We drove south along the west coast from Gallipoli to Santa Maria di Leuca which is the southern most point in Italy. We had a leisurely drive along a a road which hugs the coast stopping to swim and have a picnic. In Puglia, you get little bread buns called Pucce which are made with olive oil and contain olives or tomatoes or both. They are simply delicious and need no addition though we couldn’t help indulging in prosciutto and mozarella as well. Santa Maria di Leuca has a church called the church at the end of the world (Santuario di Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae) so we really felt like we had reached the farthest point in Italy. With the Ionian Sea on the east side and the Adriatic sea on the west side, the coastline is dramatic with lots of caves and grottos.
As you round the tip, you can see the coast of Albania in the distance and Corfu is only about 60km away. With the risk of invasions, since the time of the Greeks in BC, there are towers and fortifications at intervals. As we approached Otranto which is on the west side, the coastline became dry and rocky. Most plants are dry and look dead but it must be glorious in the spring when the flowers are in bloom.
Otranto is a walled town on the sea with a well fortified castle and a cathedral within the walls. In 1480, during the Ottoman invasion, around 800 male inhabitants were put to death for refusing to convert to Islam. The bones of these matyrs have been preserved in a side chapel of the cathedral.
Too soon, it was time to leave Otranto and continue inland to Lecce which is a another walled town full of baroque and rococco churches and buildings. These walled towns are beautiful and I love staying in them. Only trouble is the streets are very narrow and impossible to drive through never mind parking. This is a good thing as its a pleasure to wander around except that you have to park outside the walls and carry your luggage to your hotel. Since the streets are cobbled, wheeling your luggage does not always work well. I think I need to revert to my student days and get a backpack!
On the way back to Rome, we drove through Locorotondo and Alberobello. This area is notable for its trulli, small circular dwellings made of stone with a conical roof. Originally built as single room shelters, they are experiencing a revival and have become a tourist attraction. Gorgeous in their original state, they are being painted and refurbished for tourists to stay in. Good for the economy I guess.
More than seeing the trulli which are really quite unique, I enjoyed stopping by the wayside to eat ripe figs warmed by the sun. Its hard to describe what it feels like to pluck a warm, ripe fig and bite into it!