Driving Tour: Italy's Authentic South

  • Start Vieste
  • End Maratea
  • Length 650km to 700km; one week

Consider a gentle start in lovely, laid-back Vieste, with its white sandy beaches and medieval backstreets, but set aside half a day to hike or bike in the lush green forests of the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. Follow the coastal road past dramatic cliffs, salt lakes and flat farming land to Trani, with its impressive seafront cathedral and picturesque port, before spending a night in Bari, where you'll find boisterous bars and salt-of-the-earth trattorias. The next day head to Alberobello, home to a dense neighbourhood of Puglia's extraordinary cone-shaped stone homes, called trulli; consider an overnight trulli stay.

Stroll around one of the most picturesque centro storicos (historic centres) in southern Italy at Locorotondo. Hit the road and cruise on to lively baroque Lecce, where you can easily chalk up a full day exploring the sights, shops and flamboyantly fronted palazzi and churches, including the Basilica di Santa Croce.

Day five will be one to remember. Nothing can prepare you for Basilicata's Matera, where sassi (former cave dwellings) are a dramatic reminder of the town's poverty-stricken past. After days of pasta, fave beans and cornetti (Italian croissants), it's high time for some exercise on the trails of the spectacular Parco Nazionale del Pollino. Finally, wind up the trip with more walking or a day of beach slothing at the spread out coastal town of Maratea with its surrounding seaside resorts, medieval village and cosmopolitan harbour, offset by a thickly forested and mountainous interior.