Salento is a sub-region of Puglia that includes parts of neighboring provinces Brindisi and Taranto (not in our travel plans) but it would’ve been a plus if we had more time to fully explore the area. Beginning with Lecce to the north, the list of places to see for the next 3 days marked a diamond-shaped path connecting the cities at each of the directional points: Gallipoli to the west, Otranto to the east, and Castrignano del Capo to the south.
Because of the unobstructed lay of the land this part of Puglia is quick to navigate, taking more or less an hour from one end to the other. What do you see? Olive trees. Endless stretches of silvery-green leaves. We’re talking so many olive trees that we could understand why, when the owner of the agriturismo explained, that if there were no olives, Salento would be a desert.
Salento’s appeal lies in its coastal cities, especially on the eastern side. The drive from Leuca (Castrignano del Capo) at the very bottom and heading north along the coast yields awesome views. I was surprised at the number of ancient watchtowers – this place attracted its share of invaders back in the day – and we took the opportunity to see one up close. Otranto is listed among the most beautiful villages in Italy and the stone cathedral in Piazza Basilica is a must-see for the mosaic floors. My favorite destination, however, has nothing to do with scenic panoramas or churches. The city that deserves a post of its own lay to the west, where for the first time in my life the setting sun looked even more stupendous as it sank into the Ionian Sea in a swirl of purple, red and orange tones. This is where I discovered the sea urchin merchants of Gallipoli.
Panorama of the harbor of Leuca
Santa Maria di Leuca
One of many watchtower ruins along the coast
Posing with the Pope at the Basilica Santuario in Leuca
We only noticed the statue when a group of german tourists started chatting excitedly and began whipping out the cameras. Papa Ratzinger!