No, I hadn’t heard of Margherita di Savoia in Puglia either. Just an hour north along the coast from Bari airport (flights from as little as €33 one way with Ryanair from Dublin, use the SkyScanner search in the sidebar), this little known town is one of Puglia’s hidden gems. Home to the largest salt pans in Europe (second biggest in the world after Bolivia), miles of untouched beautiful beaches along the Adriatic coastline and an endless supply of dining options, it hasn’t reached peak tourist yet. In fact, it’s pretty much undiscovered in terms of visitors from outside Italy, so expect a hidden gem, albeit a sort of unpolished one. Far from a criticism though, Margherita di Savoia has a rustic charm about it that only comes with a place as yet untouched by mass commercialism. Not a Starbucks to be seen, this place is pure Apulian paradise.
Ok, while that all sounds very sweet and idyllic, is there actually anything to do in Margherita di Savoia? In a word, yes! Here are my top picks…
- The pink lakes are a must see, in fact, they’re unmissable. You’ll see the huge salt mountains from almost every angle and the kilometres of salt pans are the most perfect pastel pink, especially on an overcast day. As are the flamigoes you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of. But why? They feed on tiny brine shrimp, which are full of beta carotene (the stuff that gives carrots their colour) which turns their feathers pink.
While you’re there, try a spot of bird watching. The last photo is the result of my quest to find out if you can take a photo through a telescope, turns out after about 342 attempts, that actually you can!
Word of warning, if you try and climb the aforementioned salt mountain, don’t do it while wearing sandals. Those crystals aren’t the most comfortable when wedged in between leather and toes, although my second shoe-free attempt was hardly forgiving on the soles!
- The local fishing port. Plans are in place for tourist boat trips to leave from this very traditional Italian fishing port. As luck had it, I arrived on a holiday when no fishing was allowed to take place, so the local fishermen took us out for a spin instead. And were apparently cracking jokes…
- The beachfront lidos and beach clubs. During the day, find rows of sun beds and parasols to lounge on and under, or get slightly more active during a quick sail on a hobie cat at Copacabana Suite. Come evening, enjoy ‘Aperitivo’, the Italian’s happy hour, where you can expect an Aperol Spritz or another aperitif with some salty snacks like olives and crisps as a little appetiser before a long and lingering dinner. Come night, the restaurants along the beach provide both casual and elegant dining options. Above, Lunch at Oasi Beach. Below the beach by Hotel Belvedere
- Nearby Barletta. This picturesque city is walkable in a day, from the castle to the Saint Patrick Irish pub (seriously, it was actually very authentic looking, with decent Guinness and delicious traditional Italian fare) there’s lots to see and do. After a nasty allergic reaction to a tiger mosquito bite, I hobbled around determined (suffering more from FOMO than anything else) to see it all. Thanks to lovely local Gianni Sciascia, owner of the Il Campanile B&B in Barletta who gave me a lift in his tropicana themed convertible, I managed to fit most of the sights in and grabbed a few photo ops… Never one to miss out on said Kodak moments, I made it up to the top of the castle for the killer views and down into the dungeons past the slightly worryingly named ‘red room’ where you can actually get married.
- The Terme, thermal health spa. Connected to the Grand Hotel and situated along a stretch of sandy beach, it’s a one stop shop for a whole list of mud treatments and inhalation therapy, both fresh from the salt pans
- Castel del Monte, the octagonal UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The citadel sits atop a hill overlooking the Apulian countryside and was completed in 1240 by its founder Emperor Frederick II. Do an official tour, so as not to get lost in the labyrinth!
- The cipolla (onion) farms in the sand, right by the beach. I have to say I didn’t know there was even such a thing as farming in sand, but there I found myself at 8.30am in the scorching morning sun trying my hand at harvesting the delicious sweet white onions. Unfortunately they aren’t exported, but on the plus side, they’re found in abundance on local menus
Speaking of which, I can’t mention Margherita di Savoia, or indeed Puglia without talking about the food. And let me tell you, I ate and I ate (and I drank more Chardonnay than I have in my entire life!). My favourites from top; fruit after every meal (cherries are sweet and plentiful here), traditional Apulian dishes from Canneto Beach 2 and delicious fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil in Copacabana Suite, seafood at Bagni Haiti
Fresh local produce, wine and seafood, plus the passion poured into every dish make dining in Margherita di Savoia a delight at every meal time. One of my favourite meals came in the form of the only pizza I ate in Puglia, which was at Canneto Beach 2. The family run restaurant’s chef brought out pizza after pizza, all with different toppings and on alternating bases like buckwheat and semolina. Paired with wine chosen by his sommelier son, it was a match made in Apulian heaven.
For more about Margherita di Savoia and other areas in Puglia, visit the Destination Makers website.
All images Nadia El Ferdaoussi. This post was sponsored by Destination Makers. All views are, as always, my own.