Places to visit
Built in the local soft creamy limestone with dazzling architectural surprises around every corner, Lecce is a minor Baroque masterpiece. It's spider's web of streets offer a kaleidoscopic mix of long-range vistas, alluring glimpses and playful perspectives that have long enchanted visitors.
Supported by a history going back at least 2,500 years, modern-day Lecce is the main town on Puglia's Salento peninsula and a major draw for the area's tourism industry. Its 95,000 inhabitants haven't forgotten their roots, however, and the production and sale of olive oil, wine and ceramics continues to be the mainstay of the local economy.
One of Puglia's many hidden gems, Galatina is situated approximately 15 km from Masseria La Spinetta and has much in common with its more illustrious neighbour, Lecce, in particular its mainly baroque town centre which has remained virtually intact over the centuries.
Founded in 12th century, the town was originally called Sancti Petri in Galatina, recalling Saint Peter's stopping in the area on his way from Antioch to Rome. In the 14th century it came under the control of the Orsini family, and it was Count Raimondello who gave the town its first great church in 1390.
As the town grew, so did its need for defences and in the 16th century the present-day walls and gates were erected. The impressive Castello Ducale also dates back to this period. Galatina's golden age, however, was in the 17th and 18th centuries, during which time numerous churches and aristocratic palaces were erected including Palazzo del Concerto with its airy loggia, Palazzo Scrimeri with its sumptuously sculpted balcony supports and window decorations and Palazzo San Lorenzo-Gardoscia with its elaborate facade.
Wandering around the old town centre of Galatina you will be struck by the charming uniformity of its architecture and the laid-back tranquility of the streets. There are also some good restaurants, bars and boutiques.
Otranto is Italy's easternmost town. But it is much more than just that: Its mix of history, architecture, views, sea-front restaurants and white sandy beach makes it one of Puglia's most interesting, charming and picturesque towns.
It sits right on the Adriatic sea, gazing out across it's eponymous strait towards the Balkans and Greece, a strategic position that has profoundly influenced its history. In Roman times, it became an important commercial port - there was a significant Jewish population of traders - but also a departure point for Roman military expeditions to the east, as testified to by two marble pillar bases recording the transient presence of Emperors Lucio Vero and Marco Aureloio. For a period Otranto even overshadowed Brindisi.
Otranto's imposing castle, thick perimeter walls and robust towers (built after the town was liberated from the Turks in the late 15th century) dominate much of the town, giving way to a small port, a series of sea-front promenades with excellent fish restaurants and the town's very own beautiful white sandy beach and turquoise waters.
The delightful Romanesque cathedral, dating back to 1088 and boasting extensive 12th century floor mosaics, is another highlight that should not be missed.
Situated on the west Ionian coast of Puglia's Salento peninsula, Gallipoli, which means "Beautiful City", has a fabulous historic centre and is flanked by wonderful beaches. The old town centre sits on a tiny island connected to the mainland by a 17th century bridge. It is almost completely surrounded by defensive walls, built mainly in the 14th century. The east side is dominated by a robust fortress dating back to the 13th century, but largely rebuilt in the 1500s when the town fell under Angevin control.
The island heart of Gallipolli is home to many impressive Baroque churches and aristocratic palazzi, testament to the town's former wealth as a trading port. A labyrinthine weave of narrow streets all eventually lead to the broader sea front promenade with its wonderful views.
In the summer months cafes, bars and restaurants spill out on to the pavements making for an extremely pleasant atmosphere, while the beach, La Spiaggia della Purita, is an attraction in its own right. The coastline north and south of Gallipoli is formed by a series of long sandy beaches and transparent waters.
East of town, just a few kilometres in-land is the classical Baroque centre of Alezio, also worth a visit if you're in the area.
Santa Maria di Leuca
Sitting at the Southernmost tip of the Salento peninsula where the waters of the Adriatic Sea mingle and merge with those of the Ionian, Santa Maria di Leuca has been a popular resort for wealthy Puglians since the early 1900s, as testified to by the eye-catching Art Nouveau villas that line the seafront.
The town's name comes from the Greek Leukos, meaning light or luminous, while the appendage of Santa Maria refers specifically to the religious sanctuary built on a site high above the harbour, once home to the Temple of Minerva. It has long been a place of pilgrimage and is particularly busy around the middle of August each year. On 15th August each year a statue of the Virgin is paraded through the streets and down to the port where it is placed on a specially festooned fishing boat which crosses the sea to the port of San Gregorio and back. This is followed by fireworks and festivities.
Not far from the sanctuary is the impressive lighthouse, built in 1864 on the site of the 16th century watchtower. Its octagonal form rises 47 metres into the sky and contains a winding staircase of 254 steps. Still in function, it is one of Leuca's most impressive landmarks.
Leuca is also home to a monumental manmade waterfall, built to signal the end of the Puglia aqueduct. Started in mid-19th century, the aqueduct took an age to complete and only arrived in Leuca, its final destination, in 1941. The cascade is opened only a few times a year, so is not to be missed if you're lucky enough to be in the area at the right time.
But Santa Maria di Leuca is also, and perhaps principally, about the sea. The sandy beaches at nearby Felloniche, Posto Vecchio, Torre Vado and Pescoluse are well equipped and excellent for families. The more dramatic stretches of coastline featuring rocky cliffs pierced with around 30 Karstic grottoes are best visited by boat.
Santa Cesarea Terme
A charming spa town, it first became popular in the 1700s when the local aristocracy began to visit to take the health giving waters and enjoy the hot springs. Magnificent villas and palazzos soon sprung up forming elegant avenues leading to a charming seafront promenade. The thermal baths are open from May to November and offer various hot mud and mineral treatments.
- A food lovers paradise
The Salento's hinterland plays a fundamental role in Italy's agricultural economy, producing enormous quantities of excellent olive oil and full-bodied wines such as Primitivo di Manduria and Salice Salentino.