Explore the heel of Italy on this 8-day holiday that visits some of the country's lesser-known towns and villages. Discover the time-honoured traditions of quaint Nardò, Otranto and Gallipoli, see Alberobello's unique trulli, and spend free time relaxing on the idyllic Salento coast.
Meet your Tour Manager and group at the airport in London ahead of your flight* to Bari or Brindisi, in the sun-soaked southern Italian region of Puglia. Located in the 'heel' of Italy, Puglia is an unspoilt treasure bursting with culture and beauty, where quaint port towns, centuries-old dwellings, whitewashed villages and an abundance of verdant vineyards and olive groves are fringed by the sparkling turquoise of the Mediterranean coastline. This is quintessential rural Italy, noted for its rustic charms and simple, unhurried pace of life.
From Bari, we make our way to the lovely village of Santa Maria al Bagno on the Salento coast. Our hotel is the 4-Star Grand Hotel Riviera, which occupies a splendid position by the seafront overlooking the resplendent bay. Our stay is on an all inclusive basis, with all meals included as well as selected beverages at the bar between 6pm and 9pm. We enjoy our first dinner together this evening.
Please note: you will need to take your luggage with you on your flight, rather than by our luggage transfer service.
We head off the beaten track this morning as we transfer to little-known Nardò, a stunning ancient town which gives us an immersive taste of authentic Italian life. Steeped in history, Nardò is characterised by its splendid Baroque architecture, winding lanes, citrus gardens and beautiful main piazza, Piazza Salandra - the beating heart of the town. We enjoy a guided walk around the historic town centre before some time at leisure. Perhaps soak up some sun outside one of the many charming cafés, and indulge in a refreshing aperitif or a scoop of delicious homemade gelato? We return to our hotel for lunch, before an afternoon at leisure in Santa Maria al Bagno.
We transfer to Nardò station this morning for the rail journey to Lecce. Nicknamed the 'Florence of the South' due to its wealth of elaborate Baroque architecture, Lecce has a long and fascinating history. The town was an important Roman settlement during the reign of Emperor Augustus, and some Roman structures can still be seen in Lecce today, including the wonderfully-preserved amphitheatre, which is located in the central piazza.
We explore the town with a guided tour, discovering the decorative Chiesa di Santa Croce and the Piazza del Duomo, which is dominated by the bell tower of Lecce's cathedral. We pause en-route to sample some delicious 'pasticciotto', a traditional local sweet pastry, before some time to discover the leafy lanes, attractive squares and Baroque streets at leisure.
Enjoy a full day at leisure in Santa Maria al Bagno today. With its own private pebbled beach, three panoramic terraces, a stylish lounge bar, 2 swimming pools and impressive views across the sparkling, emerald ocean, you could happily while away the day relaxing at our hotel. A short walk away, in the centre of the village, you will find a selection of delightful bars, cafés and shops, as well as a pretty sandy beach.
Our excursion today takes us first to Alberobello, a charming, UNESCO-listed town which is known for its 'trulli' - mysterious, whitewashed, cone-shaped limestones houses built using techniques that date back to prehistoric times. Boasting more than 1,400 of these quirky trullo, many of which have been converted into galleries, craft shops, or cafés with rooftop panoramas, Alberobello looks unlike any other town in Europe. We enjoy a guided walk and free time to explore before continuing to photogenic Martina Franca, with its elegant alleyways, extravagant Baroque architecture and intricate Rococo masterpiece, the Basilica di San Martino.
We travel to the seaside resort of Otranto today, on the east of the Salento peninsula. Our guided tour uncovers the captivating mix of history, architecture, and culture that is packed into Otranto's compact, 15th-century walled Old Town, including the imposing castle and grand cathedral. An unassuming and peaceful town, Otranto's position at the most easterly point of the Italian mainland means it has seen a number of invasions over the centuries, with a fascinating blend of different influences evident throughout the town today, including Greek, Roman and Turkish. After some time to explore the town at your own pace, we return to our hotel.
We transfer to Nardò this morning where we board the train to Gallipoli. With a name meaning 'beautiful city', it is of little surprise that Gallipoli is a breathtaking town. You have free time here to explore the striking Old Town, nestled on a tiny island and surrounded on all sides by the impossibly blue waters of the Ionian Sea. Gallipoli has a real sense of a destination frozen in time, and strolling through the narrow streets, discovering the 14th-century city walls, Baroque churches, welcoming cafés and charming fishing port is an experience which truly encapsulates 'la dolce vita'.
We return to the hotel this afternoon where you have some time at leisure. You could head to the hotel's rugged private beach to soak up the last of the blissful Italian atmosphere, ahead of a farewell dinner this evening.
Enjoy a final breakfast at the hotel early this morning, before we transfer to the airport for our flight home*.
Please note: you will need to take your luggage back to the UK with you on your flight, rather than by our luggage transfer service.
At Great Rail Journeys, they’ve been providing market-leading holidays for 45 years, making them true rail holiday specialists. Their itineraries combine comfortable hotels, exciting excursions, many delicious meals, leisure time, and fantastic rail experiences – from journeys on modern trains to heritage rail adventures.
Alongside their classic escorted rail holidays, they now have more choices than ever. Their European chartered cruises sail on fantastic vessels with sublime dining options and some of the largest cabin sizes in the industry, and their small groups tours give you access to unique destinations and experiences that wouldn’t be possible in a larger group.
The key elements of their holidays are quality and value. Everything you see is included in the price, and their itineraries are carefully crafted to make the most out of each destination. They use professional Tour Managers, informative local guides and convenient transport. On many tours, they include special touches such as opera visits, special meals, or farewell dinners.
As well as being the leading UK provider of escorted rail holidays, they have also won a number of awards, most recently being awarded the gold award for Best Rail Holiday Company at the 2018 British Travel Awards – a testament to their commitment to outstanding holidays.
They ensure the security of currency fluctuation as part of our price guarantee, so you know you’re getting the best value. They are members of the Association of Independent Tour Operators and flight-inclusive holidays are ATOL or ABTOT protected, while non-flight-inclusive holidays are protected by ABTOT.
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