This is long and probably boring unless you're planning on traveling around the region by train! I hope it's helpful to someone! Train travel is definitely a good option provided you don't mind jumping on and off trains with your luggage! I've tried to section it off into areas so it's relevant but I do tend to wander.... sorry in advance!
I have a dislike of bus travel and can’t drive so this is my trip report about my wonderful time in Puglia using only trains!
Initially it was hard to find information about the train from the airport to the city centre I had to do a bit of digging to get the timetable, I later found that a lot of things about Puglia can be like that, there’s not always a heap of information about things but it always worked out ok! Here’s a link to the timetable ferrovienordbarese.it/uploads/orari/orario_a… (no toilets on this train but there are very clean facilities at the airport train station)
Bari is a wonderful little city and we loved the nightlife around the Piazza Mercantile, Piazza del Ferrarese and Corso Vittorio II. We also loved walking around the old town after nightfall, it has such a lovely local feel with whole families sitting outside their houses enjoying the “cooler” evening air! We tried some sgagliozze cooked by Maria delle Sgagliozze outside her house. Delicious and sooo greasy, they went well with some Aperol Spritz! We had other memorable meals of orecchiette with tomato sauce and burrata ravioli in Ristorante La Cecchina and fritto misto in Osteria delle Travi. Also fantastic pizza just off Corso Vittorio at Pizzaria da Ginacarlo. We stayed in Bari for three nights and used it as a base to discover Matera and Polignano a Mare.
For directions to the FAL station I relied on those of the wonderful PugliaVagabond from #13 here: tripadvisor.ie/…66829566 I couldn’t make head nor tail of the timetable but used the journey planner here: http://ferrovieappulolucane.it/en/ Something to be aware of – our train split in two somewhere during the journey to Matera with the first two carriages going off somewhere else. The destination is clearly marked on all carriages so just make sure you keep your eyes open! There are toilets on this train.
The Sassi are an easy 10 minute walk downhill. I want to say they are beautiful but that would be wrong, they are definitely very striking and the area is very poignant. Beautiful views abound of the countryside. We visited the old convent were some of The Passion was filmed and an old Sassi that was used as living quarters and a mill. Some of the stones get very slippy so wear suitable footwear. We had a wonderful lunch of local antipasti and the local tomato and bread salad in a small café near Santa Lucia alle Malie.
Polignano a Mare
After exploring a bit around Bari old town we went to Polignano a Mare. This was a Sunday and we chose here basically because it was the only destination that we wanted to visit that we could reach by train in the area on a Sunday! The train (to Lecce) departed from the main station, so easy to find. The train station is just called Polignano and is an easy walk from the town square, old town and beach. Himself had wanted to eat in the famous cave restaurant but in the end we decided that the cost could not be justified, instead we enjoyed some lovely cocktails at a café/bar right on the beach and then watched a beautiful sunset from the old town. There was a market on in the town square as well as a marching band and a light display. Wonderfully atmospheric. I’d have liked to have spent the night here. The beach is rocky, bring swim shoes.
We got a taxi from our hotel (Palace Hotel) to Bari Central as we were running late, it cost €10 which I thought was a bit steep considering the short distance? Anyway we relied on PugliaVagabond’s directions again to find the FSE station. (#13 here: http://www.tripadvisor.ie/ShowTopic-g187873-i798-k8449351-o10-Just_back_from_Puglia-Puglia.html#66829566) There’s no ticket machine, buy your ticket at the counter. We took a number of FSE trains and they are all modern and comfortable with toilets but in general they are poorly air-conditioned, though in fairness it was 35C most of the time we were there! They aren’t the quickest, most of the time it’s just single track until you get to a train station.
Alberobello is so beautiful. It was also the most touristy place we visited but nothing on par with Florence! We stayed the night in a Trulli (Trulli Holiday Resort) and it was a (trulli) magical experience. It’s a lovely village to wander around, be sure to check out the local museum. Lots of little bars around and the local wine is very good. We visited the Albea cantina near the train station and did the tour of the wine museum. Lovely way to spend an hour. We picked up a bottle of wine here and some supplies in the deli on the main street (the vendor here was no stranger to assisting tourists make up their own little antipasti meal) and took advantage of having our own place complete with little patio for the night.
Grotti di Castellana
We back tracked here, leaving our bags with the hotel reception, and visited the caves. I messed up with the timetable or else it played tricks on me, but the train back to Alberobello never arrived, we’d walked to the train station in the main town rather than the one by the caves as we thought we had seen on the timetable that it wouldn’t be stopping at the caves stop… well no train came at all! This was our only mishap with the trains which I thought was good considering we used them six out of our seven days!
You can see the entrance to the caves from the train station, it’s the really tall building with the yellow writing! The caves are awesome, well worth back-tracking for! Wear suitable shoes as it can get slippy though. The English language guide was really amazing. This must be seen if you have any interest in caves, geology, geomorphology etc. There’s a couple of shops and restaurants around the caves, nothing too amazing but you’ll be entertained while you wait for the train (or the next one!!!)
To get from Alberobello to Lecce we changed at Martina Franca. We only had 4 minutes for the change and I was a little sceptical about whether it would work. I need not have been as the train to Lecce was delayed. Nevertheless it’s a small station and you can’t get lost/go wrong!
You arrive into Lecce on the FSE platforms so you have to cross over the tracks to the Trenitalia platforms and then down into the station. It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the centre of the old town.
Lecce surprised us with her Baroque architecture, it’s so beautiful. A lovely laid back city. If going be sure to check and see if there are any performances in the outdoor Roman Theatre or Amphiteatre, I’d love to have attended on. There’s a real student type buzz about the place, everyone comes out in the evening and walks around, it was just lovely! We toured the castle and to be honest I don’t think it was really worth the €. Get a gelato instead or a glass of spritz!
No train travel today! We took a tour with Donna and Paolo from Sapori de Salento http://winetourspuglia.com/ We’re still discussing it but this could have been the highlight of the trip! Two amazing and interesting ladies, fantastic wines and a fabulous lunch at the end. Well worth the time and money spent.
We had intended to rent a scooter and go to Otranto and up the coast but there were none available from Salento Rent in Lecce so if you plan on doing this book early! Instead we went to Gallipoli mainly as it has a sandy beach! You buy your ticket in the book shop in the Trenitalia station (to the left when you go in the main door) and then get the train from Platform 5/6 and across the tracks! We changed at Zolino even though it wasn’t stated on the journey planner but it was an easy change. I forgot to mention that there’s a conductor on all the FSE trains and he will advise you. The beach was about a 20 minute walk through the old town and it is beautifully sandy, despite a good bit of seaweed along the shore. There is absolutely no shade here so bring an umbrella! We had a lovely meal Café del Mare overlooking the beach and watched sunset from there which was truly magical.
All too soon it was back to Bari to catch our flight. After all the slow trains it was a real treat to get the fast Trenitalia which only made one stop (Brindisi) between Lecce and Bari. We bought our tickets on the day from the machine. Worth noting that you are given a specified seat to sit in on this service unlike all the other trains. Getting back to Bari Central we made the quick walk across the concourse (to the left beside the FAL to Matera) to get to the Ferrovie Nord Barese Station to get the airport. It’s really well signposted with pictures of an airplane outside. There are a number of vending machines to buy tickets from.