Salento is an enchanting land. And I’m not saying this because it’s my home, but because it really is. In the last few years, it literally charmed thousands upon thousands of visitors coming from all over the world, and I guarantee that it will compel you too if you decide to visit it. Its strong points? Well, there are many! Just to list some: wonderful beaches, genuine and tasty cuisine, art everywhere, nice and friendly people.
I, as I do every year, will make use of summertime to return to my beloved land and spend a few days relaxing completely by taking fresh baths in crystal-clear waters, staying with the people I love and eating my mom’s dishes.
The news this year is that, through My Lovely Italy, I can take you with me in this wonderful place. So I prepared an actual itinerary with directions to all the best beaches, presented in the order you will find them in once you reach Apulia. And then you will find a few suggestions on the experiences that are an absolute must in Salento.
What do you say, shall we begin our tour?
MAIN CHARACTERISTIC OF THE ADRIATIC COAST
The Adriatic Sea coasts are characterized by the almost complete absence of beaches and by imposing jagged cliffs that reach up to 100 meters, then falling in the sea and giving way to small isles, actual islands, caves, gorges and small niches.
TOP SALENTO BEACHES ON THE ADRIATIC COAST
For each beach you will find a short description, photos, curious facts and eventual legends.
1. TORRE GUACETO – CAROVIGNO (BRINDISI)
The first beach you will find is Torre Guaceto, named after the homonymous ancient sighting tower built in the 1500s as decided by king Charles V, like many others along the Salento coast. The beach is made of rocks, and the water is enchanting with its thousand shades of green and blue.
The sea floor is wonderful and you can explore it in a guided tour or in a sailboat, thanks to the authorized associations. It is ideal if you wish to join your seaside holiday with a love for nature. Torre Guaceto, in fact, is part of a natural and maritime reserve characterized by Mediterranean vegetation, centuries-old olive trees and humid and marshy area that can also be visited on a bike trip.
2. ROCA VECCHIA & GROTTA DELLA POESIA (POETRY CAVE) – MELENDUGNO (LECCE)
A true and proper marine paradise characterized by a beach set on a rock that is actually the vault of a crumbled marine cave, the so-called “Poetry Cave”. You can reach it swimming or by boat, passing through a narrow canal, or directly jumping inside of it from the rocks.
Its name is said to derive from the story of a beautiful princess who used to come here to freshen up, attiring several poets who came around to look at her for inspiration and then composed verses in her honor.
Actually, in Greek, its name means “sweet water spring”, due to the fact that once a spring ran inside of it. Nowadays, it is full of seawater instead.
3. TORRE DELL’ORSO – MELENDUGNO (LECCE)
The Torre dell’Orso bay offers another maritime spectacle you can’t miss. You will find a kilometer of soft white sand with a crystal-clear sea and behind it, small dunes protected by a lush pine forest where you can rest in the shade during the hottest hours. Also in this case the beach takes its name from the tower from the 1500s that Charles V wanted and that is unfortunately in ruins today.The presence of an almost constant wind will have you appreciate Torre dell’Orso even more if you love surfing.
I have a suggestion for you: don’t miss the spectacle of the stacks of the “Two sisters”. Their name is owed to an ancient legend, according to which two sister wanted to see that part of the sea from up close and, charmed by its beauty, they threw themselves from the rocks without ever emerging from the water again. The gods, feeling compassionate, decided to turn their bodies into stacks, so that they could forever stay in the place that had enchanted them so.
4. TORRE SANT’ANDREA – MELENDUGNO (LECCE)
Torre Sant’Andrea, still in Melendugno, still has some stacks that, knowingly built from the erosion of the sea and wind, form a natural wonder that stands imposing in front of your eyes. The water is this part of the coast is transparent and has shades from turquoise to emerald green. If you want to bring back home unique pictures, I guarantee you this is one of Salento’s best views to photograph. If you like fun, you will be able to enjoy concerts and shows organized by pubs and bars in the area.
Here, you will also find the “Cave of Lovers”. The tale says that two lovers once hid in these caves but they didn’t realize a violent storm was coming and they both died, taken by surprise by the high tide. Today, it appears to be good luck for lovers. You can reach it swimming and once there you can recognize, while looking towards the outside, two curves that look like the upper part of a heart.
5. LAGHI ALIMINI (ALIMINI LAKES) – OTRANTO (LECCE)
These are actual lakes that flow into the sea, near a thick pinewood that allows you to rest in the shade in the hottest hours. This not very deep lakes are interconnected by a channel and you can sail through them in a canoe to enjoy the silence and peace of the surrounding nature. The beach near the sea is white and made up of extremely thin sand, while the water is crystal-clear and of a light turquoise color.
If you are interested in exploring the landscape that surrounds this wonderful area, you can make some horse riding trips inside the pinewood behind the beach and also do some birdwatching, thanks to the great variety of fauna that populates these lakes.
If you are sport people, you can also go kite surfing and wind surfing.
6. BAIA DEI TURCHI (TURKISH BAY) – OTRANTO (LECCE)
This beach seems to have been the docking point of the Turkish people in Salento during the invasion of the 15th century. Here’s where the name Turkish Bay comes from. In my opinion, it is Otranto’s most beautiful beach. Even if you have to cross a pinewood to reach it, walking through tall pine trees and a thick Mediterranean vegetation, believe me, it will be worth it.
Once you get there, you will see in front of you a white-sand panhandle and a limpid sea that have nothing to envy from destinations that are more exotic.
A piece of advice: find some time to visit the ancient town of Otranto, made up of many crisscrossed narrow alleys, full of lovely souvenir shops.
7. PORTO BADISCO – OTRANTO (LECCE)
Una foto pubblicata da @manustefano in data:
Porto Badisco was, according to Virgil, Aeneas’ docking point on Apulia’s coast while he was running away from Troy. It’s a small fishermen town with little sand, an incredibly clean sea and rock walls that work as perfect trampolines for Olympic-level dips.
The sea floor is full of brightly colored fish and marine plants. The coast is jagged and made up of niches and caves. Among these, don’t miss the “Deer Cave” that appears to have hosted the first inhabitants of this area at least 4000 years ago – inside of it are depicted men with arcs, women, children, deer and other animals as well as several magical symbols.
The “Striare Cave”, meaning the witches cave, is also very suggestive. Its name comes from its internal conformation. The rocks look like women’s hands with long fingernails that contributed to foster the popular belief according to which this cave was once inhabited by witches.
8. SANTA CESAREA TERME – LECCE
Santa Cesarea Terme owes its name to the presence of thermal waters that were already exploited in the 2nd century B.C. for their exceptional benefits. There are four caves from which sulphurous water, containing sodium chloride, bromine and iodine, flows and reaches the temperature of 30°.
These caves are the object of several tales too. The pagan version says the sulphurous water is the result of the decomposition of the bodies of the Leuterni giants, killed by Heracles. While the Christian version says this location owes its name to a young woman named Cesarea or Cisaria, who wanted to be a nun but was abused by her incestuous father.
According to the legend, Cesarea was forced to run and hide in the caves. She was saved by some flames which attacked her father while he was following her. He fell in the water and drowned in the sea. A sea that has been part of a protected area since 2006, set up to preserve the natural, historic, and architectural marvels of this area.
The coast is high and jagged, characterized by rocks and deep water. Santa Cesarea Terme is also furnished with four coast towers from the 1500s, wanted by Charles V to protect it from the attacks of the Saracen pirates.
9. GROTTA ZINZULUSA – CASTRO (LECCE)
The Adriatic coast if full of caves. The most famous one is undoubtedly the Zinzulusa Cave. Its name comes from the dialectal name “zinzuli”, which means rags, due to the form of the stalactites inside of the cave, which look like lots of rags hanging from the vault.
It can be reached by boat or swimming and can be visited for about 150 meters. From a huge hall, you will cross the Corridor of Wonders, made up of stalactites and stalagmites that have assumed the most different forms with the passing of centuries.
Inside of it, sweet and salty waters come together, going from turquoise to cobalt blue and create a wonderful spectacle of lights and reflections. In the part of it that’s not open to the public, the cave hosts an actual colony of bats, which hide here especially during birth time. Beside them, there are also some extremely rare animal species. I highly suggest a visit.
10. ACQUAVIVA – MARITTIMA (LECCE)
Acquaviva is a small niche, hidden from the eyes of the passersby, on the road that leads to Marina di Marittima from Castro. You can easily reach it after a short downwards walk along the Wood Channel, made of holms and Mediterranean vegetation. Once you reach it, you will be speechless!
In front of your eyes, you will see a tiny bay surrounded by cliffs covered in vegetation, which you will be able to climb to enjoy the landscape from a different perspective. Here, the water is crystal-clear and definitely cold, thanks to a spring that flows into the sea. Due to this characteristic, this is the idea place for you to freshen up during the hottest days.
11. MARINA SERRA – TRICASE (LECCE)
If you prefer rocks to sand, then you can’t miss the beautiful natural pool of Marina Serra in Tricase. The water is low, very clean and a wonderful emerald green, surrounded by a rocky coast and arcs that open in the sea.
Recently, it has been added to the list of the 20 most beautiful natural pools in the world, so take your camera with you to bring back home the memory of an enchanting place.
The only downside is that a few years ago it was a small paradise, uknown to most, but now it is definitely crowded, especially in August, like all the beaches named above. If you can, visit it the quieter months, such as May, June and September, as you will be likely to only find the locals enjoying a nice dip.
12. GROTTA VERDE (GREEN CAVE) – ANDRANO (LECCE)
Among the several caves along the Adriatic coast, you can’t not visit the Green Cave at Marina di Andrano. You can reach it swimming, because it is just a few meters from the staircase that brings you to the sea. In this point, the cliff is very low so, once you get in through a quite narrow side opening, you will find many rocks on sea level on which you will be able to sit comfortably to admire a unique spectacle.
Thanks to the holes in the rocks, the sunlight enters the cave and reflects on the seawater, creating a wide range of colors that are reflected on the inside walls, varying throughout the day but with green as the main one. That’s where the name “Green Cave” comes from.
13. CIOLO – GAGLIANO DEL CAPO (LECCE)
The Ciolo owes its name to a dialectal word that means crow or magpie, animals that were once many in this area where they nested and hid. It’s a tall rocky niche with a long staircase that leads to the small beach underneath, mainly characterized by pebbles.
The water is low for a few meters and then becomes deep, but still protected from the wind. I suggest you wear bathing shoes as well as snorkeling stuff to explore the sea floor. If you look up instead, you will see wide jagged rocks and the big bridge that joins them, built to reach the coast road.
And you know what the real spectacle is, beside the landscape? The dips that the bravest people make from that bridge, 40 meters high, even though they are not completely legal so I suggest you don’t try. You will instead be able to go trekking and rock climbing, searching for some examples of Mediterranean vegetation such as Leuca’s cornflower and the wild orchid.
SANTA MARIA DI LEUCA – LECCE
Una foto pubblicata da @tiziana_s82 in data:
Una foto pubblicata da @tiziana_s82 in data:
It is the separation point between the Adriatic coast (east) that I just described and the Ionic coast (west) that we’ll see later. The legend says that Santa Maria di Leuca was born from the maliciousness of a mermaid. Yes, you got that right!
Leucasia was her name, and she used to enchant fishermen with her harmonious chanting. No one had ever managed to resist her, until one day came a young shepherd, Melisso, who stopped on the rocks to wash his sheep. She fell in love with him, but he had no issue at all resisting her, because he was madly in love with the pretty young Aristula.
The mermaid didn’t accept the rejection and patiently waited for the right moment for revenge. So when one day she saw the two lovers on the rocks, she caused a terrible storm, and the waves drowned the two lovers who ended up, as it was Leucasia’s will, forever parted on the two opposite sides of a wide gulf.
The goddess Minerva saw this sad scene, she felt mercy and decided to have Melisso and Aristula live forever by turning their bodies to stone. Those two rocks are nowadays known as Punta Meliso and Punta Ristola. They can’t touch each other, but they still embrace the same body of water, where the land gives way to the sea.
And Leucasia? She was petrified too, due to remorse, and she turned into the white town of Leuca.
To discover the caves of Leuca, you will be able to have a boat trip.
Don’t forget to visit the Basilica of Santa Maria di Leuca, built in honor of the Virgin Mary who made a miracle and saved the fishermen from a terrible storm back in 365 A.D. It is also said that the Sanctuary took the place of the temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva after Saint Peter, coming from the East and directed to Rome, decided to stop in Leuca for a short while.
And now, let’s take a look at the weather!
The weather in Salento is generally mild, therefore prone to tourism all year round. You won’t be particularly cold in winter, while you will enjoy a very hot summer, with short springs and falls. But let’s talk about the climate in each season, starting by summer.
SUMMER: hot and dry, with perceived temperatures often over 35°. I suggest you use fresh and thin clothes with a sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen during daytime, while at night you might need a cotton sweater, because humidity tends to be felt in the seaside locations. Summer storms are rare and if they do happen, they will be over before you even notice.
SPRING: the climate is really nice, the days are already sunny and the rains infrequent. I suggest you exploit this fact by taking long, relaxing walks in the countryside, always being careful about what you wear, nothing too heavy. Dress in layers instead because temperatures can rise very fast. Sometimes you might be able to bathe in the sea in the first days of May already!
AUTUMN: throughout September and sometimes up to mid-October you may be able to bathe in the sea due to exceptionally hot days. The temperature these days is mild and temperate, with few rains and many sirocco days, therefore warm and humid. Wear thin clothes.
WINTER: relatively short, compared to northern Italy. The temperature hardly ever goes below 10° and snow is quite a unique event, so much that when it comes, everyone (me included, when I lived in my small hometown) need to take at least one picture of the white coat that they can see from their house’s windows. Rain is more frequent in this season, but rainy days are not cold. Very often, you won’t need to wear heavy clothes.
Well, after some useful tips on the weather, this is where our trip to the discovery of the Adriatic coast of the Salento ends. In the next few days, we will discover together the wonderful beaches along the Ionian Sea.
In the meantime, let me know what you think!
Cover photo by Emanuele Petrachi