A Sweet Escape to Salento
Most people who travel to Italy visit either Rome, Florence, Venice or Milan. Those who venture south though will discover places of remarkable beauty such as Salento. Located in the heel of the Italian boot, in the Apulia region, Salento is my hometown and is one of the most beautiful places to see in Italy.
If you are a beach-lover and you’re searching for a cheap and unforgettable holiday you can’t beat this part of Italy. The sea is very clean and transparent and you’ll see lovely landscapes and coves all along the shoreline but none are quite as beautiful as those on the Adriatic coast, especially the city of Otranto and its beaches, Torre Dell’Orso and Sant’Andrea. Look out for the very famous ‘Rock of Poetry’ – a popular place for diving.
While the Adriatic side is a good destination for those who love camping or travelling by camper-van, the Ionian side has become extremely popular with those looking for lively holidays and glamorous resorts. Gallipoli is a very famous holiday destination and is attracting more and more people every year. Baia Verde in Gallipoli is a long beach full of kiosks where you can rent your parasols and chairs to enjoy the sun in front of the sea or you can eat something (if you are a sushi lover, try the Zen kiosk) or have a cocktail. During the day, the resorts are peaceful and relaxed, but come happy hour the music starts to get louder and in some places a proper party starts..Samsara is the most famous beach for happy hour parties – don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself in a crowd of people jumping!
If you’re looking for discos and parties, Gallipoli is perfect. Most parties start in the afternoon and continue on the beach until nightfall.
If you prefer peace and quiet I’d recommend a trip to my favourite beach: Porto Selvaggio (it means wild port Bay). Even though I have a house in front of the sea in Baia Verde and the sea is very beautiful and transparent over there, sometimes I escape from the chaos to head to this natural bay, not far from Gallipoli, where you really can feel the peace, surrounded by incredible trees and rocks and stunning turquoise water.
Nearby, my favourite place to go after the beach is the famous “split mountain”, Santa Maria al Bagno, where you’ll find Kmo. It’s literally just a kiosk on the rock but the location is spectaular. What could be better then a beer and some lovely live music or DJ sets while you watch the sun set? The staff are extremely friendly and it’s full of local people. Interestingly, the venue started as the effort of a group of friends who wanted to create somewhere different to the usual bars. It’s now attracting more and more people, as well as tourists. Another place to spend an alternative happy hour is the port of Gallipoli where fishermen sell their catch directly in the port – you can have fresh just caught fish there in the market, with a bottle or cup of white wine.
Eden Salento is another peaceful escape located in Marina di Pescoluse. It’s the first agri-beach in Italy, a destination that combines seaside charms as well as local fruit and food. The outdoor curtains and sofas create a very relaxing atmosphere and it’s a pet friendly beach.
What to Eat
Local flavours are based on the Mediterrean diet, so expect healthy but tasty food. Of course, pasta and pizza are amazing in this area – wherever you go you can be guaranteed it will be delicious. You also have to try “Rustico” a special kind of hot pastry filled with besciamella and tomato that is unique to this area of Italy.
There are plenty of restaurants in front of the sea where you can eat fresh fish, mussels and seafood. Carnivore? Try a “bombette”, a meat roll filled with many different ingredients including walnuts, Philadelphia bresaola and much more. There is a place in Lecce, called “la locanda del macellaio” (Butcher Inn) where you can see the meat and choose between the different types of bombette or sausages or “straccetti”(bits of meat breaded) and then they cook in front of you.
“Pittole” is also a must in the Apulia region, it’s a kind of fried batter that’s traditionally.eaten with honey. Local wines are good and you’ll find plenty of these the surrounding vineyards.
There are plenty of desserts to try too. First of all the typical “Pasticiotto” which is full of lovely cream. Also, the ice cream is very nice wherever you go in the local “gelateria”and I suggest you try “spumone” a kind of small cake made of different ice-creams.
Almond paste is popular in Salento, you’ll find lots of sweets made of almond paste are beautifully decorated, especially during Christmas.
Getting To Salento
The nearest airport is Brindisi – you can find a lot of cheap fares from airports including Brussels and Milan or if you visit another Italian city, you can then take a domestic flight as there are many connecting services.
I suggest you rent a car when you arrive, as public transport is very unreliable and taxi drivers can sometimes take advantage of tourists by over-charging them. If you rent a car you’ll be free to drive from the Ionian Coast to the Adriatic one!
Summer is probably the best time of the year to visit this region. The weather is warm and sunny and there are beach activities. Christmas is very pretty too when the city is filled with lights and decorations. If you’re taking a short break over the winter, you should plan your trip to coincide with the 11th of November, when the Saint Martin festival takes place and everyone feasts on meat and red wine.
Hope you find these suggestions useful when you go and discover the heel of the boot!
Chiara is a member of Ryanair’s Cabin Crew based in East Midlands