Please sign in to post.

Rome + Puglia: 13 days May 2024

I’ve gotten so much help from this Forum that I thought I’d share my experiences for others. Hit me up with questions!

Itinerary:
Four adults (my husband M63, me F55, and the ‘kids’ F24 and M20). 14 days of travel, 12 nights in Italy. 3 nights in Rome to start, 8 nights in Puglia, 1 final night in Rome. Flew from West Coast US to FCO with one stop each direction. The kids’ first trip to Europe, my husband’s 2nd and my 4th. We strongly disliked our connection on the return through EWR — you had to go through TSA security again in the US and, as our flight was delayed leaving FCO by an hour, we only had 1.5 hours to make the connection. Next time I’ll try to route through ORD where you don’t have to go through security again on a connection.

Took Frecciarosa high speed train from Rome to Lecce and back again (5.5 hour trip each way). Because I bought our tickets so early I got us all business class, which was nice to have the legroom for the long trip. Our trip from Rome to Lecce was delayed also by 1.5 hours so we got a 25% refund on that travel. It was a bummer because we would have liked more time in Lecce, but what can you do?

Took the local train from Lecce to Gagliano di Leuca. It was like a Disney train (or a bus) — so small, so slow. No a/c but it wasn’t very warm that day so just having open windows was just fine. No annoucements or anything — you needed to know where you were going and where to get off :)

Tech Stuff:
Spouse and I used Airalo e-sims (data only) which worked really well for all that we needed. The kids’ just used Wi-Fi at our lodgings and had pre-downloaded Google maps. If we split up we made sure each group had a data phone with them so we could WhatsApp if needed.

Used the Trenitalia app for all of our train travel — it was easy to use, could buy tickets 5 min before departure if needed, etc.

Used Google Pay or Garmin Pay (my watch) for the majority of our transactions, especially in nearly all the cities and towns. Used cash for hotel taxes mostly.

Packing & Bags:
Given that this was a big splurge for all of us and us ‘rents were covering a lot of the costs, our plane tickets were super economy (no checked bag allowance). We each had a personal item (that most likely exceeded the airline dimensions for a personal item, but no one even blinked) and a carryon duffle/backpack. The kids each had Deuter Pro-40 duffles, I had a bargain basement Hyeagle 38L backpack, and spouse had a somewhat better but still bargain basement 40 L backpack. My personal item was an Osprey Daylight plus and then I also had a Fjallraven High Coast Pocket inside of that which I used “around town”. I packed: 1 pair flip-flops, 1 pair trail shoes, 1 jumper (Title 9), 2 tanks, 2 merino t-shirts (Bombas), 1 pair shorts, 1 hiking pants, rain poncho, 6 underwear, 6 socks, 2 bras, sleep shorts, sunshirt, lightweight hoodie, sun hat, swimsuit, power adaptor, clothesline, pack towel. Also included hiking notes, maps, copies of travel insurance/passports, and printed out tickets to colosseum and Borghese gallery. My daypack had a pashmina, travel pillow, kindle, water bottle, charging cords (in a BlueQ pouch), makeup (another BlueQ pouch), wireless earbuds and wired earbuds, etc. I have a “bra purse” where I kept my passport and cards — I pinned this with a diaper pin to the inside of my Fjallraven rather than keeping it under my clothes — even if someone had opened the Fjallraven they could not have just pulled out the pouch with the passport/cards. On the plane I wore lightweight hiking pants, compression socks, Adidas town shoes, a tech polo, bralet.

Posted by
77 posts

Bags con’t: My bag kinda sucked because it had no structure at all, but packing cubes definitely helped. And it was fine for what it was — I think the longest carry was through FCO from landing through immigration to the train and it wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrid. And even with that I really liked having a backpack rather than wheeled luggage — I just felt so much more mobile. I ended up not using the rain poncho (we only had light sprinkles one night) and the hoodie (though if it had been a few degrees cooler or a bit more windy then it would have been used).

Rome

We had 3 nights in Rome to start. Landed Sunday afternoon and navigated through immigration to the train to Termini in about 2 hours. Train was full, but we actually got seats and there were only a few folks standing. We stayed at The Beehive in two private rooms (with shared bathrooms). Easy to find and was just what we were hoping — clean, comfortable, safe, welcoming. And the kids could socialize (and go out) with the folks their age but it also wasn’t weird for the parents to be there for aperitivo either. The kitchen was well appointed and we appreciated its use on a couple of mornings.

After settling in we walked to the cat sanctuary at Lago Argentinia, wandered by the Bernini elephant statue (awesome!) to the Pantheon (it was closed and my one trip regrets is that we just never got the timing right to go into it), got dinner at an ok ‘student hangout’, then meandered around and ended up at Trevi Fountain. We all were expecting a mob scene at Trevi Fountain and yes, it was definitely crowded and busy (it was probably 9pm by this point), it wasn’t wall-to-wall can’t-move crowded and we could all see the fountain. And that fountain is HUGE — that really exceeded all expectations. Then wandered back to hostel for sleep.

Day 2: We had 8:45 tickets to the Colosseum and a 3 hour private tour arranged with Sonia Tavoletta and were to meet her at the Colosseum metro. So we got up and I managed to order us coffees and cornettos at a super busy bar near Termini (which was a victory for the day) and then we were off to figure out the Metro. We were shadowed by a guy who watched me buy our Metro tickets with my credit card, watched me put it in my zipper pocket, followed us to the platform, where we moved the card from my pocket to my son’s sling bag on his chest in a deep zipper pocket. The dude did NOT get on the metro car after us — he saw us watching him watching us, etc. However I have never been on a more packed subway car in my life. 8:15am and literally squeezed in. But we made it with nothing stolen and met up with Sonia. She was such a good tour guide — we learned more in that 3 hours than we didn’t know we didn’t know.

Got lunch in Monti at a small place, then headed back to nap/rest at the hostel. Met up for apertivo with the hostel folks, son went out with the hostel ‘kids’ and daughter and ‘rents went to an enoteca nearby for some more wine. Also stopped by grocery store for breakfast things for a ridiculously early start the next day.

Posted by
77 posts

Rome Day 3. St Peter’s Basilica. We tried to be at St Peter’s by 7 and were there by 7:30, so not too bad. Subway headed that way at that hour was not at all crowded (we got seats even). The security line at 7:30 took 45 minutes (and it was all kabuki theater — the guy supposedly looking at the scanner was scrolling FB the entire time we went through). We then waited in line again because we really wanted to go up the dome — we didn’t make it up to the top until about 9/9:30. It was a long morning of standing in line. However it was TOTALLY worth it (with caveat later). The dome was so cool to see up close and also to see and experience the inside as well. We were back down into the floor of St Peter’s by about 10:30. (Aside, my spouse lost/left his phone on a step at the landing with the cafe/bathrooms, noticed it was gone at the top, went back to get it (had to go round about) and IT WAS STILL THERE when he got back to it. Crazy).

St Peter’s is so huge that despite the thousands of people inside it still felt semi-empty. It was amazing - I don’t even have good words to describe it.

We exited the cathedral around 11:30. By this time the security line was at least 2-2.5 hours long. In the sun with no relief. As amazing as St Peter’s was, there is No Way I would have waited in this line. IOW — get there early.

Grabbed sandwiches at a place near the cathedral, caught the Metro back to near Borghese Villa, found a spot in the park, laid out the pashmina, had a picnic, took a small nap, took pictures, petted dogs, and basically rested. We had Borghese Gallery tickets at 3:30 and spent about 45 minutes in the gallery. Then wandered around the Copperte district looking at all the cool buildings. We tried to get wine at an enoteca but were too early, so got a drink at a random bar, headed back to the hostel, and had dinner at a small place around the corner. (Note in hindsight there were tons more dinner options south of Termini than North where we stayed).

Day 4. 8am train to Lecce. Got coffee and cornetto again before train plus grabbed meat/cheese/leftover pizza for mid-day train snack. The plan was to get lunch in Lecce when we arrive at 1:30. 1.5 hour delay meant we were VERY hungry and highly recommend the hole in the wall kebab place right near the Lecce train station. I think lunch was 15 Euros for all four of us and it was delicious. We all LOVED Lecce. From the actual village passegiato to the architecture to the pasticiccio — we wish we had stayed there 2 nights and Rome only 2 nights.

Day 5-11. We were on the InnTravel Pathways to Puglia trip, so I won’t go into detail. Masseria Alcorico was so nice, quiet, welcoming, etc. We spent an extra night at Masseria Panareo, which was really needed after 4 days of walking/hiking/swimming. Our son walked into town (about 1.5 miles away) to get lunch and it was pretty eye opening and a reminder that we were guests in a farming region that may not all be happy to have tourists in their midst. Before I left I asked if it would be warm enough to swim and got answers all over the map. I’ll report back that yes, the sea water was brisk, but also yes, it was perfect for swimming and rock jumping during the heat of the day while hiking :). One note is that even though many of the places we stayed mentioned a/c, the a/c wasn’t turned on until June or July. So opening the windows was fine, except everyone kept their grounds REALLY lit up at night, so we had troubles sleeping. Which was unfortunate, because we were looking forward to quiet and dark sleep.

Posted by
77 posts

Couple notes about Otranto. First off, the sandy beach right in town was so cool AND there was beach passeggiarre — the water was really shallow out quite a ways, it was cool, and so nearly everyone who went in the water just walked at hip/knee depth from one end of the beach area to the other. It was quite fun. Secondly the cathedral in Otranto was an amazing contrast to St Peter’s. It was also huge and beautiful and the mosaic floor was amazing, but instead of being about the grandeur of the Church, it was more about linking the pagan faiths to the Christian faith and bridging those beliefs.

Day 12. Taxi to Lecce, train to Rome. We slept this night at Roman Terrace Rome hotel, about 2 blocks south of Termini. We all really like this spot as well — very much a “cheap and cheerful” type of spot. The outside looks sketch, but inside it’s secure, there’s an ancient lift or easy two flights of stairs, and then the actually units have a small shared terrace that was perfect for morning breakfast snack. Plus way more food options nearby. That evening we walked through Monti, visited the Victor Emmanuel II monument, had dinner at an enoteca in Monti (Astemio, very good). Up early the next morning, one last navigation of a pasticceria ordering and then getting baked goods, picked up sandwiches in Termini for the airport, train to FCO (full, but no standing), and then traveled home.

Thoughts/observations. 3 of the 4 of us don’t need to visit Rome again. The 4th (the Boy) would only go back to Rome :). Rome was a lot and I’m super glad to have been there and experienced it, but I loved Milan last year and realize that I like a bit more order to my cities, LOL. That said, we were all a bit concerned about crowds, etc based on reading before traveling. And it was not nearly as crowded as we thought it was going to be. It’s a big city and there are people everywhere and sometimes we don’t all fit on the sidewalks and there’s always car/moped/bike traffic and crossing the street takes merging with traffic, etc. But it wasn’t ridiculously crowded — we could get where we needed to go when we needed (though that one subway ride!), we were able to eat when and almost always where we wanted, etc.

Pickpockets certainly abound. We saw them all over in Termini in particular. Also saw the street vendors/friendship bracelet people but we never felt or were harassed or impeded by anyone. I don’t know if we gave off “don’t mess with us vibes” or what.

I also don’t know if I would go back to Puglia. It was great and I’m so fortunate to have been able to see it. And to swim in the Med and jump from rocks! And eat bread made with the wheat grown right there! But trees and hills are more my jam, so if we ever go back to Italy it’ll probably be to Tuscany (or more time spent in the North in the Dolomites). But the big goal of this trip — to spend one last YOLO adventure as a family was certainly that. And after reading Jean’s trip report and the reason for her returning earlier than planned, I’m more glad than ever we stretched our resources to do this.

Posted by
21 posts

Hi,
Thanks so much for sharing your experience down to your packing list and transportation taken. I find it very useful for our first time to Puglia, this June 18 to 26.

My husband and I are visiting Italy for the 4th time, my husband's 2nd, and after a 7 day cruise, we are taking the train from Rome to Lecce like you and flying back to US/east coast via Bari airport, connecting via Zurich- EWR. I haven't bought my train tickets yet and hope to find a good deal as you have.

We are doing our own touring with a rental car from Lecce for a week and will use Lecce as a city base for 5 nights then move to a Masseria in Valle D'itria for the last 3 nights. I couldn't find any weeklong tours with availability.

What were your top 3 favorite towns and top 3 sights in Puglia? Any favorite restaurant? We haven't set a daily itinerary and are collecting advice. We may not be hiking at all but would like to try a short and easy one. How did you get a refund for a train delay in Rome?

Grazie!

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks for the tips on St. Peter's Basilica ... we will go there too with 4 friends and share your post.

Posted by
77 posts

What were your top 3 favorite towns and top 3 sights in Puglia? Any favorite restaurant? We haven't set a daily itinerary and are collecting advice. We may not be hiking at all but would like to try a short and easy one. How did you get a refund for a train delay in Rome?

Top 3 towns: Lecce, Castro (a smallish fishing town with great/easy swimming access though the water there was the coldest, ruins of Minerva’s temple!, and just lovely to wander through), and Otranto. Sights: Porto Badisco for rock jumping/swimming/beautiful coves (if you want to do this and have room in your luggage we all wish we had had Chacos/Tevas/water shoes for getting out on the rocks here, but we managed ok without), the cathedral in Otranto stopped me in my tracks with the mosaics, and we also really enjoyed exploring the castle and the domed church in Lecce (along with all that Lecce had to offer). Restaurant: seriously the kebab place near the Lecce train station. We also had an amazing aperitivo at the Est Hotel in Santa Cesarea Terme — if you are touring near that area one day and it’s late afternoon the rooftop bar is spectactular and the aperitivo was a great dinner. Dinner at Masseria Alcorico was also really good (near Gagliano di Leuca).

The train delay refund was really easy — it was announced while we were on the train and I think I was able to initiate it through the Trenitalia app once our journey was over. Once the claim was submitted they automatically refunded our credit card I used for purchase. I’d recommend that if your travel plans are now firm, buy your train tickets now — they will only get more expensive the longer you wait.

Carrie

Posted by
3245 posts

Thanks for your good report.
I’m happy to know that you loved Lecce.
We are going there for 5 nights in the Fall, and will take day trips by train to Otranto and maybe Gallipoli.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you, Carrie, for your quick and detailed reply! We hope to see your fav top 3 towns and bring the right shoes for the coast. Hope it is easy to drive around the area as the package group tours are already full and we weren't able to find any availability.

Posted by
7463 posts

Thank you for sharing your trip with us, Carrie! And, yes, I am so glad you did this as a family for the wonderful memories! (heart)

It’s interesting that Lecce was my least favorite (although I liked it) of all of the places I stayed in Puglia, and it was your favorite. It’s a good reminder that everyone has their own unique wishes & experiences during a trip.

I was surprised how nice the ride was from Lecce to Rome in the business seats on Trenitalia, and their app was so easy to use! I ended up getting some refunds for tickets I couldn’t use, and that process was just a couple of clicks in the app.

Thanks for sharing what you packed, also!