A Road Trip Through Imperial Puglia

In the heel of southern Italy’s ‘boot’ lies Puglia, an enchanting land of grandiose cathedrals, ancient castles and magnificent towns and cities unique for their rich history of art, cuisine and culture.

This charming ‘country within a country’ is deservedly popular for its 800-kilometre stretch of pristine coastline harbouring some of the most idyllic landscapes in the whole of southern Italy.

There are attractions in abundance in this spectacular corner of southern Europe, and a rental car is considered absolutely essential for travellers looking to get the most out of their road trip through ‘Imperial Puglia’, as the locals affectionately call it.

With Auto Europe, drivers have the possibility of picking up and dropping off their vehicle in Brindisi, the natural starting point for an exhilarating journey through this most majestic of holiday regions.

Founded in 1954, Auto Europe is by far the best choice when it comes to hiring an appropriate type of vehicle for your Puglia adventure, and always at the lowest prices on the market. Having operated at the heart of the global car hire industry for almost seventy years, the company’s award-winning service is second to none and travellers can cancel or modify their car rental booking totally free of charge up to 48 hours before pick-up.

Beginning in Brindisi and Exploring Lecce

Brindisi is an ancient city with so much to offer the curious visitor, such as its imposing 11th-century cathedral built in the Romanesque style in the heart of the Old Town.

Strategically positioned on the Adriatic Sea, most of its top attractions are monumental reminders of the city’s halcyon days when it was bustling Roman port with around 100,000 inhabitants.

Standing 18.74 metres (61.5 feet) tall, a robust Roman column still marks the end of the Appian Way, which was the first and most famous of the ancient Roman roads linking Rome with the south of Italy.

Other places of note in Brindisi include the delightful Church of San Benedetto dating back to the 10th century and the Temple of San Giovanni al Sepolcro, an exquisite Romanesque church built by the Normans in the 11th century.

Often referred to as the ‘Florence of the South’, the charming city of Lecce (a comfortable half-hour’s drive south-east of Brindisi) was originally founded by the Messapii people from the eastern Adriatic and boasts a fascinating history stretching back more than 2,000 years.

A Baroque masterpiece of a city, Lecce is best explored outwards from Piazza del Duomo, a handsome central square enclosed by a series of stunning buildings, most notably its lovely cathedral  (Cattedrale dell’Assunzione della Virgine) originally built in 1144 with no less than twelve chapels and some truly exquisite stonework.

Onwards to Otranto and Glorious Gallipoli

Just south of Lecce lies the quaint little fishing town of Otranto, one of the most popular places in Italy for an al fresco seaside lunch due to the breath-taking picture-postcard views diners can enjoy right across the Adriatic Sea to the mountains of Albania in the distance.

Known as Hydrus in ancient times, the town is bursting with history, particularly around the old cobblestone streets and squares of its picturesque Old Town.

Otranto’s 11th-century Norman cathedral must be seen for the superb 12th-century mosaic pavement depicting the Tree of Life and the incredible sight of the forty-two marble pillars in its ancient crypt.

The town’s long sandy shoreline has the added advantage of being protected by a natural park (the Parco Naturale Regionale Costa Otranto) that covers an area of more than 3,200 hectares.

Heading west, the spectacular location of Gallipoli’s Old Town on a rocky island in the Golfo di Taranto makes it the perfect place to round off the first part of this exciting road-trip itinerary.

Most visitors begin their visit to Gallipoli with a leisurely stroll through the historic centre’s labyrinth of narrow, winding streets and alleys where the urban atmosphere is much the same as it was at the time of the Moors in the 900s.

Along with its vast collection of cultural riches covering everything from marine life to musical instruments, Gallipoli’s excellent Municipal Museum features a rare sarcophagus from the Messapic Age dating right back to the 8th century BC.

Back to Brindisi via Bari

Travellers with time on their hands can wind their way back to Brindisi via a different route , visiting the vibrant port city of Bari along the way.

Bari’s lovely old quarter (known as the Bari Vecchia) has many attractions for the curious road-tripper, such as the San Nicola Basilica (which was built in the late-11th century to house the relics of St Nicholas) and nearby San Sabino Cathedral, a magnificent example of striking Romanesque architecture located right in the heart of the city centre.

The E55 coast road hugs the Adriatic Sea all the way back to Brindisi, affording much scenic splendour and many panoramic views en route.

Being the final stage of our Puglia road-trip, it’s well worth taking the opportunity to stop for an amazing meal of freshly-caught fish and seafood in one of the many traditional seaside towns and villages that line this part of Italy’s sun-baked southern shoreline.

Enjoy the trip!

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