Are you ready? Let’s START:
We choose to stay at Hotel Mediterranean at Porto Cesareo, which is by the way a family run structure, the owners are such positive and welcoming people. The first day you arrive, no matter if by airplane (at Bari Airport or Brindisi Airport), or by driving, you will probably be tired. SO, my advice is to go to Bacino Grande Bathhouse, which is a well-organized structure, where you will find large white sand beaches with distant umbrellas and sunbeds, clear warm waters, a great restaurant and big covered parking space, everything you need to relax and simply enjoy the beach life. A day spend in such a place will reboot your entire system! Believe me. Moreover, take a dinner on the terrace at Bacino Grande to enjoy the sunset and great Mediterranean dishes.
Next day we decided to start out adventure by exploring the Southern Puglia step-by-step.
First, I wanted to see a natural miracle… I’ve read somewhere on the internet, that near Tricate there is this 700-years old oak named “la quercia Vallonea dei cento cavalieri”. This oak tree is over 20 meters high, while its trunk has over 4 m in diameter, and is one of the oldest trees in Europe! A legend so to speak! By the way, the legend says that it got the name of “one hundred cavaliers” because apparently Federico II di Svevia with his one hundred cavaliers, returning home from the crusades, found shelter from a heavy storm under the thick foliage of this tree. Well, it is truly impressive and very beautiful. It’s a confirmation how amazingly strong and beautiful nature can be.
From there we took south to Gagliano del Capo, where is located this beautiful bridge Ciolo over high cliff open sea inlet with deep blue waters. From the one side of the bridge, you’ll find excavated stairs to get to the sea, where you can swim and refresh in clear wonderful waters. Moreover, there is a bar with gelato and many different Italian snacks for a quick refill.
From here, we took further to south arriving at Santa Maria di Leuca, where is located the Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Finibus Terrae, a very important place for Christianity. In origin, this place was dedicated to the Goddess Minerva. Some testimonials say that here arrived on boat St. Apostle Peter. But after all, the church was consecrated to Virgin Maria on the 13th of April 365 AC, when the prayers of many fishmen to the Virgin Mary stopped the hurricane and all could safely return home. Here you can see one of the most valuable art works, a 1625 painting of the Madonna with Child by Andrea Cunavi of Mesagne. It has a long history, was restored many times after different invasions (by Saracens and Ottomans). Moreover, from its central square located on the peak, one can see the union line of the two seas - the Ionic and Adratic. Truly a beautiful place to admire over the sea and over the seafront line of the harbor. By the way, in the harbor there is a numerous locations offering drinks and snack all day long (at crazy prices!!), but if you wish to make a stop, you will enjoy eating listening to the waves bathing the shore.
After such a long day, in afternoon we wanted to just relax and enjoy sunbathing and swimming, so here nearby we went to Marina di Percoluse where are located the “Maldives of Salento”, while at Torre Pali are located the “Seychelles of Salento”. These are basically two huge beach locations with umbrellas and sunbeds, white sand, and clear water. Nothing so extraordinary if you ask me, I mean the names are given more for tourist attractions, I saw nothing special here unlike what is believed. To say the truth, I enjoyed much more other beach locations (that I will tell about further), with free access, with bigger and better organized parking lots, and larger beaches.
Nevertheless, the day was spent well, and for dinner we returned to our Hotel Mediterranean, where we enjoyed great local kitchen.
Next day we wanted to visit the city of Lecce for its architecture and unique baroque Leccese style. Believe me, it worth the time and effort!! We parked the car outside the gates of the city, also to avoid unnecessary driving fines because the old city is almost entirely subject to restrictions with “ZTL” zoning (meaning, area of restricted traffic to only residents or on special permits).
We started to explore the old center by accessing through the gate Porta Rudiae, which is one of the four original gates of the city. This city is ALL BEAUTIFUL! You walk along these streets admiring the marvelous baroque architecture of churches, palaces, conventions, all build in local limestone “pietra leccese”.
We visited the six most important churches of the city, which you can do by acquiring one full ticket in any of these churches (at 9€ for adults). We started by visiting the Cathedral Maria Santissima Assunta (il Duomo) (1) located in the central square, where is also placed the Bishop Palace (“Palazzo Vescovile” IT, from Renaissance epoque) and the Seminar. Continuing the same street, we encountered the Bronze Statue of Sant’Oronzo, the Patron of the city of Lecce. Here was also located the Palace of the Seat (“Il Sedile” IT) and the Church of San Marco and Santa Maria delle Grazie, other two smaller but always beautiful churches. Farther you will see the elliptical Ancient Roman Amphitheater (II sec.) under open air and the Church of Sant’Irene. Nearby you can visit the other churches from the must-see list, precisely the Church of Santa Chiara (2) and the Church of San Matteo (3), while a part there is the Church of Santa Croce (4) that deserves particular admiration and love, it is such a masterpiece! At last, with this one ticket you can also visit the MuDAs (Museum of Sacred Arts) (5) and the Ancient Seminary Cloister (6). There is SOO MUCH TO SEE, FROM THE OUTSIDE TO THE INSIDE IN EACH OF THESE CHURCHES, you will need t least a few hours in total! Details exclusively made in decorative baroque style enriches facades and inner chambers, characterized by stone embroidery (flowers, fruits, vegetables, festoons), but also friezes and spirals on columns, all realized in the pliable local stone named “Lecce stone”. Overall, and EXTRAORDINARY CITY, which will remain engraved into your mind and heart forever! By the way, I absolutely suggest you take a lunch or even a brunch in the city, since here many restaurants work long hours from lunch to dinner because of the tourists, and food is great!
That afternoon, we took the car and drove to the Adriatic coastline, this time at Torre dell’Orso where is located the beach “Caraibi of Salento” – a very well-organized seaside location with huge parking lot (at 4€/day) and large beaches, some with free access other offering sunbeds and umbrellas at payment, a location with bars and restaurants and a very pleasing relaxing atmosphere. We really enjoyed spending all afternoon here, swimming, sunbathing, and drinking local cocktails (thank God, in Italy is allowed a limit of 0,5 g/l alcohol in blood, if you are over 21 years old and having more than 3 years of driving license, meaning one can take one drink, just one, but still better than nothing).
At last, on the sunset, we enjoyed looking at the sea stacks of Sant’Andrea (“Faraglioni di Sant’Andrea” IT) which can be seeing from the beach line, but even better, if you cross over the hill over the beach, where you will have a view from the above. A wonderful place, where one can spend an afternoon or even an entire day or two without feeling boring.
For dinner we returned to our hotel at Porto Cesareo. By the way, the road from Porto Cesareo to each of the mentioned location is taking about 1 hour drive time, sometimes less, so I would say, easily accessible.
On day four we remained pleasantly surprised by the extraordinary beauty of the Otranto harbor: such crystal-clear waters, coloring from light blue to turquoise, and emerald green to deep blue I rarely saw… (and fortunately I had the chance to visit many places, in Indian Ocean included, places renamed by having marvelous waters). But then, speaking with local people it became evident the reason: the mayor of the city allows only small fishing and low-capacity boats entering here, while denied the request to access in the harbor to medium and big yachts, therefore the water is as clean as it may be.
But then, the city itself is very beautiful, with the old Castle Aragon (1485-1498 AD), the symbol of the city, perched on the sea offering picturesque views and hosting different expositions of modern arts all the year around. Moreover, in the old center square you can visit the Cathedral Santa Maria Annunziata (XI century) – a mix of three architectural styles (byzantine, early Christian and Romanic), hosting in the central altar on the right over 800 skulls of Christian martyrs (who died in the name of the Christ refusing to take Muslim religion requested by the Ottoman occupants) and beholding the “Tree of Life” engraved mosaic flooring. The old village is well organized, clean, and selling lots of articles made in local ceramics pained with traditional motifs, a perfect gift to friends and family members.
We didn’t stay for too long here, for lunch we arrived at Baia dei Turchi - a beautiful location on the Adriatic coastline, over the cliffs, with beautiful water and sand beaches mixed with rocks. It was the perfect place to relax for a few hours on the beach, swim in beautiful waters and eat something (we made a picnic on the beach this time). This destination is easily to be found with the parking well indicated from the main road (at payment), plus since it distances about 700-800 meters from the beach, they offer a quick bus to take from the parking to the woods with pine trees, where from by foot, walking through these pine trees over the cliffs, one can reach the beachline in about 15-20 minutes by relaxed walking, enjoying along the way some marvelous spots over the sea. This location was named “the bay of the ottomans” because the history tells that in the XV century, Turks arrived by sea here, aiming to occupy Otranto.
Late afternoon, we drove to Santa Cesarea Terme, a city known for its hydrothermal stations providing different professional treatments using 4 thermal water sources that naturally are located here: Fetida, Sulfurea, Gattulla and Solfatara. It is a very quiet city, basically besides thermal waters, there is nothing else to do here… But for those of you, who loves beautiful architecture, here you’ll see two very special villas:
- Villa Raffaella – made in Liberty style architecture, with octagonal-shaped tower and a terraced porch.
- Villa Sticchi (1885) – with Moorich lines and a big dome beautifully enriched with stone details in Oriental references.
It was a Saturday, and we wanted to take half-day out in the city, so we embarked on a boat trip with “Vie del Mediterraneo” excursions (the cost of a ticket was 34€). The departure was confirmed at 9 am from the harbor Porto Cesareo, and by sea reaching the Wild Harbor (that’s the name) with all surrounding caves (many of them). We stopped on the way a few times, listening to the history of the place, and making a few immersions in the deep waters. At the end of the trip, the organizers of the trip served traditional Apulian snacks and great local vine. Great company, wonderful time, and overall, simply a beautiful experience!
In the afternoon we returned to the hotel, changed, and went out to visit Gallipoli – a vivid city filled with many locations, music, restaurants, and bars, a “jar of honey” for young people wanting to have some fun! Moreover, the harbor is spectacularly located over the Ionic Sea with the old Castle Angioino-Aragonese nearby. From here, one can make long walks on the seaside, admiring spectacular sunsets.
Next day, on Sunday, we made another boat trip with “Vie del Mediterraneo” excursions (the cost of a ticket was 34€). This time we took another destination: the Tip “Prosciutto”, the Tower “Chianca”, the “Rabbit” Island, and Greek-Roman columns underwater. It was another great experience, a few stops to swim in deep waters and enjoy wonderful landscapes.
Last day we spend relaxing on the local beach, walking, sunbathing, and swimming. That night we hit the road back home…with other stop along the way (at Faro, but about that I will tell you another time).
I hope I gave you an overview on how you could spend some good quality time in Apulia, enjoying all: seaside, nature, architecture, great food, and some fun time!
My best wishes to you all,