Let’s start with the obvious, gelato. If nothing else, come to Italy for the food. And what a wonderful place to eat for kids, too! After all, who wouldn’t be happy eating pizza, pasta and ice cream every day? Puglia, like the rest of Italy, is bursting with regional dishes created with the freshest of ingredients. During our long weekend exploring Ostuni and beyond we stumbled across dozens of welcoming cafes, delicious restaurants and, of course, plenty of gelaterias to sample the local ice cream. Unfortunately, I only found out about this place after we had left, which just means that I will have to go back!
Even the most culture-wary kids will be charmed by Puglia’s towns and villages. We only had the chance to visit a handful of the region’s old cittadinas but there are literally dozens that are worth exploring. Each town has its own star attraction but what they all share in common are photo-worthy Baroque or mediaeval town centres and charming narrow lanes that are a delight to explore. Some of the best towns to visit with kids include the fortified island town of Gallipoli, the white city of Ostuni and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Alberobello, famous for its trulli. Children, particularly younger ones, tend to fall head over heels for these fairytale-like circular homes with conical roofs.You can easily spend a day searching for the ‘magic’ symbols painted on the rooftops, hoping that Bilbo Baggins will emerge from one of the low wooden doorways.
Puglia boasts over 800km of coastline, the longest stretch of any region in Italy. Bordered by both the Ionian and the Adriatic Sea, you are spoiled for choice for family-friendly beaches. Sadly, it was still too chilly for an ocean dip when we visited in March but, having caught glimpses of the sea throughout our trip, I am definitely planning to go back. There are no shortage of beaches that kids will love but the ones I plan to try first are Torre Guaceto near Alberobello, home to vivid coral reefs and sea grass for snorkelling fun, Pescoluse near Leuca, the “Maldives of Italy” and Baia delle Zagare, a 1km stretch of soft white sand surrounded by national park. I also love the look of Polignano a Mare, a picturesque town perched atop a 20 metre-high limestone cliff overlooking the sparkling waters of the Adriatic.
One of our best days out in Puglia was our tour of some of the local masseria courtesy of Raro Villas. We first visited Masseria Lamapecora, a historic farmhouse dating back to the late 19th century. This family-run farm is home to some 700 ancient olive trees and is famous for both its olive oil and its cheese. My daughter loved learning how mozzarella was made and watched intently as Omer demonstrated the process. Incredibly, the farm produces 600 litres of milk daily and between 100-120kg of mozzarella every day! That’s in addition to the bocconcini, burrata, stracciatella, ricotta and more that they produce with ease. My kids have only every lived in big cities so I always love giving them the opportunity to learn where things come from and how they are actually made (rather than, you know, ordering it online!).
Our second farmhouse visit was to Messaria Macarone, a historic farm that has been in the Colucci family since 1754. The farm covers 61 hectares and is home to 20,000 olive trees, 6,000 of which are protected (and 900 of which are more than 1,000 years old!). We were given a tour by Alessandro who gave us a brief history of the farm and an introduction to the production of olive oil. Granted, the process of making olive oil might be a little dry for kids but what my daughter did love, was learning how to tell the difference between good olive oil and bad olive oil. Again, it was a wonderful opportunity for Tess to learn something new.
Budding speleologists will be right at home in Puglia, which is home to some fascinating underworld attractions. The little town of Castro, south of Lecce on the Adriatic coast, is where you’ll find Grotta Zinzulusa, otherwise known as the ‘raggedy cave’ owing to its rag-like stalactites and stalagmites (zinzulo means rags in Italian). The cave is accessed by boat and once the captain drops you off, you can explore the maze of caves or go swimming off the boat. North of Alberobello is Grotte di Castellana, a spellbinding series of caves that measure 3km in length and at a depth of 60metres.
It’s not hard to spend time outdoors in Puglia. From exploring towns or walking among olive trees to enjoying the coastline or just swimming in your villa’s swimming pool, you’ll be pressed to find something to do that doesn’t make the most of the region’s beautiful scenery and sublime climate. One area that I would love to visit when I return is Torre Guaceto, a nature reserve and protected marine area located just north of Brindisi. The park is home to more than 6km of pristine coastline, characterful coves and woodland, and family-friendly beaches, some of which have lido facilities. There’s even a small train that winds its way through the grounds, perfect for little kids such as my three-year-old toddler. Older kids can hire a bicycle and cycle through the olive groves instead. Torre Guaceto is also supposed to be a great spot for snorkelling and scuba diving.
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Disclosure: I was a guest of Bookings For You and Raro Villas during my stay in Puglia, Italy. All opinions are, as always, entirely my own.