Travelers tend to visit Italy for its food, history, landscape and culture rather than its beaches. Sometimes, like in Puglia’s Polignano a Mare, in Italy’s southern heel, these all combine magically. Perched above different layers of gray-black cliffs, Polignano a Mare was born from the waves. Legend says it was founded by a seafaring Roman commander, whose hawk picked the spot on a mission to look for land. High above the sand, a Bourbon-era bridge provides both a stunning backdrop and a viewpoint to the main beach, Lama Monachile, which looks like a fjord but is the mouth of a dead river.
Once an ancient Roman harbor, in summer the beach is a buzzy sea piazza. When it gets overcrowded the locals, born and bred on the town’s rocky escarpments, escape to solo spots on cliff terraces. “We’re sea goats who defy gravity laws,” says local photographer Francesco Scagliusi, who suntans on a chair made of nets that clings to the reef. The town is known for seafood, often eaten raw, but it’s also got great ice cream. The cono tuffato is plunged into whipped cream before being served.