Puglia Without a Car - Please Help!

Old Jan 11th, 2021, 10:56 AM
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Puglia Without a Car - Please Help!

Greetings Fodorites,

My husband and I, in our 60's/70's, are planning a trip to Puglia and Sicily October/November of this year. We're independent travelers and while we've been to Italy numerous times, this will be our first time in Puglia and Sicily. We've made the decision not to rent a car, so we'll be relying on trains and other public transportation.

I've done a fair amount of research, but we need your expert advice! This is our thought so far...

Probably a total of six nights (could be more if needed) in Puglia with Lecce and Alberobello as our bases. Train from Rome to Lecce. Probably three nights in Lecce with a day trip to Otranto.

Train from Lecce to Martina Franca or Locorontondo, then taxi (?) to Alberobello. We want to see the towns and surrounding area including Ostuni and Cisternino. Also a day trip to Matera.Are there tour companies in that part of Italy that you'd recommend? Both for drivers and for day tours such as Matera, Ostuni, etc.? We've hired receptive tour operators in Egypt and India with much success (being driven from airports to hotels, from town to town, etc.) and I'd love to find similar companies in Puglia.

Next question is how to get from Puglia to Sicily. Should we hire a driver to drive us to Reggio Calabria for the ferry to Messina? Fly from Bari to Catania? Other ideas?

So as not to crowd this thread, I'll include questions about Sicily on another thread. Thanks in advance for your always excellent ideas and advice!
Ellen
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Old Jan 11th, 2021, 12:00 PM
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I will answer your last question first- I'd fly from Bari to Sicily, that would be a lot easier. Also rather than take the train Rome to Lecce, fly from Rome to Bari. (this saves time as well)

We were in Puglia in 2014 and loved it but had a car and it is not hard to drive there. It is not super easy to get around to the different towns by public transport but if you search the trip reports here I remember at least one poster who was able to do it.
We drove to Matera for the day and used Nadia Garlatti as our guide, she was fantastic and gave us a great day.
Her email: [email protected]
I hope this is still current, as previously stated, it was 2014.
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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 02:07 AM
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I've used public transport and cycled around Puglia and public transport operates at a variety of levels.

Probably the place to start is any of the Airport websites
https://www.bariairport.net/transport/buses.shtml this shows the local to town or Bari links, except in very high summer they ar pretty much on time. You will also see the "Pullman" services (means long distance) at the bottom, these are really good services, buy the ticket on line to get a reservation and they work very well.

Major city bus stations are also normally pretty good but the size and unfamiliarity can be a bit confusing but with a little patience are fine.

Then there are the two train companies. By chance, when Italy was reorganising the railways after the war they forgot the train company that goes south of Lecce and the result is a terrible service but maybe a bit of an adventure. In the rest of Puglia you have the normal service which is fine.
https://www.trenitalia.com/en.html but I'd probably start here https://www.viaggiareinpuglia.it/spo...bblici&r019=en

You'll notice that the map excludes the heel (Salento) "e' un casino"

Two things worth looking out for are agriturismo.it which are farm stays of various levels and can include converted Trulli with the opportunity to eat local foods prepared by locals who grew the food. The "pausa" in the summer is very long. It gets very hot and so basically by 1pm everything shuts until 3. Churches close at 12. For tourists who want to get on it is a pain but if you are in a restaurant they will still serve you but once you step out that door.. forget it. Since Italians eat their main meal at lunch this is not an issue but for you it might be.


Last edited by bilboburgler; Jan 12th, 2021 at 02:30 AM.
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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 07:47 AM
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Great info - thanks. raincitygirl, I also think that flying from Bari to Sicily would be a lot easier than making our way to the ferry, etc. And I agree that flying from Rome to Puglia would save a lot of time. Thanks for Nadia's information; she sounds like exactly what we want for a day trip.

bilboburgler, you gave me a lot to research! For me, a travel agent in my former life many years ago, doing the research is half the fun. I didn't know about the viaggiareinpuglia site, so I'll get into that.

When we thought we'd have a car I was looking at agriturismos outside of the towns, mainly because it would be easier to park there than inside the cities. But now that we know we won't have a car, I'm leaning toward staying in the center of Lecce and whatever city we choose in the northern part of Puglia. I'd love to stay in a trullo!

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Old Jan 12th, 2021, 07:52 AM
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In Lecce consider staying in a B&B in the old town with a roof terrace. Not very international or Anglo-saxon but very Italian. BTW something will go wrong in Puglia it is that sort of place so just chill

https://www.yltourdmc.com/ Ylania arranged a holiday for in Puglia for 4 days and organised lots of visits, she knows everyone and though her website looks a bit posh she works hard and will hit your price target.

One thing worth understanding is most Puglian towns look pretty bad from the outside, lots of adverts, horrible blocks of flats and graffiti. But just about every one has a pearl in the centre inside this shell. So don't be disappointed by the bus station or the bus station, just walk a few blocks (in Puglia often only a100 yards) in the right direction and you will find real beauty.

These old centres are often narrow and one way systems so having a car becomes a real pain. You will see great grooves worn in buildings where multiple vehicles have tried to make the turn. Going Ped is the best solution. Often B&B owners will come and pick you up or send a taxi for you (you pay of course but not a lot). Don't expect lots of English being spoken but slow down and relax and people will help. B&B often don't give you breakfast but send you to a local bar with a ticket. A great way to get to know the locals.

Last edited by bilboburgler; Jan 12th, 2021 at 08:11 AM.
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Old Jan 14th, 2021, 04:45 AM
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Ellen, we are "without car" enthusiasts, but for many years, we had the advantage of having Backroads or other cycling company trips mid itinerary. That meant we could use their shuttles or our cycles.

Nevertheless, you might find my Puglia trip report helpful because of how we used Bari as our "command central" for public transport.
Getting Flashed in Puglia and Other Adventures

In the years since I tossed my cycling shorts (my female parts celebrated) , we still only do public transport everywhere, and there is always a way. I can't tell you how many times we've been told, "You can't do this without a car," and somehow, we not only get the job done but have great adventures along the way.
AZ
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Old Jan 14th, 2021, 08:40 PM
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I would a million times rather take the train from Rome to Bari than fly (and even more take a train to Lecce than take a flight from Rome to Bari then train onwards to Lecce). It might take a little longer but not as much as you might think from looking only at the flight time. I get to see something along the way and have a much easier journey. And I can polish my environmental halo.

Six nights for Puglia does not sound very long (especially if you also wish to visit Matera) so if time permits I would extend your holiday.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 03:06 AM
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Good point the train (depending on route) climbs through the mountains with loads of little tunnels etc very pretty and the Taranto section follows the coast, you could even stop for a night say in Potenza. Or you could change in Potenza (you need to change station) and take the narrow gauge to Gravina through empty fields. Gravina has ancient cave churches down in the gorge and is a worthy 24 hour visit in itself.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 03:21 AM
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If you take the Taranto bound Intercity mentioned by Bilboburger, you may leave it at Ferrandina in order to change to a Matera bound bus and spend your first night at Matera.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 09:07 AM
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On the same train you could visit Metaponto. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metapontum
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 09:25 AM
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dreamon, I'm interested as to why you'd rather take the train from Rome (other than helping the environment which I do agree with). I agree that it affords views of the countryside that we wouldn't see from a plane (and we do love Italian trains), but to your point about us not having a lot of time in Puglia, flying would give us another half day. I found flights from Rome to Brindisi with a shuttle service to Lecce. I'd love for you to expound on your thoughts!

AZ, I'm in the process of reading your trip report - thank you for steering me to it!

Ciao.
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Old Jan 15th, 2021, 01:20 PM
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Ellen, I was thinking of the journey but not thinking about whether it shortens your time in Puglia. However, when you compare journey times, there are direct trains Rome to Lecce from 5:30hrs (I'd take a picnic). If you fly, you need to get to the airport, wait to board your flight (assuming you've already checked in), fly, disembark and find the shuttle, shuttle to Lecce. At a guess, that's roughly 4hrs if all goes well. So the difference is not huge. The prospect of stopping for a night or two in Matera enroute (which you've mentioned you'd like to visit) would be also very attractive if you have the time. But in the end, it comes down to the fact that I like travelling by train and I don't particularly like travelling by plane. The train trip is part of the journey and adds to the experience; the flight is just a means to an end. I don't know what the train timetables will look like when you travel (direct trains are currently somewhat limited) - or even whether safe travel will be possible - but I hope you have a great holiday.
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 05:35 AM
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Thanks, Ellen for reading that trip report--and giving me an excuse to re-read and relive it. We have been so housebound (and OLD) that I am startled by how frisky we were. I was just months away from a hip replacement on that trip. I now feel like that famous epitaph: "I Told You I Was Ill"

Anyway, I was thinking, "Why did we fly instead of 'train'?" After all, we've done a lot of train journeys, especially with regional rail passes, before and since. I suspect the timing of flight/bus and/or shuttles did work out better, and flying may have been cheaper.

I am also convinced you will be able to find oodles of drivers and/or local tour within about two months. The obvious local entrepreneur of our trip years ago was "Mimmo" and I'd certainly start with his website which seems to have expanded services: https://www.trulliepuglia.com/en. Nevertheless, COVID has hit Italy hard, and I can see major booking agencies are straying away from firm tour dates.

I also suggest you do a search for "Puglia cooking class" websites for some direction. OMG--If you guys could learn to make taralli, that would be a lifetime achievement. Forget making orecchiette,taralli are life changing.

I'm going to look up what "Mr Blue Eyes" at the cafe parking lot has done. I suspect he and Mimmo are cousins.

Another thought I had came from that old trip report--the fact that a lot of Puglia resort crew and locals just go on to Sicily for the winter. I'm sure you can tap into some local Puglia chat rooms/threads for good info about best transport, etc.

I have trip envy!!!
AZ
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 04:13 PM
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AZ, I thoroughly enjoyed your trip report - what an accomplishment and such beautiful scenery to boot! We're all housebound, aren't we? But I'm in my "happy place" planning a trip once again, finally. Yes, Italy has been hit so hard, but my guess and hope is that Europe will open as soon as it can, and I'm hoping that will mean October/November is safe for planning.

I had a brainstorm (well, a thought, anyway) today. Three of us (my husband, our adult daughter and I) will meet in Italy for this portion of the trip. They'll come from different cities in the US and I'll already be in Europe. Instead of meeting in Rome, we'll meet in Naples which we love. We'll spend a few days there and take the train from there to Lecce. The more I research Puglia - and thanks to Fodorites who have given me info and good sites - I think it won't be hard to travel within Puglia by train or private transfer. I'm thinking of using Martina Franca as our base in the northern part of Puglia, although Alberobello is also very interesting and I love the trulli. I'm thinking Martina Franca as it's a little larger and has a good passeggiata which we love.

And finally, I'm thinking that we'll fly from either Brindisi or Bari to Catania for the Sicily portion of the trip. At least I have lots of time to plan!
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Old Jan 16th, 2021, 04:27 PM
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Oh AZ, I forgot to mention taralli. I had never heard of them before your post and now I can't wait to taste them! Question...since our trip is still 8+ months in the future, should I order some on Amazon or wait to taste them in Italy?
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Old Jan 17th, 2021, 10:08 AM
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None of my mail-order taralli tasted right, Ellen. And that's logical. Freshness is a factor. The cooking process is similar to that of a pretzel AND a bagel. Yeah, we'll accept packed pretzels, but since when would a mail-order bagel taste great? The product doesn't taste like a pretzel or a bagel. It tastes like great pie crust edges (I baked very good pies for eons) with fennel or ground pepper. Good pie crust goes stale FAST.

Heck, I might be overselling it. But since my husband and I don't eat junk food and we found ourselves inhaling these, it IS something different one should experience.

My husband's 76th birthday is coming up in February. I'm thinking I'll made some odd things for him that he's loved on our travels. Taralli would be perfect with pre-meal collection. Would end with a Coeur à la Crème, I think.
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Love your brainstorm.

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Old Jan 18th, 2021, 03:18 PM
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Alessandra, I just read your trip report from your cycling trip in Puglia and wanted to say how much I enjoyed it - thanks for writing! I would love to think that I could do something similar but cycling more than about 20km is a challenge and when faced with a hill as often as not I get off and walk up. Cycling is a wonderful way of seeing a place so I really need to get off my backside and try to get a bit fitter (before I get too old) so I too can perhaps do these sorts of holidays.
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Old Jan 19th, 2021, 12:48 AM
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Originally Posted by dreamon View Post
Alessandra, I just read your trip report from your cycling trip in Puglia and wanted to say how much I enjoyed it - thanks for writing! I would love to think that I could do something similar but cycling more than about 20km is a challenge and when faced with a hill as often as not I get off and walk up. Cycling is a wonderful way of seeing a place so I really need to get off my backside and try to get a bit fitter (before I get too old) so I too can perhaps do these sorts of holidays.
​​​​​​Puglia is pretty flattish. To the north you have a plateau called the Murge and towards to coast and south you have a flat coastal area. The trick is to stay on one or the other.
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Old Jan 20th, 2021, 08:29 AM
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Hi Ellen:

I did Puglia by public transportation in Spring of 2019. Here is my trip report:

Trip Report Ger’s Puglia Trip Report: 19 days in May 2019 - Page 4 - Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

It is definitely 'doable', but you need a sense of humour and adventure, massive flexibility and a few decades of the rosary .

I think I have covered off most of the peculiarities of the Puglia transportation system. PLEASE: DO NOT THINK YOU CAN RELY ON TAXIS - it is very hit and miss - mostly miss! I think you will find that many trips will be by bus, not train. Depending where you are going, the train station is often not near the town, while the bus goes into the centre.

Re Matera: I would strongly recommend staying at least one night (I would have preferred two).

Lecce is simply gorgeous and Martino Franca well worth the trip.

Regards Ger

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Old Jan 20th, 2021, 08:55 PM
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Whether or not you can manage with public transit always ends up being a question of where and when. It's one thing if you're going to Bari or one of the larger towns. If you want to hit the tiny little hamlet at your own pace think carefully.

Also November is very much post beach season. Everything will be geared to the locals going to work or school.

Final point. At the current pace November of this year I seriously doubt Italy will be fully vaccinated. Best case that means social distancing on trains and buses. But I would not want to take a six hour train ride.
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