From the Murgia plateau to the Salento region. From green Gargano to charming Gallipoli. From the rolling hills of Bari to the bare plains stretching between the Adriatic and Ionian seas, looking eastwards. Italy's heel is a stunning blend of nature, landscapes and ancient rural traditions. It is the meeting point of age-old civilisations and cultures. It is also the perfect spot to spend a romantic trip away, where you can choose between fashionable destinations and dreamy old towns.
1. Walk among the trulli of Alberobello
Alberobello is unquestionably one of the most enchanting and famous towns in Apulia. Famous for its traditional cone-shaped houses known as trulli, in 1996 its historic centre was designated a World Heritage site. Visit the Rione Monti district, consisting of a large cluster of trulli, built on the slopes of a slight hill. Get lost in the alleyways and discover the tiny restaurants, shops and businesses hiding behind the white walls. While it's nice to wander around in the sunshine, it becomes truly enchanting once night falls. Explore the Trullo Sovrano - the 'King Trullo' - the only example of a two-story trullo. Stop to eat at the restaurant L'Olmo Bello (Via Indipendenza, 33), where you'll be able to sample traditional dishes such as orecchiette pasta with turnip greens and chicory with broad bean purée.
2. Explore the Itria Valley
Perfect for doing by car, or by bike if you'd like to really take your time, this route lets you immerse yourself in the Itria Valley and is a true pleasure for the senses. Lose yourself to the aromas of olive tree flowers and the fresh, dry air blowing in from the Balkans, among white towns, trulli and dry stone walls. Explore the circular town of Locorotondo, where you can take in the landscape of the Itria Valley from the public garden and Lungomare viewpoint. Locorotondo is one of the most beautiful 'terraces' in Apulia, overlooking the surrounding area at 400 metres above sea level. The historic centre enchants with its whitewashed walls and brightly coloured geraniums beaming from the wrought-iron balconies. The old town is enclosed within a circle, laid out around the Church of San Giorgio Martire. Next, head to Cisternino. Its unique historic centre arose spontaneously but is made uniform with the whiteness of the lime. Finish the tour at Ostuni, with its unique town centre where the houses overlap, nearly intertwining. Entering these narrow streets means disappearing into a real labyrinth, but one where you won't mind getting lost.
3. The Gargano Peninsula: between the white of the rock and the blue of the sea
If you're a lover of the sea and nature, then the Gargano Peninsula is definitely an ideal area for spending a nice romantic holiday in Apulia. Head to Peschici, Rodi and Vieste to make the most the sea. Or, choose to stay at one of the farms further inland to enjoy the views of both the sea and mountains at the same time. Visit Gargano National Park, a protected natural area since 1995. The town of San Giovanni Rotondo sits on the edge of the park, and is the destination of millions of pilgrims every year who go to pay their respects to the saint Padre Pio.
4. Salento and Lecce, a journey into the Baroque
The Salento region is ideal for couples who love the sea at any time of the year. However, besides the magnificent coastline, this area is the realm of the Baroque, with Lecce as the focal point. Here, discover the churches and palaces embroidered in stone, courtyards, secret gardens and the Roman amphitheatre. Pass through Porta Napoli to reach the historic centre. Stroll down Via Giuseppe Palmieri, admiring the outside of the Teatro Paisiello theatre, heading towards Piazza del Duomo. There, you'll find one of the city's most beautiful squares contained within a large courtyard. Leaving the city and heading down towards the coast, you can stop at Melendugno, Santa Cesarea Terme and Otranto. Then, continuing along the Ionian coast, there's Porto Cesareo, Portoselvaggio and Gallipoli. Finally, explore the mysterious dolmens and menhirs hidden among the olive trees and dry stone walls in the countryside between Giurdignano and Minervino di Lecce, the Palaeo-Christian churches and underground olive presses.
5. Gallipoli, the 'Beautiful City'
Gallipoli is just 40 kilometres from Lecce, on the Ionian coast. Its name means 'beautiful city' and its historic centre rises up from an island of limestone origin, connected to the mainland via an arch bridge. The walls, ramparts and towers that once protected the city from invaders now shelter it from storm surges and add to its historical appeal. Discover its fish market, located in what was originally the moat of the imposing castle. Visit the Church of San Francesco da Paola with its simple façade and then the Church of Santa Maria della Purità, the oldest church and home to the brotherhood of the same name and an art gallery. Dive into the water at the urban bay or the Caribbean-like beaches not far from the city centre.
6. Polignano a Mare, waiting for daybreak
There's something amazing about Polignano a Mare. The birthplace of singer and actor Domenico Modugno, its old town still bears the traces of an Arab, Byzantine, and Norman past, such as the remnants of the four defensive towers that surrounded the old part of the city. Visit the 13th-century Church of Santa Maria Assunta. The Polignano coastline is one of the most picturesque in Apulia, dotted with hidden coves and wonderful sandy inlets. From via San Vito, head down the inlet that goes into the city and dive into the sea. You can reach the different caves easily by swimming. Or, watch the sun rise over the rocks behind the monument to native son Domenico Modugno.
7. The Tremiti Islands: getting away from it all
If, on the other hand, you want to have a really unique, out-of-the-ordinary experience with your better half, head to the Tremiti Islands for a holiday filled with amore. This small slice of heaven off the northern coast of the Gargano Peninsula is home to millennia of history. Visit the historic centre of the island of San Nicola, home to the Abbey of Santa Maria, built in 1045 by Benedictine monks, as well as the Castle of Badiali. Stroll with your partner along the nature trails or dive into the blue sea with a mask and snorkel.
1. Alberobello and its trulli - 7 ideas for a romantic holiday in Apulia.
2. The 'White City' of Ostuni.
3. Lecce Cathedral, an amazing building in the Baroque style.
4. Gallipoli at sunset.
5. Polignano a Mare - Carlo Pelagalli
[CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons