Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, is known for medieval, white-walled hilltop towns, long hot summers, fantastic beaches, and it is considered one of Europe’s top summer destinations for LGBTQ+ travelers.
As early as 2009, mainstream media in the U.K. has touted Puglia as a leading, laid-back gay hotspot and a “bohemian alternative” to the raucous gay scenes of Mykonos and Ibiza. To this day, the region is regularly listed as a top-five European destination according to some of the most followed gay travel influencers, including the Nomadic Boys.
Crystal clear seas, sandy beaches for sunbathers, hidden coves to explore, and a vibrant nightlife – that includes bars, dance clubs, and after-parties – have been a longtime draw for Italy’s LGBTQ community. A poll on GaylyPlanet’s website, one of Italy’s top sources for LGBTQ+ travel inspiration, named Puglia as the nation’s top summer destination for Queer travelers in 2021.
Salento, the southern part of the region, is traditionally the focus for gay travelers. The crowds that spill out and over the sidewalks around Gallipoli’s gay bars at night are the same that hit the nearby lidos at Baia Verde during the day.
Today, the queer scene reaches further afield and it’s more than incidental. Fantastic food, beautiful countryside, and amazing locations all come as an added bonus.
Puglia’s Best Beaches
It’s no surprise that Puglia has two of Italy’s best gay and naturist beaches because this region is all about the sea. Perfectly set on the Mediterranean with over 500 miles of coastline and the longest of Italy’s mainland regions, Puglia is sandwiched between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The landscape along the Adriatic Sea is wild and rugged with limestone sea stacks and prickly-pear-lined cliffs – a contrast to the Ionian’s long sandy stretches of beach.
Puglia’s coasts are lined with several nude sunbathing spots, but they are not exclusively for just the LGBTQ+ crowd. Punta della Suina near Gallipoli is one of Italy’s best gay beaches. Rocky shelves and discreet coves certainly make this an ideal place for beachgoers to shed their clothes. Head north to Spiaggia d’Ayala and Campomarino di Maruggio for golden sand dunes flanked by a pine forest and hot adventure in the cool of the shade.
Located in the port city of Brindisi, Torre Guaceto is the busiest gay beach on the Adriatic coast. It is in a protected nature reserve where vehicles are restricted and difficult to reach. Once you park your car nearby, the gay section of the clothing-optional beach is still at least a 30-minute walk away.
For a cool beach vibe and an LGBTQ+-friendly crowd hang out with the beautiful beach-goers people at Pôr do Sol beach club. Most men here wear speedos, but as our rule of thumb t Vacationer, everyone should wear what they feel comfortable wearing at the beach. We’re body positive.
Away from the beaches, Puglia’s best-known destinations include Bari, Lecce, Polignano a Mare, Monopoli, Alberobello, Ostuni, Gallipoli, and Otranto.
Where to Stay
Think of Puglia as three separate parts. At the northern end near the “spur” of Italy’s boot is Gargano. The southern peninsula forming its heel is Salento, and in the middle is the glorious Valle d’Itria (Itria Valley), with lush rolling olive groves stretching as far as the eye can see.
Queer travelers usually converge on two main destinations: Ostuni, in the heart of the Valle d’Itria, and Gallipoli – also known locally as “Gaylipoli” – in Salento.
The Valle d’Itria, home of the Sherocco LGBTQ Festival, is the preferred destination for lesbian and queer women. Ostuni’s central location makes it the perfect base for traveling around the Valle d’Itria and beyond. Bari and Lecce are less than an hour’s drive away, and Gallipoli is approximately an hour and 40 minutes away.
While hotels are an option, Puglia is better known for masserie farmhouses and trulli, the limestone “hobbit” homes with conical grey stone roofs unique to Puglia. Many of these have been converted to privately owned boutique bed and breakfast accommodations.
Whichever you choose, be sure they come with air conditioning. Daytime temperatures can exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit in the peak of summer.
For chic countryside style in the heart of the Itria Valley, Anima Bed & Wellness is highly recommended. Anima is an LGBTQ-friendly, gay-owned and operated, adult-only bed and breakfast set in a beautiful olive grove between Ostuni and Ceglie Messapica.
For a cool city vibe, Apartment Q40 in Ostuni’s historic center is a private rental, with amazing terraces and views of the old town.
Puglia doesn’t necessarily have any specific gay neighborhoods or villages. Gallipoli and Ostuni, with their stylish bars and restaurants, are the closest that LGBTQ+ travelers will get to that. Gay-friendly bars, clubs, and beaches can be found across the region.
After a day at the beach in Baia Verde, the evening action shifts to Gallipoli’s old town. Start your evening off either at Caffè Bellini or Gogó Food & Drink – their seating areas are adjacent to each other.
Lecce’s old town is packed with amazing restaurants and busy bars. The trendy Zei Spazio Sociale, an LGBTQ+-friendly bar and social space, is popular with Lecce’s student crowd. For a more traditional venue, Marilyn Lounge and Disco Bar is located near Lecce’s Centro Storico neighborhood.
Enjoy a night with queer revelers at Hotparty Italy Disco & Cruising which is located in San Pietro Vernotico, a small town between Lecce and Brindisi. And if you’re in Bari, visit Reverso Unconventional Bistrot, a small gay-friendly wine and cocktail bar.
La Ciclatera Sotto Il Mare is a gay-friendly café with a wonderful terrace overlooking Bari’s old port, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy something light to eat or a place where you can enjoy a pre-dinner aperitif. Their sister bar, La Ciclatera, is located in the heart of the city’s historic center, usually attracting a younger crowd. And for a night of go-go boys and drag queens, head to Makumba Tribe Village, a well-known gay club in Bari.
Where to Eat
Puglia is a popular food destination, so it’s not hard to find inexpensive, but good food. The region’s style of cooking, la cucina povera, literally means “peasant food.” That means the cooking style is simple, but inventive dishes using seasonal, locally produced ingredients.
Known as the breadbasket of Italy, Puglia is the top regional producer of olive oil, and home to two of Italy’s popular wines: Primitivo and Negroamaro.
Puglia gave the world burrata, a delicious soft cheese like mozzarella but with a soft gooey center and it usually comes with orecchiette pasta. Orecchiette con cime di rapa – a softer broccoli rabe – is the most popular dish in the region.
Seafood is always on most restaurant menus. For a mouthful of meat, head to the gastronomy hubs of Ceglie Messapica and Cisternino for bombette pugliese – flame-grilled small cured-meat rolls stuffed with vegetables and cheeses.
If you’re visiting Puglia, you’ll never have a hard time finding good food, but Bari’s El Chiringuito has delicious street food. Grab panzerotti and Peroni at this legendary no-frills hangout on the old port. The inexpensive Trattoria La Cantina in Carovigno is a small family-run trattoria that serves homemade dishes. Call in advance to request their tiramisu.
In Cisternino, Al Vecchio Fornello features traditional bombette and grilled meat dishes selected by weight from the counter. Grottaglie’s Trattoria la Luna nel Pozzo serves delicious, Italian dishes in the slow-food tradition. And just outside Ostuni, Masseria Moroseta, in its minimal décor, offers its guests an exceptional, though expensive, modern take on traditional dishes. Buon appetite!
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