Are you planning your holidays and want to know what you must see in Salento? Have you always dreamed of spending your vacation on a beach that looks like one in a postcard? Or have you been enchanted by the small villages of the hinterland and would you love to come back?
Even if you are a first-time tourist or a passionate visitor of Salento, here is the guide for you! Here you will find the most famous destinations and the less known places to visit in a practical and fast guide.
THE “MUST TO SEE” PLACES
If you are on holiday for the first time in Salento, you can not miss visiting some enchanting places, among the best known and visited of the area. We have listed the most important ones.
Known as the capital of the Baroque for its many churches, Lecce is undoubtedly the most important centre from which you can start your tour in Salento. With its 95,000 inhabitants, Lecce is the capital of Salento.
The historic center is characterized by elegant churches in Baroque style and buildings built in Pietra Leccese, the typical stone of this area. Among the monuments to visit, do not miss Piazza Sant’Oronzo with its “Sedile” and the column with the statue of the Patron which gives the name to the square, the Roman amphitheater, the church of Santa Croce and the Duomo.
Getting lost in the alleyways, adorned with craft shops, is one of the most enjoyable activities you can do in Otranto, a small jewel that rises on the easternmost place of Italy.
In addition to visit the numerous bars, restaurants and shops, do not miss: the Aragonese Castle, where very important art exhibitions take place every year; the Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata, with its mosaic on the floor, dating back to the mid-twelfth century; the chapel dedicated to the martyrs of Otranto, with the bones of those who died in the massacre by the Turks in 1480.
QUARRY OF BAUXITE
This site is an ex-quarry of bauxite extraction, abandoned in the ’70s. Located near Otranto, the place is one of the most famous in Salento thanks to the lunar-like landscape with the greenish pond that offers a striking contrast with the red of the hills of bauxite.
The old town of the “beautiful city”, as the Greeks used to call it, is one of those things worth visiting: surrounded by the sea, the heart of the city is enclosed within fortified walls. With an all-oriental charm, Gallipoli is influenced by the Byzantines, Norman Swabians and Angevins.
Their traces have remained above all in architecture. The port area, one of the most important in Europe in the 16th century, is also worth seeing.
SANTA MARIA DI LEUCA
It is the extreme heel of Italy, a characteristic to which it owes part of its charm.
Santa Maria di Leuca stands on a promontory (where there are the Basilica and the lighthouse). Its seaside resort, located further down, includes Punta Mèliso, which, according to a nautical convention, is the point of separation between the Adriatic coast ( to the east) and the Ionian coast (to the west).
We recommand a visit to the numerous caves, divided into Caves of the Rada, Grotte di Ponente and Grotte di Levante.
GROTTA DELLA POESIA
The most famous cave of Salento is located in Roca Vecchia, on the Adriatic coast, between San Foca and Torre Dell’Orso.
In the archaeological excavations, you can admire the ruins of the castle, the sanctuary of the Madonna of Roca of the seventeenth century and the “Grotta della Poesia”, a natural pool with crystal clear water.
The name derives from the Greek name “Posìa”, that is source of fresh water.
Located at about 25km south from Lecce, on the Adriatic coast, Torre Dell’Orso, is known for its fine white sand beach and its crystal clear sea.
Several times it received the Blue Flag of Europe. All over the years the resort has become one of the most popular place of the Salento’s coast, thanks to the many night clubs. Among the most famous symbols of Torre Dell’Orso there are the sea stacks called “Le due Sorelle”.
GROTTA DELLA ZINZULUSA
Located between Castro and Santa Cesarea Terme, the cave owes its name to the “zinzuli“, ie the karst formations, especially stalactites, similar to “rags” hanging from the ceiling.
The cave is invaded by both sea and spring waters and it is divided into three parts: entrance, crypt (inhabited by a large number of bats) and bottom.
They are among the most unspoiled places of Salento, with an ecosystem that hosts various animal and plant species. The two lakes are located at north of Otranto and take their name from the ancient Greek and Byzantine.
The beach of the Alimini
In the oasis of the Alimini lakes, it is worth visiting, on the coast, “La baia dei Turchi”, a wild and uncontaminated beach, a place where – according to the legend – the Turkish warriors would have landed in the battle of Otranto in the XVth century.
Paradise for lovers of trekking, the Ciolo canal is one of the deepest ravines of Salento.
The place, which takes its name from the ravens that often fly over the ridges, called “ciolas” in the local dialect, is one of the favorite destinations for the bravest divers. The panorama is enchanting.
Sant’Andrea is a small bay, near Torre Dell’Orso, characterized by cliffs overlooking the sea.
An old fishing village, the village is still known for fishing and it is ideal for scuba diving. Swimming around the famous faraglioni is a unique experience.
THE HIDDEN TREASURES
If you want to discover the Salento through “less beaten” routes, we suggest you to continue reading this guide and to write down the names of the locations that we will name below.
ABBEY OF SANTA MARIA IN CERRATE
Located on the provincial road that connects Squinzano to Casalabate, about 15 km north of Lecce, the Abbey is one of the most significant examples of Romanesque otrantino.
The site was founded, according to legend, at the end of the twelfth century by Tancredi d’Altavilla, count of Lecce, following the apparition of the Madonna, between the horns of a deer, from which the toponym (Cerrate or Cervate). The town was an important religious and cultural center until the sixteenth century.
BASILICA OF SANTA CATERINA D’ALESSANDRIA (GALATINA)
It is one of the most famous monuments of the Apulian and Gothic Romanesque art in Puglia and is located in the old town of Galatina (about 24 km south of Lecce).
The Basilica, built by the Orsini Del Balzo family, is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles and is among the most characteristic examples of southern Italy, for its architecture and its frescoes.
Small village located between the sea and the hill, the village of Specchia rises 130 meters above sea level. The old town, full of narrow streets and dry stone walls, has a clear medieval imprint.
The most elegant buildings of the town overlook Piazza del Popolo and they are: Palazzo Risolo, the mother church and the Baronial Palace Ripa. In 2013 Specchia received the award as “Jewel of Italy“.
CALA DI ACQUAVIVA
The inlet of the Acquaviva di Marittima, Marina di Diso, is a small fjord, some ten meters long that rises between the rocks.
The bay owes its name to the cold water springs. With its 4 sails of Legambiente, the cove dell’Acquaviva has an initially shallow backdrop that gradually becomes deeper.
PORTO SELVAGGIO – TORRE ULUZZO
Located in the protected area of the “Porto Selvaggio Regional Nature Park and the Captain’s Marsh”, in the territory of Nardò, the beach of Porto Selvaggio is characterized by the rocky coastline and by the pines.
Ideal place, not only for bathing but also for trekking, in the park you can visit the Torre dell’Alto and the Grotta del Cavallo, a natural cave, part of a larger system of natural caves.
The natural pools of Marina Serra, near Tricase, in the very South of Salento, are bounded by cliff rocks and have a depth varying from 20 to 70 cm. Its crystalline waters and the shallow depth of the sea make it an ideal place and also suitable for children.