Salento is the sunny region in the south of Puglia, of which the coastline stretches over the heel of the Italian “boot”. It’s full of idyllic spots, from rocky beaches in the east of the peninsula to white sandy beaches in the west. Furthermore, you can soak up the Italian atmosphere in the harbor towns, by driving through in an iconic Vespacar. Somewhat surprising: Greek influences are not uncommon in the Salento region. Well, that’s what they call ‘the best of both worlds’, isn’t it!? Legends tell that after the Trojan War, many Greeks have fled to neighboring regions, including Southern Italy. There are several villages in Salento where a Greek dialect is being spoken, the ‘Griko’.
The Martyrs of Otranto: Discover a macabre story from the past
The fortified city of Otranto is located on the eastern side of the Salento peninsula. It is a popular summer destination, both with locals and tourists. Stroll through the historic city center and take a swim in the sea from the city beach. This is how you get to know Otranto best! The city walls are connected to the fortress of Otranto, which is open to visitors (check the prices and opening hours online).
The most special monument, however, is the cathedral: the “Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata”. The exterior of the cathedral is characterized by a rosette window and a baroque entrance gate. But the biggest surpise lies within. When you enter the cathedral, your attention is automatically drawn to the floor. Under your feet is a mosaic floor from the 12th century! It’s a peculiar piece of art: it shows fragments of the Bible and a tree of life. It is quite unique that a mosaic floor of that age has been so well preserved. Especially when you know that Otranto had to endure a massacre. In 1480, the city was invaded by the Turkish troops. Some of the inhabitants fled to the cathedral, but to no avail. They were decapitated for refusing to convert to the Islam. The remains of these brave men are kept in the cathedral’s chapel. And so, the martyrs of Otranto are honored. In the San Pietro church, it’s the colorful frescoes from the 10th – 11th century that will catch your attention.
Punta Palascia: head to the easternmost point of Italy
A few kilometers outside the city center of Otranto, Punta Palascia is located. The white lighthouse marks the easternmost point of the country. You can park the car at the military base, along the SP87. Follow the hiking trail downhill and you will reach the lighthouse in about 20 minutes.
Torre Sant’Emiliano: take a step back in time
The coastline of Salento is characterized by the numberous old watchtowers along its shores. These are relics of a turbulent past, when pirates often tried to invade Italy via the Salento peninsula. One of the most beautiful examples of the watch towers is Torre Sant’Emiliano, near Otranto. We parked the car along the SP87 and continued by foot. It must be said that it is a fairly short, but intense walk. Hiking shoes are not a luxury. Yes, you can already guess: I wore sandals (insert an eyeroll here). From Torre Sant’Emiliano, you have a beautiful view over the eastern coastline.
Punta Prosciutto: imagine yourself to be in the Maldives
In the west of the Salento peninsula, there are some white sandy beaches. One of them is Punta Prosciutto, a beach that belongs to the 29 most beautiful beaches in the world, according to the British newspaper ‘The Telegraph’. The water is shallow and clear, making it nice and warm. But keep in mind that it is a fairly busy beach in the summer months, especially with locals. Another idyllic beach is Spiaggia di Pescoluse, in the South of Salento.
Gallipoli: discover a harbor town with Greek roots
Gallipoli is a harbor town with Greek origins, located in the west of Salento. The current name Gallipoli is derived from the Greek ‘Kalepolis’, which means ‘beautiful city’. And that actually is a striking description of Gallipoli: a beautiful town. To me, it was the most surprising location visited during my trip. You can park at the harbor, where prices are reasonable. You than simply take the stone stairs up and in a few seconds you look out over the city walls. The view over the Ionian Sea is delightful, but be sure to also explore the inner city, with its narrow streets. The old town is extremely charming! Oh, and you won’t get lost. As the old town is located on a peninsula, the port of Gallipoli is never far away.