Day 59 Lecce, the Salento Peninsula to Gallipoli

Today turned out to be an unexpected pleasure. We had planned to leave our campsite, have a quick look at the Salanto coast, then head towards Gallipoli, where we expected to spend most of the day. It was a lovely sunny morning, so we sat out and had our breakfast, and our rather leisurely pace meant it took us a while to get going. Frankly, we were making the most of having the entire site to ourselves, apart from two very friendly farm dogs. We decided they would make excellent ‘van’ dogs, due to their short stature. Their top half and temperament appeared to be Labrador, but they had the legs of a terrier, so we mused over breeding our friend’s Labrador with our other friend’s Jack Russell to make a perfect travelling companion in Oscar, although frankly any sort of hound in here would make life considerably more complicated – maybe one for the future!
Eventually we set of southwards, hugging the coast down to the very tip of the heel of Italy. This part of the coast is called the Salento Peninsular, and the Italians living here called Salentines. Probably improved by the gorgeous weather, this drive proved to be divine. It has a rugged, rocky coastline interspersed with little bays and grottos. We passed through tiny fishing villages and coves, most with a bar or restaurant. Being Saturday morning, loads of locals seem to have come out to promenade and enjoy the sunshine, and clearly in the summer this would be a popular place. I suspect, however, the Italians are trying to keep this part of their coastline a hidden secret, since it has all the charm of the Amalfi, maybe not quite so picture card perfect, but a close second. The road twists and turns along the pine-clad coastline, with the beautiful green / turquoise blue sea on the left for the entire route, but with slightly more driveable roads, and definitely without the crowds of the more well-known coastline on the Mediterranean side of Italy.
We headed first to the pretty coastal town of Otranto, with it’s harbour, castle and huge stone walls leading into the old quarter. After a quick wander and a coffee stop, we continued on along the coastal road. Just a few kilometres further on, we parked up, and walked down to Capo d’Otranto, to see the lighthouse which sits on the point. Painted white, it made a beautiful sight against the azure blue ocean. It is at this Cape that the Adriatic and Ionian Seas join. As if on queue, as we walked up the steps to the lighthouse, my phone pinged in with a message from Vodaphone Greece. I was impressed that they had mapped the Ionian Sea so precisely!
The next part of the drive was stunning. Boris, our silly satnav, was trying to send us inland, but we chose to ignore his pompous instructions, and continued to hug this beautiful part of the coast. We came to a town called Santa Caesarea Terme, which is renowned for it’s healing Spas. It was full of elegant coastal mansions, and as we got out of the car, the whiff of sulphur was evident. The town had a huge car park, which today was empty, but I imagine that this is a very popular spot in summer with holidaying Italians.
Eventually we arrived at the very tip of the heel of Italy, to a town called Santa Maria di Leuca. It was here that apparently St. Peter arrived when he sailed to Italy. Above the town sits the stunning Basilica Sanctuario di Santa Maria di Leuca, with it’s Roman looking piazza. This is a place of pilgrimage, since following a pirate raid where a tapestry was burnt, the singed remains revealed an image of the Virgin Mary, which is now displayed at the altar! Another huge white lighthouse marks the end of the promontary. The sea below was sparkling, and you could understand why the Romans called this place ‘finnibus terrae’ – the end of the earth.
After a pleasant drink in the sunshine, we wound our way back up the peninsular to Gallipoli. As we arrived, the sun was just starting to set, and we spotted our third lighthouse of the day, guarding the entrance to the harbour of the old town.
The Salento Peninsular had turned out to be a really pleasing place to visit. Stunning coastline, picturesque lighthouses, charming towns and hardly any traffic – perfect.
As I finish my gin, we are just heading off to a restaurant in Gallipoli, just along the road from our campsite. All in all, a good day.

One thought on “Day 59 Lecce, the Salento Peninsula to Gallipoli

  1. Sounds a pretty idylic day. Just compare that with what you would normally be doing if at home! No brainier I would think. Liz x

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