If you’re traveling to Puglia Italy and looking for gluten-free friendly restaurants or ideas for a road trip that covers the best food and beaches, this guide is for you.
Puglia, also known as the heel of the boot, has been on my travel wish list for years. Since the region includes stretches of coast that span two different seas, there are so many fabulous Mediterranean beaches and delicacies pulled from the shores to explore.
We visited friends at their family masseria. This is the term used for farm houses in the area that often date back to the nascence of the region’s oldest olive trees. It was the perfect jumping off point to explore some of the nearby white-washed towns like Mesagne, Grottaglie, and Galipoli, and see what gluten-free friendly restaurants they had to offer.
Puglia is fairly spread out, so it’s easiest to plan your trip around car travel and use one or two hotels or masserias as your home base. For the second leg, we stayed in the beautiful Baroque city of Lecce, where we were able to hit some more spots in the south like Otranto and Grotta della poesia.
Like I mentioned in my Venice gluten-free restaurant guide, Italy is one of the easiest places to eat gluten-free. For some tips on how to navigate a menu and communicate with waitstaff, check out the tips in my gluten-free guide to Rome.
Here is what we’ll cover in this gluten-free guide to Puglia:
- How to Eat Gluten-Free in Puglia
- The Best Beaches to Visit in Puglia
- Where to Eat Gluten-Free in Mesagne
- The Best Gluten-Free Seafood Restaurants in Gallapoli
- The Best Restaurant and Natural Wine Bar in Grottaglie
- The Best Gluten-Free Restaurants in Otranto
- The Best Gluten-Free Restaurants in Lecce
How to Eat Gluten-Free in Puglia
Some of Puglia’s most well-known delicacies are not gluten-free, but like most places, even the smaller towns often have gluten-free pasta or bread in the back for celiacs.
The region is known for orecchiette, small handmade ear-shaped pastas, and taralli, circle-shaped sweet or savory crackers. It also has some of the best focaccia in Italy, often fluffier than northern varieties and speckled with cherry tomatoes and olives.
What you CAN eat if you’re gluten-free in Puglia: fresh handmade mozzarella and stracciatella. We were even able to witness these balls of fresh cheese being hand pulled in front of us at a restaurant and delivered warm right to the table.
You will also find plenty of fresh fish and seafood on menus in Puglia, included red snapper, orate, razor clams and mussels in a spicy tomato sauce (cozze alla Tarantina).
And then of course, if this sort of thing speaks to you, there is the horse meat. Yes, horse meat. You will find this on many traditional menus served in a ragu or braise. Needless to say, as a proud horse girl, I did not partake!
THE BEST GLUTEN-FREE RESTAURANTS IN PUGLIA
Since there are so many wonderful little towns to explore, I’ve organized the recommendations by places we visited.
Where to Eat Gluten-Free in Mesagne
Tipo1 – Our wonderful hosts found this pizzeria and called ahead to make sure they had gluten-free options. They were happy to accommodate with notice and it was one of the best crusts of the trip: pillowy and chewy – just like they do it slightly to the north in Napoli. I got a basic buffala but my companions sampled some of the more creative pies, many of which had nduja and burrata on top.
Golden Bar Gelateria – This gelato joint had gluten-free cones and were well trained in cross-contamination, making sure to use fresh scoopers for my cone. The nocciola and fig flavors were both modestly sweet (in a good way) and very flavorful.
The Best Restaurant and Natural Wine Bar in Grottaglie
Vineria a Sud – If you need to take a break from shopping in the ceramic capital of Puglia (Enza is the nicest spot) wander down to the charming old city and enjoy a few glasses of natural wine in this quaint piazza. The ladies who run the wine bar have excellent taste. We bought 6 bottles to take home with us and all were delicious, funky and interesting. They have gluten-free bread to go with the meat and cheese plates, but you’ll have to abstain from the bruschetta and sandwiches. It’s a great place to stop for apperitivo, but not a full meal for the gluten-free set.
Vico 51 Bistrot – We happened upon this small family restaurant on our way back to our car, and decided we had to have a second dinner. There was a man pulling mozzarella right outside and a nonna making fresh orecchiette. While I obviously couldn’t sample the latter, the mozzarella was worth the visit. It arrived at the table perfectly warm, salty and dripping with latte. I had a gorgeous seared tuna and side of grilled vegetables (the best contorni of the trip) while the others enjoyed their pasta, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m sure there are other places in Grottaglie with gluten-free pasta, but this restaurant is worth a visit just for the quality of other local ingredients.
The Best Gluten-Free Seafood Restaurants in Gallapoli
Ristorante Bastione – The old city of Gallapoli is a very small island, which means many of its restaurants perch on the city walls overlooking the water. This spot was very picturesque and had gluten-free pasta to boot. They served me gnocchi with seafood. My husband had the fish ravioli which was cheese-free. And we shared a beautiful fish in tomatoes and capers, alongside rosemary potatoes, as our secondi.
Trattoria la Puritate – This was another recommendation from our friends. It’s not right on the water, so we opted for Bastione. But wanted to mention it in case you want to explore another option that’s a little bit more low key and inexpensive.
NOTE: you will need to park on the outskirts of the island/old city and walk to these restaurants on foot. Just look for parking signs right before you cross the bridge and ditch your car.
The Best Gluten-Free Restaurants in Lecce
Cucina Mama Elvira – Mama Elvira is a bit of an institution in Lecce for modern Italian cuisine and delicious wines. If you’re looking for dinner, make sure you book at cucina and not the enoteca. We made that mistake, but it was a happy one as we got a beautiful plate of vegetables at the enoteca to start before moseying over to the restaurant. That was basically the only gluten-free dish at the enoteca besides meat and cheese platters (it was delicious!) but there is plenty more at the main outpost. They had gluten-free bread and pasta. We shared a lovely fava bean purée with chicories to start, and then I had the meat Ragu with penne.
La Scarpetta – Don’t let the entrance fool you: this restaurant has a gorgeous courtyard on the interior that makes for a very romantic, upscale dining experience. They make their own gluten-free bread in house and had spaghetti and penne as pasta options. I had mine slathered in a fresh red snapper red sauce. For our second course, we shared the branzino and a generous side of potatoes and grilled vegetables.
Pasticceria Natale – This is the best gelato spot in town, and luckily the majority of the flavors are gluten-free. They also offer gluten-free cones and were careful to swap out the scooping utensils for new ones for my portion.
The Best Gluten-Free Restaurants in Otranto
Laltrobaffo – This restaurant was the best meal of the trip, hands down! And that includes our time in Rome and Venice. It’s worth popping down to Otranto, which is almost at the tip of the boot’s heel, just to eat here. The menu is modern Italian with beautiful ingredients and creative pastas. My husband had an uni carbonara which was seriously decadent, but we both agreed that my unassuming spaghetti with smoked fish and gazpacho sauce was the clear winner. The gluten-free pasta was perfectly cooked, and the starchy water blended together with the dusting of paprika to create a light, smoky sauce. It was perfect. To start we shared their raw fish tasting, and for our secondi, we split a beautiful fillet of fish covered with a chard leaf and served with preserved lemon compote. Very rarely do I end up enjoying more modern Italian restaurants – I usually prefer mom and pop osterias and trattorias. Laltrobaffo was a major exception.
SoFish – Ee didn’t go here but I starred it via the find me gluten free app as a more casual option for seafood sandwiches with gluten-free bread. We recommend splurging on laltrobaffo though!
The Best Beaches to Visit in Puglia
Grotta della Poesia – This is probably the most famous swimming hole in Puglia. If you’ve seen people jumping off cliff’s into an impossibly turquoise sea, it was likely done here. We were nervous it would be swarming with tourists as a result, but getting there before noon meant it wasn’t too overrun yet. If it is too crowded, the neighboring Torre di Roca is usually not as highly subscribed, plus it’s free! You’ll have to pay 3 euros per person to enter the grotta. Since there’s no shade, you likely won’t stay for too long, just enough time to get up the courage to take the plunge in the central swimming hole. Or, in my case, off one of the lower sides with all the bambini!
Torre Borraco – If you’re looking for a flat sand beach with lovely swimming, this spot is a local favorite. Just note that you’ll need to bring your own kit – towels, umbrellas, etc. – as there’s no beach club with chairs on sight. It makes for a much more pleasant experience if you have the set up to go!
Torre dell’Orso – In between Grotta della Poesia and Otranto, this is a great spot to grab a beach chair and hang out for the day.
Spaggia dei Gradoni – In the middle of the town of Otranto, this city beach is actually quite a pleasant place to spend the day. It can be crowded, but the water is very still and lovely for swimming. There are several beach clubs on the water where you can rent a chair for the day.
Punta della Suina – We stopped at this beach near Gallapoli for a dip after lunch. Note that you should not go to the beach club advertised in the parking lot – it’s a fortune and not as nice a place to swim.
Punta Prosciutto – We didn’t go to this beach personally, but it was recommended by a few friends. They had me at the name. I wish we’d had time to see it!
If you’re looking to plan a road trip further north, make sure to also check out my gluten-free guide to Tuscany!
Have you ever been to Puglia Italy? I’d love to hear anything you recommend in the comments so we can plan our next road trip!