With a length of 100 kilometers and a width of 40 kilometers, this peninsula in Southeast Italy resembles the heel of a boot, and has a much different history from the rest of the Italian mainland. Beginning in the 5th century, Salento belonged to Magna Grecia and was linguistically and culturally more influenced by Greece than by Rome. The names of cities such as Gallipoli are evidence of this. Even today, the dialect spoken in Salento is quite different from the surrounding dialects. The same is true of the region's architecture. The whitewashed houses with flat roofs are exemplify the Greek style.
Walk between beach and brackish water
North of Otranto are the Alimini lakes, two shallow brackish water lakes behind the coast. After having been used for irrigation for a long time, they are now under protection. The walk leads once around the lake – through pine and fig forests. On the east side you can get to the sea, where it is best to take off your shoes and wade through the sand. (there and back: 13.8 kilometers, 3 hours, up and down: 50 meters)
This wonderful hike follows Italy's easternmost coast, where rocks and sparse orchid meadows alternate. Already during the stone age our ancestors felt comfortable here. This is proven by drawings in a grotto, which unfortunately cannot be visited. Instead, you will pass a medieval watchtower, from which in good weather you can see as far as Albania. (there and back: 13.6 kilometers, 3:30 hours, up and down 180 meters)
Trulli, olive groves, lake view
The hike is strenuous, far and partly without any paths. But it is one of the most beautiful and varied in Puglia. It leads from the idyllic Valle d'Itria over an enormous break-off edge to the coastal plain, where olive trees have guarded its terraced groves for centuries. Starting and finishing point is the Hotel Lo Smeraldo. (there and back: 24 kilometers, 6:30 hours, up and down: 580 meters)
Rugged cape with view to Albania
At the very south of Salento, a beautiful coastal road leads through villages and along rocky coasts to the rugged Capo S. Maria di Leuca. Where today stands a church, dedicated to Mary with an allegedly miraculous image of the Virgin Mary, there was a temple of Minerva in ancient times. From the lighthouse you have a great view. On clear days you can see as far as Albania. Boat trips along the magnificent rocky coast, interspersed with natural caves, are offered.
Wine-growing town with a cheerful atmosphere
The wine-growing town with about 29,000 inhabitants and a cheerful atmosphere is probably of Greek origin dating back to pre-Christian times. The most striking building is the Franciscan church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria. It was built in the 14th century in the Romanesque style. Inside one will find frescoes depicting scenes from the Apocalypse, the Book of Genesis and the Life of Jesus.
Picturesque old town on a rocky island
2,500 years ago Greek settlers founded the port town and called it Kallipolis (English: “beautiful city”). Today the beauty lies mostly in the old town. It is located on a rocky island and surrounded by water on three sides. Gallipoli consists of the village “Borgo” and the old town “centro storico”.
The small town east of Taranto is the centre of ceramic production. For centuries bricks, pots or nativity figures have been produced there. In the ceramics quarter there are more than 50 workshops, which have been in operation for over 500 years. Popular with buyers are the copasone, as the big vessels for wine or olive oil are called, or the srulu, a kind of water jug. An art school in the village has been training potters since the 19th century.
Student city with venerable history
The capital of Salento is also one of the most beautiful in Italy. Called the “Florence of the South”, the city boasts numerous monuments created in an exuberant style referred to as “Lecce Baroque”. Already in Roman times Lecce was an important military base. The remains of an amphitheatre in the centre, which once held 20,000 spectators, bear witness to this. Despite its history, which is always present, the city is young and vital. This is owed to the university and the many students who inhabit the places especially in the evening.
A breath of the Orient above the white city
Ostuni is also known as the “Città Bianca”, because all houses except for the churches are whitewashed. An oriental flair is present in the narrow streets which are spanned by arches and showcase confusing nested houses with many outdoor stairs. The dark green shutters, the laundry hung out to dry and the pink bougainvillea all contribute to a kaleidoscope of color. Ostuni has been whitewashed since the time of the Middle Ages to allow for a brighter light in the narrow streets. In addition, the whitewash was to protect against the spread of the plague. A scenic road with sweeping views over the flat countryside leads around the historic center.
Pretty town on the boot's heel
This city of 5,500 marks the eastern point of Italy. Like many towns in the vicinity, Otranto was founded by the Greeks. The city's main attractions are the Cathedral with its famous floor mosaic containing depictions of ancient sagas, the fortress and the nearby beaches. More beaches can be found just to the south in Porto Badisco and Aquaviva. Farther south, where the Ionic Sea begins, the shore is bordered by rugged cliffs.
A long sandy beach near Lecce
The long coastline with the melodious name “Spiaggiabella” is located on the Adriatic coast, in the area of the Parco Naturale Regionale Bosco e Paludi di Rauccio. Fine white sand and crystal-clear water invite you to all kinds of beach activities – from relaxing sunbathing to a game of beach volleyball or kite surfing. The adjacent landscape of the nature park can easily be explored on foot or by bike on a good path-network.
Symbol of beauty and decay
In the 4th century B.C., the city founded by emigrated Spartans was the most powerful and largest in all of southern Italy. It is said to have had about 200,000 inhabitants at that time, more than today. Even today, you can sense the past beauty when strolling through the alleys of the old town, which is, however, threatened by rubbish and decay. Only the Via del Duomo has been restored to some extent. It leads to the Cathedral of Taranto, which stands on the foundations of the Greek Acropolis. A real attraction is the National Archaeological Museum, which exhibits art of Magna Graecia from pre-Christian times.