The comparison of the Salento area with the fabulous atolls of the Indian Ocean is not at all exaggerated: the "heel" of Italy, in fact, with its two hundred kilometers of coastline, boasts beaches of soft, white sand and a sea with transparent waters with colors ranging from turquoise to aquamarine, from deep blue to the purest emerald. If Marina di Pescoluse, with its four kilometers of white sand, is the emblem of the Salento Maldives, there are actually countless dream beaches to be found in this corner of Italy, each one different from the other and all equally seductive. A few examples? Torre dell'Orso, with its crescent of sand set between two cliffs and the pair of snow-white stacks acting as sentinels in the crystal-clear water; the complex of small beaches and caves of Poesia Grande and Poesia Piccola, the realm of divers and lovers of the crystal-clear sea; and again, the beach of Torre Guaceto, a wild nature reserve "protected" by an ancient watchtower, and that of Punta Prosciutto, a small paradise.
Ostuni: the white pearl
The sea is the undisputed protagonist of a trip to Salento, and there are numerous villages overlooking the blue. One of these is white Ostuni, a ball of white houses and ochre-colored stone buildings perched on three hills a handful of kilometers from the coast. The narrow streets of the historic center reveal aristocratic dwellings, gates of precious workmanship and churches of rare beauty, among which, towering over the entire town, the 15th-century Romanesque-Gothic cathedral stands out. The white of Ostuni's houses recalls another white, equally typical and just a half-hour's drive away, that of the trulli of Alberobello and the cummerse - narrow, high dwellings with sloping roofs - of Locorotondo, two villages unique in the world. Returning instead to the sea, among the various beaches, that of Torre Pozzella is worth a visit, a succession of coves surrounded by Mediterranean scrub: a wild and unspoiled beauty made special by the numerous rainwater wells that surface and a 16th-century lookout tower, affectionately called "torre sgarrata" by the locals.
Gallipoli: between nightlife and Baroque
It changes atmosphere according to the hours of the day and the seasons, the town of Gallipoli, which stretches out like the prow of a ship over a sea-we are on the Ionian Sea-blue and Caribbean, bordered by busy "city" beaches. In the morning,its cobbled streets are populated by locals returning from the fish market - set up in the original castle moat - and during the day the historic center is crowded with art and architecture lovers in search of the area's Baroque treasures. In the evening, however, Gallipoli is a seaside village
that offers unparalleled nightlife with small restaurants, glamorous nightclubs and discos in which to shoot the sunrise. Not only that. In Gallipoli, the imposing castle-which seems to rise from the sea with its mighty towers-and the cathedral of St. Agatha, with its elaborate façade like the most precious of lace, literally leave you speechless, inviting you to discover the rest of the historic center at the slow pace that beauty deserves.
Otranto: looking east
It is the easternmost point of the Peninsula, Otranto, and many will link the name of the splendid ancient walled town to the first Gothic novel in the history of modern literature, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Although the novel is a figment of the imagination and it is difficult to recognize the delightful town in it, Otranto really does have a castle: an Aragonese manor house dating back to the late 15th century and now transformed into a turreted cultural and exhibition venue, which dominates the compound maze of narrow streets in the historic center.
History and myths also merge on the scenic beaches that frame the village, first and foremost the secluded beach of Porto Badisco, bordered by bushes of fragrant broom and lapped by a deep blue sea that turns cobalt blue as you move away from the shore: here legend has it that Aeneas, the mythical Virgilian hero fleeing from Troy, landed, while history tells of ancient peoples, evidenced by the precious graffiti in the Grotta dei Cervi, considered the "Sistine Chapel of the Neolithic."
Santa Maria di Leuca: de finibus terrae
It was the end of the landmasses for the ancients, and here the Ionian and Adriatic seas meet and mingle, in an atmosphere that is both dreamlike and spiritual, where the very tall lighthouse - 47 meters, among the most imposing in Italy - dominates the seaside village punctuated by Art Nouveau mansions (beautiful Villa Episcopo, with its delicate blue decorations), architectural extravagances with a Moorish flavor (such as Villa Daniele), oriental gazebos and whims of the imagination (one above all: Villa La Meridiana), while a handful of steps away pilgrims flock in large numbers to the Basilica of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae, overlooking a sea of converging waves and metallic tones. On the seafront, it is again a series of constructions that attract attention: these are the "bagnarole," small huts built a few meters from the shore that enclose natural pools carved out of the rocks, where the sea comes in through a tiny channel; it is here that women of old used to go swimming away from prying eyes and... from the scorching sun!
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