Visitors to Puglia will be amazed by the unspoilt nature of Italy’s heel. Gnarled, centuries-old olive trees give way to whitewashed villages that wouldn’t look out of place on a Greek Island. Down dusty rural roads, you’ll find the unique Puglian architecture is a curious mix between tipi-topped Trulli and the rectangular robustness of the traditional Masseria. And the fresh flavours of the local food and produce will leave sweet memories on your tongue long after you’ve departed.
But perhaps the best-kept secret is Puglia’s beaches. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the beaches in Puglia are among the best in Italy. With the longest coastline in the country, bordered by the Adriatic Sea on one side and the Ionian Sea on the other, the swimming holes and beaches of Puglia are undoubtedly remarkable, yet they remain too-often ignored by foreign visitors.
Here is why I think you’d be remiss to skip this incredible region, and where you should go to find the best beaches in Puglia Italy!
Best Beaches in Puglia Map
Where to Stay to Enjoy Puglia’s Best Beaches
Apart from its sublime shoreline, Salento is brimming with amazing villages and towns to discover on your holiday in Puglia. In order to discover the best of the region, it’s wise to stay central and take day trips to the Puglia attractions that most appeal to you. You’ll find that if you stay at any of the suggested Salento hotels and B&B’s below, you’ll be no more than an hour from Puglia’s best beaches and swimming holes.
The Aia is a charming retreat venue and B&B tucked away at arm’s length from Nardò, with a relaxed vibe and plenty of events and activities to keep you busy. It’s the perfect place to explore both the Puglia coast and the villages and towns of Salento. Check prices and book here.
Other great places to stay in Puglia:
- Palazzo Sant’Anna Lecce – An amazing, character-filled hotel in the heart of Lecce. If you want the best of both worlds – city living by night and beachcombing by day – then this affordable-luxury hotel has you covered. Check prices and book here.
- Masseria San Cosimo – For a budget-friendly stay in a traditional Masseria, this Puglia accommodation is ideally located to explore the best of Puglia. It’s roughly equal distance from the charming Puglian towns of Otranto, Lecce and Nardò. Check prices and book here.
- Montirò Hotel – In the deep south of Puglia you’ll find this charming hotel built in a traditional style, but with all the modern luxury amenities you could ask for. The ideal place to explore the best beaches in southern Puglia. Check prices and book here.
- Antica Masseria Del Fano – If you want to stay in style near the Puglia coast, then this character-filled property could be just what you’re after. Situated close to the Maldives of Salento, you’ll be in a great position to explore the best beaches of Puglia. Check prices and book here.
How to visit the beaches of Puglia, Italy
In order to see the best of Puglia, I’d highly recommend hiring a car! Public transport will allow you to visit Puglia’s towns and cities, but to find the best secret beaches in Puglia you’re going to need your own wheels. Both times I’ve visited Puglia, I’ve rented a car from Avis at Brindisi airport. Their service is outstanding and the vehicles have been modern, clean and a joy to drive. Book your rental car here.
When to visit Puglia Italy
Obviously, the warmer months are ideal for enjoying Puglia’s best beaches, but you’ll enjoy the experience more if you plan to visit Puglia outside of the peak summer season. That’s not to say you shouldn’t plan a vacation in Puglia in July or August, but be prepared for busier beaches, higher prices, and fewer chances of finding a secluded swimming nook just to yourself.
The ideal time to enjoy the beaches of Puglia is in the shoulder season of May/June or September/October. It’s in these quieter months that you’ll experience Puglia at it’s finest. My most recent visit was in early June when the weather was just perfect for both sightseeing and swimming!
Top 10 Puglia Beaches and Swimming Holes
Let’s get acquainted with Puglia’s best beaches and swimming holes, listed below in no particular order…
#1 Lama Monachile, Polignano a Mare
A river used to flow through the picturesque town of Polignano a Mare, but the only remnants today are a stately roman bridge and the dry dusty path that leads to Lama Monachile. A deep and narrow beach, what Lama Monachile lacks in size, it makes up for in setting. On either side, sea-battered rock creates the foundation for the old town. Tall buildings sit so near to the edge you’d be forgiven for thinking twice before laying your blanket too close to the old walls.
The white sand beach is a popular spot in summer, not only because of its remarkable surroundings but also because it sets the stage for the annual cliff diving world championship (see a sample of the action below).
It’s one of the best places in Puglia for swimming and snorkelling, as the water is calm, clear, and there are plenty of caves and tunnels to explore around the bay.
#2 Maldives of Salento
When a stretch of coastline is nicknamed the “Maldives of Salento” it has a lot to live up to. I haven’t been to the Maldives, so I can’t remark on its similarity, but I can tell you that it’s a divine stretch of shoreline. This area, close to the southern tip of Italy and hugging the Ionian Sea, is home to some of the best sandy beaches in Puglia. The sea is tiffany-blue and the fine sand melts under your feet like butter.
It’s one of the few popular stretches of coastline that still has free space to stretch out and pitch your own umbrella. There are also plenty of private areas where you have to pay to play, but they come with their own benefits such as a bar service and a little more security for your stuff while you’re swimming.
The Maldives of Salento stretch from Torre Pali in the north, through Pescoluse (the heart) and ending in Torre Vado. I took the below photos in June and the beach was mildly busy at best, but I’m sure come the peak holiday season it’ll be thronging with visitors. So be sure to get there early to nab the best spot.
#3 Grotta della Poesia, Roca
The Cave of Poetry is a natural sinkhole not far from the beachside town of Roca. Swimming in this sheltered natural pool is an incredible experience that needs to be on your Puglia itinerary. The deep pearl-shaped cave is separated from the sea by a thick sheath of rock that doubles up as an excellent viewing and sunbathing platform between swims.
Jump 15 feet into the crystal clear water below, or take the stairs etched into the wall of the Grotta if you’re not so daring. Keen explorers can swim out to the sea from the cave and investigate the surrounding weathered coastline with its pockmarked sea walls.
Get there early to enjoy the cave before the crowds of locals descend for the day, and be sure to walk around the coast to discover the ancient cave network nearby.
#4 Beach of Purity, Gallipoli
Gallipoli’s most central beach, the Beach of Purity, is one of the most charming Puglia beaches to discover. True to name, its golden-tinged sand and gently lapping sea is some of the cleanest and purest in Salento. Surrounded by ancient city walls and overlooking Sant’Andrea Island with its iconic lighthouse, this beach in Gallipoli is one to remember.
Located on the western shores of the island, next to the port, it’s a beach to enjoy in between browsing the charming streets of the old town. Wander through the historical centre, sample the lively atmosphere and grab a mouthwateringly tasty gelato before hitting the beach for a siesta in the sun.
For a Puglian experience like no other, head to the beach itself, or one of the many beach bars overlooking this Gallipoli beach at sunset to see the sky light up in a magnificent array of fiery tones.
#5 Santa Maria al Bagno
The beach at Santa Maria al Bagno is a sheltered and scenic respite from some of the more popular stretches of Ionian coastline. This clean cove of fine white sand is surrounded by sea walls, creating a secluded enclave perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
Although there isn’t a huge amount of space on the beach, locals make use of the opposite rocky ledge to launch themselves into the turquoise water below. The water is so clear and calm here that it’s like swimming in a luxurious infinity pool.
After spending the morning splashing around in the sea, simply walk across the road to enjoy lunch with a view before resuming your beachside sojourn.
#6 Mora Mora Beach
A stone’s throw from Salento’s capital Lecce, on the Adriatic coast between Torre Specchia Ruggeri and Roca, you’ll find the tranquil oasis that is Mora Mora beach. The pearl-white sand is bordered by dense shrub on one side and the gently swelling sea on the other. It’s this semi-rural appearance that cements its reputation as one of the nicest beaches in Puglia.
At the car park end of the beach, you’ll find Mora Mora Bistro’ del Mare – an upmarket beachfront bar and restaurant serving up gourmet treats and hand-mixed drinks with a view. If you’re after something a little more laid back, set yourself up in one of the sun loungers on the beach and order a beverage from the conveniently located kiosk.
If paying to lounge on the beach isn’t your style, wander on past the rows of loungers and you’ll soon find yourself a free spot to soak up some rays. Likewise, on the other side of the car park, you can find a few secluded nooks and sheltered swimming spots away from the crowds.
#7 Salsedine Beach, Santa Maria Al Bagno
Salsedine Beach is a man-made beach/swimming hole positioned just around the corner from Santa Maria al Bagno (whose swoon-worthy sandy cove is also featured on this list) and within gawking distance of the photogenic Four Columns.
Although not a beach in the traditional sense of the word, it’s the perfect place to swim in a natural inlet – in true Salento style – minus the typically required cliff jumping! The folks at Salsedine beach have created a fun and hip space where you can spend the afternoon sipping on cocktails or taking a dip in the spa in between immersing yourself in the cool, inviting water of the Ionian Sea.
Relax to a subtle soundtrack of chillout lounge vibes as you work on your tan and enjoy the view.
#8 Costa Merlata Beach
A twenty-minute drive from the white city, Ostuni, through an endless meadow of olive groves, is where you’ll find the beaches of Costa Merlata. The serrated coastline shelters a series of secret coves and idyllic swimming nooks between its rocky ridges.
Park anywhere near Santa Lucia, or indeed further north or south of the petite settlement and walk the coastal path until you find a beach or basin of crystal clear water that you just can’t resist. Then take the plunge and enjoy the tranquillity of Puglia by the sea.
The entire coastline here can be traversed, leaving you to explore at will. Walk through the low shrub, over wooden walkways and around jagged cliffs, stopping to admire the scenery, for a drink at a beachside bar, or to inspect the fallen 16th tower at Torre Pozzelle.
#9 Torre Dell’Orso Beach
Halfway between Lecce and Otranto is where you’ll find the forest-fringed beach of Torre Dell’Orso. While there’s no denying this beach is one of Puglia’s worst kept secrets, you are still able to find calm among the canopies. The southern end of the beach is quieter than the northern end – where the beach meets the resort-town. And if you wander around the bend, you’ll find a secluded nook tucked away between rocky walls.
Approach the beach from the informal car park marked on the map below and after a short walk through a shaded natural park, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of The Two Sisters. These twin rocks just off the coast can be easily accessed if you’re a good swimmer (alternatively hire a kayak and paddle out) and make a popular spot for cliff diving.
If you’ve got the time and energy to spare, walk south along the coastal trail to find the spectacular Torre Sant’Andrea. Natural limestone sea stacks rise from the sea to create a fabulous backdrop for an afternoon frolick. Access to the sea is from the tiny, but perfectly formed Torre Sant’Andrea Beach, but the locals prefer to dive off the cliffs to explore the sea caves and islands below.
#10 Torre di Roca Vecchia, Roca
A short stroll away from the more famous Grotta de Poesia, the Torre di Roca Vecchia is a quiet treasure trove of caves, coves and craggy limestone islands. Between the shore and the street lies an archaeological site that has been carefully excavated to reveal Bronze Age architecture and Mycenaean pottery over a period of almost 30 years.
Beyond the fenced-off site, plenty of ancient caves and dwellings remain to be explored. Walk down the stone stairs then swim through a narrow channel to explore a long-deserted island with its old watchtower – the Tower of Maradico. Climb down to hidden beaches between battered bluffs, or walk around the coast to find the perfect cliff diving launch pad.
Torre di Roca Vecchia is the perfect spot to escape the crowds while still revelling in the scenery and spirit that is ever-present on the Salento coast.
Final thoughts on Puglia beach holidays
After exploring Puglia’s beaches and swimming holes, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the raw beauty and untarnished nature of this exquisite part of Italy. Do yourself a favour and visit the best beaches in Puglia on your next Italian vacation!