Otranto has a beautiful little port and lots of little lanes to get lost in. I’d recommend visiting in the evening, it can get very hot and humid meandering the narrow lanes. Or alternatively wear your swimming stuff and if you get to hot take a dip in the sea, then carry on sightseeing.
Otranto was Italy’s main port for over 1000 years, consequently it has a harsh history. You can witness this at the Cathedral. Built by the Normans in the 11th Century, it was used by the Turks to stable their horses when 18,000 of them invaded the town. When entering the cathedral admire the beautiful tree of life mosaic before visiting the Chapel of the Dead where skulls and bones of the beheaded victims lay neatly arranged in glass cabinets. Step downstairs to the underground chapel where legend says counting the pillars will never leave you with the same number however many times you do it. I’ve tried and it is very odd! Make sure to bring something to cover your shoulders otherwise you won’t get let it.
- Alimini beach (Baia di Turchi)
Just past the turning for Otranto city centre, Alimini beach feels like you could be in the Caribbean. Crystal clear waters and pale yellow sand await you. On your way there stop off at one of the fruit and vegetable sellers at the side of the road to stock up on beautifully ripe fruit for your beach picnic. Park in one of the car parks, when you get to the beach you can either pay for a sunbed or walk to the ‘free’ beach and lay down your towel. Be warned in late July and August it does get very crowded with Italians holidaying. Make sure you try a Rustico Leccese at one on the beach bars.
- Porto Badisco Beach
This tiny beach could easily be missed when driving the coastal road up to Otranto. Again it does get crazily busy in the July and August period, but worth a gander anyway to appreciate it’s prettiness. You can pull up just off road near a wall and peer over to appreciate it before heading to the bigger beaches 15 minutes drive away.
- Santa Cesarea Terme
Home to my Dad’s hotel school, rockpool swimming and a sulphur pool that heals your wounds, Santa Ceserea is a very pretty little town to visit. The ‘Terme’ in it’s name stands for thermal, which is what the town is known for. The hot thermal springs rise up through the various underground rocks and caverns draining out into the Adriatic sea. The sulphur pool is a great experience, we used to call it the smelly pool as kids and it definitely does pong!
Santa Cesarea is also great place for your evening passeggiata. Visit the Triangelo Azzuro bar for a lemon granita or a beer whilst listening to Italian pop music and having a game of foosball with your friends. All this with the sea just a stone throw away.
A short drive from Santa Ceserea Terme, Castro Marina is a great place to hire a boat for the day. In between Santa Ceserea and Castro Marina there is a great seawater swimming pool built into the rocks. It’s also home to the ancient Zinzalusa Caves. These aquatic caves boast beautiful stalactites that can be traced back to the Pliocene period – only about 5 million years ago!
- Santa Maria di Leuca
Classified as the ‘end’ of Italy the coastal road provides a beautiful backdrop for a great day out. We turn this road trip into a drive to Gallipoli as you’re already halfway there if you’re coming from the northeast. Stop when you reach a bridge and have a cold drink in one of the café’s that overlooks a tiny beach with thousands of steps leading down to it. Watch the crazy people jump off that bridge into the deep blue sea. After you’ve recharged carry on driving to the Santa Maria di Leuca town where you can take a postcard picture of the very end of Italy, where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. Jump back in the car for the final destination – Gallipoli, where some fresh fish and a cold beer await you.
The old medieval town of Gallipoli is guarded by big walls and joined to the mainland by a bridge. Make sure to check out the fish market, which is on your way in – one of the best around. The fish is so fresh you see the fishermen bringing their catch in straight to the market. Try the delicacies such as sea urchin and scapece gallipolina the typical dish from the town.
There is a lot to see in this historic baroque town. Be wary of sightseeing in the midday sun, it can get extremely hot, most places close for a break in the afternoon due to the heat. Lecce has over 40 churches built over two centuries making the city feels exceedingly unified. Make sure to see the Basilica Santa Croce which boasts the lavish barocco leccese. Another must – devour a pasticiotto at Caffe Alvino on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo
This little historical town is where I go for my holiday market needs. It’s on every Wednesday morning and Saturday evening in the Summer months selling a range of food, clothes and antiques. Vaste, an old Messapian town, is located within it’s territory.
My Dad’s little village. A tagline of ‘home of the good cooking and potholes’, Cocumola has the best Pizza at il Rosito and the best Gelato at Nicola e Rita. And I’m not just saying that because it’s where I come from. People drive from as far as Lecce to taste this Gelato – over an hour away! My Dad says that Rita, the owner and chef, locks herself in the kitchen when making her gelato to keep her recipes secret. One day she’ll have to pass them down to somebody – one lucky person! **(UPDATED 2014: Sadly the gelateria has now closed down. The owner became ill and couldn’t manage it any longer. The recipes have not been passed down and it sounds like Rita is taking them to the grave! I will only have the taste in my memories now. Word on the street is that the shop will re-open as a gelateria and will be run by a German family)**
Il Rosito pizzeria is almost like a takeaway. The quality of the food is far more important than the fance. It’s a self service system, your pizza is ready when your a number flashes up on a screen. Collecting your meal on a piece of cardboard almost as thin as the pizza itself and with no cutlery insight, this pizza will be devoured within seconds with you’ll be queuing up for another before you’ve even had time to digest.