hunt.  You’ll turn a corner.  BAM.  Muster of peacock crossing your way.

Henry was strangely psyched about the ducks.  I think because he can get fairly close to them.  We headed that way.  It was a honking cacophony of wonder.  We heard swans trumpet.  We saw ducks rumble.

Then Mac was starting to get antsy.  I had my eye on the clock.  I swear I spend half my time thinking about where the next food is coming from.  This time, I decided to get a little “crazy.”  Usually we do our eating at home.  It’s not really a money thing.  It’s not even an Italian language thing.  I just get frustrated juggling the two kids for eating eating on the go.  Like real sitting down and eating.  Handing snacks in stroller is obviously a different story.  But this time, I thought we’d try something different.  I saw that the Oasis Cafe by the pond was open.  Why not extend the fun with some food?

After being swarmed by a school group while placing our order, we sat down with a panino, chips, and water.

What follows are the actual emails I sent to James about our degustation exploration.

Good news, Zoo snack bar is open. Bad news, being swarmed by peacocks.

That’s right.  Those beautiful creatures were now ALL up in our grill.  To the point that I was using my feet to try to get them to backup.  Not actually making contact with them, of course.  Just making sort of a shooing motion.  The ducks stayed put by the pond, but we also attracted a crowd of pigeons, crows, and seagulls.  We really weren’t trying to feed anyone.  I guess they know that kids are the best free lunch around.

2.27_peacock 1

After some munching, I realized I had inadvertently sat down beside the smoking area.  When other patrons vacated the only truly sunny table, I decided we’d make a switch.  With holding Mac and pushing stroller and moving food, I needed to make a few trips.  I left the food unattended.  For just a few moments.  MISTAKE.  I turned by back and giant crow was trying to fly off with Henry’s half of the panino.  I charged and he abandoned his spoil, but he stayed creepily staring at us from a bush a few feet away for the rest of the meal.

When I was taking a sip of water, they came and snatched the bread out of Mac’s hand. We’re leaving now.

At this point, Mac was sitting IN MY LAP.  That brazen peacock hussy came right up and took bread FROM A BABY.  Peacock, have you no shame???   OK, peacocks.  Before this was all in good fun, but this just got real.  Don’t mess with my baby.  Luckily Mac was not hurt, and he seemed too shocked to be upset.  (Which was good because that was the last of the bread.)

While packing up a bird pooped on my head. It is directly on the back of my head, and I can’t see it.

YUP.  That happened.  I felt the wet splat.  I hoped, fleetingly, that it may have been a nut off a tree.  But no.  I knew.  I had been pooped on.  Lucky me.

I couldn’t spot the culprit.  At this point, I can neither confirm nor deny that I was pooped on by a peacock.  So let’s just say I was pooped on by a peacock.  It makes a much better story.

So I did the only thing you can in this situation.  I baby wiped the back of my head.  I put my hair up.  And I just laughed.  You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

On the walk home, where both kids fell asleep, because of course they did, I overheard someone tell someone else to have a good weekend.  So at least I learned something.  Buon fine settimana, ya’ll!  May your days be free of peacock poop.