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Driving in Basilicata and Puglia

I am in the planning stages for a trip in September / October this year. It is my fathers 75th birthday and my wife and I plan to accompany my parents on a driving holiday in the south of Italy. One of the primary goals of the trip is to visit Viggiana in the province of Potenza, where my grandparents are from. Other than that it is our intention to explore the regions of Basilicata and Puglia. We have started to work out a rough itinerary starting in Salerno and picking up a rental car to drive down the coast road to Maratea, where we will stay for a few days, making a day trip to Viggiana and probably exploring further down the coast. From Maratea we intended to drive across the Puglia, to Lecce (or near by), Locorotondo, Giovinazzo, Vietse, Matera, Castelmezzano, then back to Salerno.
I was wondering if I should make a stop in the ionian coast of Basilicata, but there is very little info out there to help me make any decisions. Lonely Planet southern Italy is basically useless. We are Australian / coastal people, but we prefer to avoid any kind of formal beach club / resort type places, we are much more interested in wild coast, rocky coves and cliffs, sea caves that you can swim in, that sort of thing. My looking on google earth seems to suggest the ionian coast may be mostly rows of sun lounges, but maybe someone out there knows better?
Also any suggestions about interesting places south of Lecce? we will have a car and i'm thinking it would be a headache trying to stay in the city itself, we might be better off staying in a smaller town outside the city and visiting for a day on public transport? maybe im being paranoid about it?
id really appreciate anyone opinions on what I have so far, and I will continue to update as the plans come together.
I’ll chime in about Lecce. We stayed there for 4 days and it was our favourite spot in our two week holiday spent mostly in Puglia. We stayed at a B&B with amazing breakfasts in the old city. They provided parking so we parked and just walked the entire time. Lecce is an amazing city. The only time we ventured into Basicalata was to go to Matera. We did stay in Otranto, south of Lecce as well, which was a nice town, but we preferred Lecce. I’d highly recommend the place we stayed, Roof Barocco (I think) the number one place on Trip Advisor. It’s small so if you can’t get in there, I’d definitely say find a place with parking.
Great to get your point of view, we had initially been quite excited to visit Lecce, but had heard a few indifferent reports that had cooled us on the idea and we were wondering if it should be a day trip rather than a base. We will be in the area for three or four days and wanted to explore the coast and surrounding countryside and was thinking it might be more of a headache than its worth staying in a larger city.
We did a Puglia loop a few years ago with Lecce as our base. Our hotel (Risorgimento Resort) was dead center in the town and was an easy shot in and out of the city (there was a bit of a go-around getting to from outside town to the hotel due to one-way streets, but once we figured that out, it was smooth sailing; getting out was a straight shot). There was a great little neighborhood restaurant immediately next to the hotel and several other enjoyable spots to eat nearby. If you like baroque architecture, you will -- literally -- be in heaven. If not, you will overdose on cherubs.

In retrospect, we could have done with a second base a little further to the west to eliminate some of the driving, but we loved Puglia -- everything from sites and activities to the food and dialect, very different from what we are used to Tuscany where we spend the bulk of our time. Our 5 day visit included Lecce, Matera, Otranto, Santa Maria di Leuca (Grotta Zinzulusa), Gallipoli, Taranto, Metaponto, Alberobello, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Cesternirno, and Ostuni. Matera was a very special place as were the towns on the Trulli circuit. Of the other towns, all were good, but had a special enjoyment of Locorotondo -- a white town sitting on the side of a hill with its own local wine and several little sidewalk cafes that remind you of being in Greece with the whitewash and architecture. We also spent a day at the beach while there, but that was pretty barren and windswept and wouldn't be applicable to the time of year that you will be there.
Thanks again for the feedback its really useful hearing of your experiences.
Our trip is five weeks and the current plan is shaping up to be:
Arrive Rome and get over jet lag for two days.
Take the train to Salerno and pick up the hire car.
Drive along the coast to Maratea and use this as a base for four or five days
Drive to Matera through the national park and the mountains.
spend a few days in Matera and do a side trip to Castelmezzano.
Drive Matera to Lecce and spend four days in Lecce and the surrounding area especially the Salento area. should still be pleasant enough for a swim in Mid to late September.
From Lecce we will drive up the coast through Alberobello and Locorotondo to Vieste where we will stop again for a few days then across the peninsula again to see the gardens of Caserta and back to Salerno where we will drop the car off and take the train back to Rome.
Im trying to limit driving to a maximum of about 2-3 hours a day and im also trying to avoid doing any sight seeing where I have to leave the car with all our stuff in it. I know plenty of people will pipe up and say they have never had their car broken into but I personally have three seperate family members who have all had it happen to them so I will not be taking the risk.
Sounds like a wonderful trip!! Will note that the gardens at Caserta were enjoyable, but the palace is extremely timeworn and dilapidated and that the grounds as a whole could be kept up much better. Very sorry to hear about the break-ins -- certainly would ruin the vacation experience.
I think you mean your family is from Viggiano, there are many who have emigrated from there to Australia. (former vice-mayor was born in Australia) Our experience with helping people to discover their ancestral towns is that they always wish they had planned more time in the town. Based on this, I would highly recommend you make an overnight stay at one of the several hotels there as part of your route. Seeing the town during the day when everyone is at work and in the evening when everyone is out is quite different.

Perhaps on your way from Maratea to Matera. BTW the coast around Maratea is gorgeous, try staying down by the port.

Car rentals in Salerno are just outside the train station so good choice.

Here in the south a standard gps will get you lost or take on small mountain roads - guaranteed. Have a map and/or Waze works very well.
@BryanS we have bought the Michelin road atlas to Italy which is not exactly travelling light but i figured that on a driving holiday its critical to know where you are and where youre going.
Thanks for the tip re staying in Viggiano, we were planning a visit on the weekend, but also left enough time in the itinerary to make a return trip or stay overnight if we decided there was more to see / do.

The other thing that I'm trying to work out currently is the end of the trip. I will be driving from Vieste straight across the country to Caserta. I was hoping to break the trip into two with an overnight stay somewhere in the middle - near San Bertolomeo in Galdo in Campagnia - but it would be good to get a recommendation for a place to stay (a town not necessarily a hotel) rather than just picking somewhere based on a google search. Its a bit in the middle of nowhere in particular so I'm not sure if anyone will have strong opinions about anything in the area.
A little off topic, but if you are driving from Vieste, you might consider detouring to San Giovanni Rotondo, the shrine to Padre Pio, if interested in that type of activity. We made our drive from Caserta to Avellino (home of one of my wife's grandfathers) and on to Lecce in one shot and wasn't all that bad, if you choose not to stop. Will also add a genealogical note that the churches in Italy are very tight with family information, but that you should have access to the civil records dating from the Napoleonic era forward at the commune (1815 and later).
Not sure if this requires a new thread or if I can tack it onto the bottom of this post. We are thinking about getting a portable wifi device for GPS and other internet services while on the road - I have seen a few such as ExpressoWifi, that offer wifi connection for 10 devices for 5 euro a day. This is a lot cheaper than Australian data roaming which works out about $5/ day per device. The portable wifi relies on the cellular network, so my question is: is there a mobile phone network in Puglia and Basilicata and how comprehensive is the coverage? will I wind up having to climb to a mountain top to get one bar in order to post a photo of my lunch?
We used Expresso Wifi in 2017, I asked in advance about what network they used, and they said Vodafone. I'm thinking it might have wound up being TIM, but if it's either of them, they're the networks with the top coverage nationwide.
Lunaaron - If you climb one of our many mountains here in Basilicata you'll have no signal, the towers are down lower ;). Wind and Vodafone have the best coverage in Basilicata but remember there are lots of mountains. Puglia is "mostly" flat so coverage is more reliable.
Great Andrew and Bryan, thats all good to know. I will endeavour to find out about the network, I do recall one provider (I think TEP) said they will connect to any available network. Im not obsessed with being connected all the time, but I think its useful for navigation - especially street view to know what things look like before you roll up to them.
And also consider: will you have an unlocked device where you can get a plan from an Italian provider with a good data allowance, which you can use as a hotspot for other devices?


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