Drawing an ideal line between Lizzano
on the Ionian sea and Torre Santa Sabina
on the Adriatic sea a virtual border can be traced to define Salento from the rest of Apulia.
A great number of destinations can be visited in Salento, combining seaside relax with historical, natural and cultural interests. On the Adriatic coast at 30 km south of Lecce
60 miles separate the town of Otranto
from Albania and this is the reason why it is also known as the Door to the East.
Before being destructed by the Ottoman Empire in 1480 Otranto was a strategic town with political, cultural and commercial importance. The remaining ancient walls and the imposing shape of the castle which has been restored and can be visited is a proof of its glorious past. 150 Turkish ships besieged the sea waters in front of the town and bombarded it with stone cannonballs which can be seen till today. Eight hundred people died during the year of the Turkish dominion and they are still remembered nowadays with some celebrations taking place every year in summer. Pelasgi bastion is the ideal belvedere for a beautiful view on the Adriatic sea and Otranto port.
On the highest part of the town the Cathedral
represents the biggest church of Apulia. It was built in 1068 and different styles and ages wonderfully mix with a colored mosaic flooring, which is the largest of Europe, a Renaissance rose window, Romanesque decorations and medieval elements.
On the other hand, Byzantine art prevails in St. Peter’s Church,
whose frescos are the most popular attractions.
Otranto has beautiful beaches
at some km north of the town where fresh and salted waters mix near the lagoons named Alimini lakes,
also visited for its trekking and bird-watching interests.
Surfers can practice their favorite sport at the long beach of Turkish Bay
not far from Alimini lakes. The territory near Otranto can be discovered with short excursions
where The Museum of Paleontology
of Salento are situated.
The famous Neolithic Deer Cave of Porto Badisco, which contains the most important primitive pictures in Europe, is recreated by a multimedia section at the Paleontology Museum.
The botanic garden of Giuggianello is a pleasant oasis of paths passing through greenhouses, rose bushes and Italian flowerbeds.
Fifty km south of Otranto, where Salento reaches its southest extension the seaside resort Santa Maria di Leuca
boasts more different origins than its present touristic reputation. In fact, it was founded on the site of an ancient sacred destination for pilgrims where the Sanctuary of Madonna de finibus terrae was built. As it frequently happens in Italy, the Christian church was founded on the ruins of a pagan temple. Its location on the outermost stretch of land in front of the wide sea probably inspired the ancient founders, who wanted to celebrate and gain gods’ favor. The sanctuary’s square offers a beautiful view on the latest part of Apulia before the coastline goes up towards Taranto
. The name Leuca derives from Greek and means "white" just like the color of the headland Iapigio protecting the port.
At a short distance from the sanctuary, one of the most important lighthouses of Italy rises to more than 48 m. Along the promenade, Punta Ristola can be reached and a boat should be rented to visit the numerous caves on the shore. Small houses and luxury residences built in Tuscan , Arab, Ionic and many other styles face on the so-called Villas Promenade which is worth a walk before leaving Santa Maria di Leuca.
Along the western coast of Salento where the wide Gulf of Taranto
begins the beautiful town of Gallipoli
looks like a white island joined to the mainland by a stone bridge, built in the first years of the 17th century. More exactly, the old town was originally built on the island by the Byzantine Empire as a fortified village in defense against Saracen incursions. A thin land was then the only access to town, joining it to the mainland. The new town began to expand beyond the walls in 1785 and was divided into a part exposed to the sirocco and another exposed to the north wind.
Gallipoli is a very famous destination of Salento thanks to its natural beauty and artistic treasures hidden within the tangle of lanes on which elegant houses, courtyards and terraces overlook. A main road divides the old own into two parts and a panoramic road passing over the ramparts offers scenic views on Gallipoli coastline.
Galilei Promenade extends along the large beaches
which alternate with low rocks. The beach of Purità
is the most appreciated by Gallipoli’s inhabitants and is easily accessible for its close location to town. The number of tourists considerably increases up to 200,000 in the summer season so that Gallipoli turns into a crowded holiday resort with every type of accommodations such as hotels, B&B and campings which can receive them.
Among the monumental treasures the Church of Purità situated near the homonymous beach is only one of the numerous churches of Gallipoli. The white simple façade contrasts with the sumptuous inside made of elaborated plaster decorations with large paintings of the 17th century and an imposing marble altar.
The Angevin castle
is surrounded by the sea and its present aspect is the result of many modifications undertaken to increase its defensive role since it was built in the 13th century. The fortified tower del Pizzo
is one of the most evident transformations added in the 16th century. Gallipoli’s natural beauty offers not only blue clear waters but some of the most interesting areas of Salento where nature has remained uncontaminated. Sant’Andrea island
and Punta Pizzo
are protected by the National park established in 2006.
The small island of Sant’Andrea
has a surface of only 2 square km, but its importance has international renown. On the completely inhabited island that in the past was used for herds pasture, a rare species of seagull lives and nests. For this reason access to the island is subject to restrictions in order not to interfere with the delicate habitat. In fact, guided tours and corals on the beautiful seabed are the attractive reasons to approach the naturalistic area at only 2 km from the centre of Gallipoli. Punta Pizzo is an uncontaminated stretch of Ionian coastline south of Gallipoli extending for 8 km with a wonderful sandy beach. Swampland alternate with Mediterranean vegetation such as myrtle and broom, creating a natural habitat for different bird species. The park can be visited on foot along some easy access walks, by bike or on horseback.
Salento is not a wide territory but is very rich in interesting destinations which would take several days to be visited. In addition to the most famous places like the ones above illustrated, other minor resorts are worth a visit. Clear waters and beautiful beaches like San Cesario or small town like Nardo’ with the elegant baroque square are only some of the natural and artistic jewels of this outermost part of Italy.
Salento can be reached by car along the Highway A14, exit Bari Nord and then follow the motorway Brindisi-Lecce for all Salento destinations. From Lecce railway station trains and shuttle buses reach various resorts of the Salento Peninsula. Brindisi international airport is situated about 50 km from Lecce with which a shuttle service is operative. Another international airport in Apulia is Bari-Palese, while Foggia and Taranto airports effects home flights. Salento has become a more and more visited destination in the last few years both by Italian and foreign tourists who want to know the outermost spur of Italy and its manifold attractions.