What are the themes of a vacation in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot?
Lazy, easy days. Days soaking in loose schedules. Wandering around white washed towns and beach visits. Naps in the shade after long lunches.
The further south you travel the slower and less crowded Puglia becomes. Small pathways lead you to the bluest water via hidden coves and rocky beaches. Sleepy villages, deserted during La Pausa, come to life in time for an an evening aperitivo. Restaurants where the menu choice depends on what fresh and seasonal produce was available at the market and harbour that morning.
Take a slow drive down Salento’s Adriatic coast.
Santa Cesarea Terme | Santa Maria di Leuca
Distance | 35 km
An absolute highlight. The route along the coast is one of the most dramatic in Puglia. But this is not the Amalfi. The drive is leisurely, the pace easy.
Our preferred starting point is Santa Cesarea Terme. If you find yourself short of time start at Castro. If you took advantage of the early morning hours then start at Porto Badisco.
Hugging the SP358 through Castro, Porto Tricase (where a one way system will divert you away from the coast; just follow it - you will return) and by Marina Serra until the lighthouse at Leuca announces your arrival. Continue to the lungomare. The old port and the art nouveau villas that line the seafront open up along the way.
Lidos sit on wooden platforms along Leuca’s lungomare. Be sure to take some ciabatte - rubber soled shoes - for swimming. These are a necessity for taking to the crystal clear waters lapping over jagged rocks peppered with sea urchins, whose spines present another hazard to the bare footed.
Grab some frittura at Lido AlbaChiara. There you can enjoy the view over the azure waters while watching local teenagers snorkelling for urchin and polpo to be served at the next meal.
That’s the thing about Santa Maria di Leuca. It all comes back to the sea.
Getting to Santa Cesarea Terme from | Otranto 16 km | Lecce 50 km | Gallipoli 50 km | Ostuni 130 km.
With extra toppings
The drive itself is only 50 minutes, but we prefer to amble and explore along the way.
Sitting on a plateau that plunges into the sea Santa Cesarea Terme will remind you of Polignano a Mare. Bathe in the thermal waters, or enjoy the north African ambiance of the Palazzo Sticchi.
Buy the freshest street food in Castro. Locally caught fried fish from the friggitorie, served up in cartoccio accompanied by a small bottle of chilled white or rosé wine. Perched on cliffs 100m above the sea Castro is Puglia’s balcony over the Adriatic.
Stop off for a coffee at Porto Tricase. Watch the bathers taking a cooling dip in the green waters of the small beach at the little harbour, home to the town’s fishing boats.
Caletta del Ciolo some 8km before Leuca is a coastal ravine for hiking, cliff-diving and swimming with scenic views from the bridge over the canyon.
Instead of a day trip, spread this over two days.
Stay the night in Marina Serra. This allows an evening detour to nearby Tricase for a pre-dinner aperitivo at Farmacia Balboa. The old town pharmacy sits on a small piazza and has been sympathetically transformed into a cool cocktail bar retaining many original features. Its co-owner Dame Helen Mirren has a summer house in the neighbouring town of Tiggiano.
A couple of doors down is the Castel di Salve wine shop (their winery/cantina is in the wonderfully named neighbouring town on the other side - Depressa; though we are sure it’s not at all). They have great locally produced wines that taste of the Salento sun. Nothing brings a smile to our face like buying a 15 litre box of their Santi Medici Rosso negroamaro to take home.
For dinner Locanda Del Levante around the corner is our choice.
Be sure to get up in time to watch the sun rise over the rocky shelves that surround Marina Serra’s swimming basin along with the locals taking their daily early morning constitutional.
A wonderful place to watch the early morning sunrise over the Adriatic while taking a swim in the piscina naturale.
Santa Maria di Leuca
Leuca offers a rare spectacle. From the same spot you can watch the sunrise over the Adriatic and at the end of the day disappear into the Ionian.
In certain conditions the physical border where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet can be seen from the swell of colour (due to the meeting between the currents coming from the Gulf of Taranto and those of the Canale d'Otranto).
Santa Cesarea Terme
Bathe in the thermal waters, or enjoy the north African ambiance of the Palazzo Sticchi.
Located south of Otranto, about 35 km (21 miles) from Lecce, Santa Cesarea Terme overlooks the Adriatic atop a plateau that plummets dramatically into the sea.