Puglia Italy has never been on my map with places to visit in this lifetime. But after seeing some pictures from Bari and others from Polignano a Mare, I did not have much to decide but to get there as soon as possible. We wanted to travel with our 1 year old child. Considering the flight from Bucharest took only one hour and a half, I believed this is the perfect destination for our first Italy holiday with baby. But visiting Puglia with kids was a real challenge and I didn’t expect that. Once I decided to visit this region in Italy, I immediately bought Bucharest-Bari airplane tickets and started to plan my holiday in Puglia Italy. Puglia is the region that covers Italy’s heel. It’s not very popular and well-known for tourists because when you compete with Rome, Sicily or Tuscany it’s hard to stand out. But precisely because it is not as popular as the others, I have met here the true essence of Italy: crazy traffic, people gesticulating and some amazing meals prepared in family restaurants.
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Where to stay in Puglia Italy:
We did not have much time to look at the best accommodation in Puglia Italy. Because we landed in Bari, we also booked an apartment here. When we got there, we realized that we could have looked for accommodation south from Bari because we had a car to drive around (and perhaps that would have been wiser). We spent three days in the region 50 km south from Bari so we would have saved the time driving if we have booked something in Polignano de Mare or even in some isolated village. But Bari was also a great base to explore the area. So if you are wondering what is the best city to stay in Puglia that allows you to explore the whole region, you should choose Bari.
Because we booked something in the city I chose a place with a parking lot (a very rare thing here). If you want to stay in the largest city of the region, you can look for hotels in Bari Italy here *.
Driving in Puglia Italy:
We rented a car for the whole trip in Puglia Italy. I read there are buses and trains that can be used to move between cities, but their schedule was not convenient. And since this was our first holiday in Italy with our toddler we needed flexibility, mobility and, most importantly, a way of transport to carry a lot of stuff (and not in the back). So the option to ride a bus with stroller, backpack, a few toys and the little one walking but mostly asking to hold him was not actually an option. The rented car was the solution. We’ve weighted some choices because the baby’s car seat was about a third of the total rental cost, but we paid the comfort in the end.
When you have lots of luggage, of course you are thinking to rent a bigger car. The price difference was not significant, but by luck I found a travel guide for Puglia Italy saying you need to take the smallest car you find. We did that and it was very good that we’ve listened him! We drove that car on such narrow streets that we did not think you are allowed to drive there! And this choice also helped us in traffic, the “dream” traffic of Puglia Italy. We were used with the madness in Romania and we believed nothing can surprise us. But the Italians have their own style. It seems like there is no speed limit and no clear lines of the parking places. They go on the idea “Let’s both squeeze in somehow…”. Yes, driving in Puglia Italy is an experience itself!
If you do not want to complicate your life driving in Puglia, an excellent idea is to stay in Bari and take day trips from Bari* to the main attractions in the area.
Parking in Puglia Italy:
The streets in the cities are narrow, so finding a parking spot is a real adventure! And after you find one, you must know to read the colors:
-blue lines mean paid parking (at the dispenser machine or a blue disc from banks, tourist offices, tobacconists and post offices)
-white lines mean free parking (and there are some streets with white lines not very far from the center)
-green lines mean parking is not permitted on working days between 08.00-09.30 and 14.30-16.00 hours
-yellow lines indicate parking for disabled persons only
These colors have the same significance all over Italy, but every city has different parking fees depending on the area. Before arriving, I had a list with some streets with free parking in Puglia. But in some places we preferred to pay to walk less.
Things to do in Puglia Italy:
The pictures of Bari and Polignano a Mare made me decide to visit the region, but as I was looking information for our holiday in Puglia with baby, I was wondering how I had not taken it into account so far. My list of things to do in Puglia Italy was growing from day to day and the days planned there were insufficient. So I reduced the list even though I would have loved to enlarge the vacation. We had a 7-day itinerary in Puglia and it was enough time for us to see:
- Bari, the capital of the region
- Matera, the stone city
- Polignano a Mare and its balconies above the sea
- Monopoli, a jewel city
- Ostuni, the white city of Puglia
- Alberobelo and his dwarf houses
- Zoosafari, a zoo with safari that should be number 1 in top things to do in Puglia with kids
- Margherita de Savoia Salines and Flamingo Birds reservation
- and Trani with its cathedral by the seaside
Tips & tricks for a holiday in Puglia with kids
As soon as I arrived, I realized that a road trip in Puglia with kids my baby’s age (1-2 years old) is not an inspired choice. No matter how beautiful the cities in the region are, all of them have the city center paved with bigger or smaller cubic stone and some even have slopes. To push the stroller on those streets is a mess both for parents and for the shaken child. I did not think about it when I made the choice, but we tried not to limit ourselves for this reason. With the baby in my arms or with him in the wearing system and the luggage in the stroller, we visited every place on our list. But for older kids is a great experience.
Lunch was another challenge. We were used with active holidays, with visiting a lot and eating 2 meals a day (in the morning and at 5-6 in the afternoon). But the baby needs 3 meals a day and snacks. And when we found all the restaurants, shops and pharmacies closed for siesta on the first day at a normal lunch hour in Romania (1-2 p.m.), we gave him fruits and biscuits instead of lunch. And from the next day we started to take supplies with us.
Apart from these small shortcomings, Puglia has surprised us pleasantly many times. We also got used to their infernal traffic, to pay mostly cash (because most of the shops and restaurants don’t have card readers) and to communicate with hands because we rarely found someone to speak English. I discovered here an Italy still unchanged by tourism, an Italy like the one in the old movies that I yearn to meet on every trip!