More Puglia

May 20th

As mentioned in the last diary blog, we were camped outside the Grotte di Castellana. One odd thing about this town is that they leave their dogs out at night and the darned things bark all night. So after a bad night’s sleep we visited the caves, and had a tour in English. There are hundreds of caves but the tourist route takes you on a route 1.5km long (and back again) visiting several stunning limestone formations, culminating in the ‘white cave’. Our guide was very knowledgeable and the caves were well worth a visit (and made a change from Baroque churches!)

First cave. You’re only allowed to take photos in this one and not the deeper ones.

After lunch (we were starving after the caves) we headed on to Trani, a medieval port town, where we’d picked a camperstop from Google – a car park just on the edge of the town. We walked through the old town, finding everything closed including the tourist information, then discovered the more lively port area, gardens etc. A very pleasant little place. That evening there was some event on at the castle that we’d half thought we’d go to but it began to rain – heavily. Really heavily. The rain continued most of the night, and is very loud when you are essentially living in a tin box, so it was another broken night’s sleep for us.

Trani port

May 21st

Last big of sightseeing in Puglia – we headed inland from Trani to Castel del Monte, the best preserved of a series of castles built in Norman times. This one is on a low hill, and has views for miles. It’s an octagonal shape and felt like somewhere you really could live. Bit of a rip-off price-wise though – you have to park some way from the castle, pay to park, then have to pay again for a shuttle bus, then pay again to enter the castle. You’d think the shuttle bus at least should be included in the parking or entrance fee. After all that rain it was cool and overcast – quite a welcome change!

castel del monte
Castel del Monte

And then we were on the motorway, heading out of Puglia and across the country towards Naples. We’d picked a camperstop from Google maps that’s near Herculaneum and near a train station to get into Naples centre. But after much driving round narrow one-way systems we had to admit the camperstop does not exist where Google had marked it – and yet it had recent (2 week old) reviews. After a bit of asking and some more Googling we drove a few km up the road, found signs for a camperstop and went in – then recognised it from photos of the one we couldn’t find! First time Google maps has got something totally wrong. Anyway this one turned out to be a good find – cheapish, included electricity and hot shower, secure, quiet – everything you want in a campsite.

I’ll do a Naples and surroundings blog in a few days when we’re done with this area! I was sad to leave Puglia – despite being mostly flat and I am a mountain-lover, I did really like it. All those acres of olive groves and beautiful beaches, far better roads and less litter than Sicily, and lots to do and see.


It was always on the plan to spend some time in Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy. Once one of the poorest regions it now does a roaring trade in tourism as it has some lovely towns, fabulous beaches and a definite and endearing charm of its own.

A lovely coffee stop somewhere on the Puglian coast.

May 15th

We set off from Metaponta into Puglia, intending to visit Lecce. The satnav told us to go via Brindisi which looked like a long way round when there was a perfectly adequate road leading straight there from Taranto. So we decided we knew better than the satnav (which is usually the case) and followed the direct route. Which took us through endless small towns, few of which had a bypass, all of which involved narrow streets and one-way systems, and which turned out to be a lot slower. Nellie (the satnav) you were right for once.

Lecce is another glorious Baroque town with Roman bits here and there. We found some town centre parking, realised we had about 30 minutes until all the churches and museums would close for the usual 3 1/2 hour lunch break, and charged off to get a look at a couple before this happened. They were lovely but I think Sicily spoilt us, as they weren’t a patch on some of the ones we’ve already seen. Had a leisurely lunch sitting outside a cafe on a quaint little street.

And then we headed back to the coast – a small town called Gallipoli. Found a very nice campsite, probably one of the best yet, and decided to stay for a couple of days and catch up on washing etc.

May 16th

After a relaxing morning mooching around the campsite we cycled the short distance into Gallipoli. The old part of town is on an island, joined by a bridge. We cycled around the edge then through the middle, checking out the cathedral and castle but generally taking it easy.

May 17th

Decided to stay a third night. Well why not? After another lazy morning we cycled the other way up the coast a little way, as far as Santa Maria al Bagno. Took a little walk up to a view point, and checked out a couple of old watchtowers that we passed – these seem to be all along the coast here, a bit like Martello towers in the UK.

Don’t jump Ignatius! View north of Gallipoli on our cycle ride.

May 18th

Time to move on. We drove the delightful coast road from Gallipoli south, around the tip of Puglia, and then up the Adriatic coast, taking lots of stops along the way. At the very tip is Santa Maria di Leuca, a lighthouse and a large church. This is the ‘Land’s End’ of Italy – the place where the Ionian and Adriatic seas meet.

hide and seek
At Santa Maria di Leuca. Gertie is not very good at playing hide and seek.

North from there the coast is rockier but the road was good and wide, there was no traffic and it was a lovely drive. We stopped again at Otranto, a medieval town and port, and managed to catch it with churches open. One had a stunning Arabic mosaic floor, depicting the tree of life. Also in this church was a chapel containing the skulls of hundreds of people, martyred by the Turks after some long-ago siege.

tree of life
I think this is an elephant. There were two, supporting the tree of life.
Look closely in those glass cases behind the altar.  They are all filled with skulls of martyrs.

Camped at another pleasant campsite near Torre dell’Orsa, which we found by accident after not liking either of the ones in our books in this area. So pleasant we debated doing two nights again, and having another day of pootling around locally on the bikes and in the sea etc, but then we realised May is slipping away from us, and our high-level plan suggested we should be out of Italy and heading to Slovenia and Croatia by the end of May. And there’s a lot of Italy to go!

May 19th

So this morning we packed up and headed up the coast, stopped for a coffee then stopped a little further up the road to have a dip in the sea. Then around the Lecce ring-road and on to the main road heading north past Brindisi, all the way to Ostuni, where we arrived in time for the churches to be closed. Ostuni old town is a hill-top town, full of tiny winding streets and white-washed buildings. It looks more Greek than Italian. We found perfect parking (thank you, Google satellite imagery which I am using to spot car parks in towns!) and spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around and having a leisurely lunch. Then discovered the cathedral was open anyway (at 3pm!! Wow!!) so we had a look inside. It was a very hot day, and we then felt the need to get back on the road with the windows open.

Approaching Ostuni.

The onward drive took us through the middle of Puglia, past many olive groves, vineyards and trulli, the funny little conical houses that are unique to this area. Puglia produces more olives than the rest of Italy put together, and more white wine than the whole of Germany.

Here’s how the people live here… Trulli houses.

We reached Castellana Grotte where you can park campervans overnight in the car park for the caves, for five euro. We’ll visit the caves tomorrow.