The Salento

A peninsula nestled in the Mediterranean Sea

Salento, as well as being the southernmost part of Puglia, is – we like to remember – the easternmost part of Italy, with strong links to the East.

It is a peninsula immersed in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, which becomes the Ionian Sea on its western coast and the Adriatic Sea on the eastern coast. While being part of Puglia, Salento is also closely related, in terms of local language and customs, with Sicily and Calabria.

Salento covers the entire province of Lecce and part of the provinces of Brindisi and Taranto.

It was the land of the Messapi, before being Latinized by the Romans. Over the centuries, Salento was subject to many invasions: from the Lombards and Byzantines, to the Saracens and the dominion of the Normans, Angevins, Aragonese and Bourbons.

The signs of these conquests are concentrated in the numerous historical centers of Salento towns with their narrow streets full of courtyards and noble palaces, as well as low and compact houses covered with lime or Lecce stone. They are also obvious in the many castles and coastal towers scattered around the peninsula.

Between Salento’s 100-plus municipalities lies the Salento countryside: a landscape of olive groves, wheat fields, fig and almond trees, Mediterranean pine, prickly pears, macchia (shrubland) and flowering fields in spring. Throughout the farms, you’ll find traces of ancient peasant civilizations, votive icons and kilometers of dry stone walls. In recent years, the number of green areas and protected wetlands has grown considerably. In recent years, the number of green areas and protected wetlands has grown considerably.

The coastal landscape is dominated by the perfumed Salentine garrigue that blankets the shoreline between the many beautiful and historic towns: Gallipoli, Otranto, Santa Cesarea, Castro, etc). Along the seashore, sandy stretches alternate with rocky tracts. The sea is crystal clear everywhere.

The long coastal profile and the absence of large metropolitan areas makes Salento a perfect haven for those looking to move slowly and take in the atmosphere. Cycling routes and walking paths link the coast to the inland rural areas, passing through the many small villages. The countryside here – largely abandoned in the latter part of the last century – has regained its vital spirit and become a place of experimentation, social innovation and wellbeing. There are places offering a variety of holistic activities, organic farms extending a welcome with their own seasonal products, and artisans displaying both traditional and newly-inspired wares.

In the summer the area erupts with hundreds of events. Some are part of Salento tradition, such as the many local festivals devoted to patron saints, often with amazing lighting displays. Some are new, innovative festivals, dedicated to the wealth of good food, wine and music. And some, such as the now world-famous ‘Notte della Taranta’, bring together elements of all these in celebrations in the piazzas of every local town. Nor is there a lack of such events throughout the winter months: festivals continue, alongside music, cinema and theatre. It’s never boring here.