The Salento, Apulia’s southern peninsula, impresses with a spectacular, rugged coastline. Located between two seas – the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the west – a pleasant sea breeze is omnipresent during a holiday in Salento.
However, the beautiful coastal landscape is by no means everything: Some of the most beautiful cities in Italy are located in Salento. Above all, the baroque city of Lecce and the picturesque harbor town of Otranto should be mentioned here.
A stay in Salento should definitely be on your itinerary on a Puglia round trip. In this blog article we provide you with the best tips for your trip to Salento.
1. Salento: First information and travel tips at a glance
Interesting facts about Salento
- The Salento is the peninsula that forms the southernmost tip of Puglia. The peninsula is about 100 km long and 40 km wide.
- The nature is characterized by a sometimes very spectacular, beautiful coast with breathtaking rock formations and a mostly flat hinterland.
- Salento is home to around ten million olive trees. Some of them are thousands of years old – or even older. They shape the landscape of Salento like no other plant. But now comes a sad detail: a bacterium has been raging since around 2013, which has already killed an estimated two thirds of all olive trees. More on that soon.
- Typical of the Salento are the numerous watchtowers that are enthroned along the coast on promontories and rocky outcrops. They were used for defense and mostly date from the 15th and 16th centuries.
The sad fate of the olive trees in Salento
Olive groves as far as the eye can see. For centuries, Salento has been shaped by its ancient olive trees, which tell a story with their thick, gnarled trunks. Sounds romantic? It would be too.
Since 2013, however, history has taken a sad turn. Since that time, a bacterium (“Xylella fastidiosa”) has been spreading that can hardly be stopped. It blocks water and nutrient transport within the tree and causes it to die of thirst. The olive tree dries up and dies – and with it a part of the identity of Salento.
What that means exactly: Where once lush green olive groves could be admired, today in Salento only dry treetops protrude from the landscape. Not all olive trees have fallen victim to the bacterium, but a significant number – and it is difficult to contain the pathogen.
In any case, we were extremely shocked by the extent of the catastrophe, which, by the way, has also become a problem in other parts of Puglia.
How much time should I plan for Salento?
The Salento may be “only” 100 kilometers long, but there is an incredible amount to see. If you are planning a road trip throughout Puglia, then we would recommend at least three days for Salento. So you can visit the most important cities (Lecce, but also Otranto or Gallipoli) and also explore the beautiful coast a little.
Maybe you want to take it easy? Then stay a little longer (about 5 days) in Salento. So you also have enough time for one or the other leisurely day at the beach.
2. Overnight stays in Salento: our hotel tip
Tip in advance: One or more home bases?
Maybe you’re wondering if you should only plan one or more stops for Salento ? There is no right or wrong here and the decision is a matter of taste.
Since the distances are not endless, you can reach most destinations in Salento in a maximum of one hour. You can easily look for a centrally located accommodation and explore the Salento from there in a star shape.
That’s how we did it and would choose to do it again and again. In addition, however, we also spent a night in Lecce in order to be able to really enjoy the old town flair of this special city in the evening hours. For us, this division was the best option.
Unsere Unterkunft im Salento: Masseria Corte degli Aromi
What a dream retreat! The elegant Masseria Corte degli Aromi is the perfect feel-good place for a wonderful holiday in Salento.
The Masseria (= old, renovated farm – similar to a finca in Spain) is located in an idyllic green setting on the outskirts of the small village of Palmariggi, near Otranto. It houses only seven suites. Each of them is completely individually furnished. The stylish, elegant design runs like a red thread through the entire facility.
Back to the suite: in terms of equipment , nothing is missing here. From the comfortable bed to the private pool – here you can simply switch off completely. Both the suite and the rest of the facility is of a very high quality and furnished with attention to detail.
The breakfast is excellent. In Italy, people prefer sweets for breakfast, so the selection of cakes in the morning surpasses any dessert buffet. But don’t worry: there are also plenty of salty foods, such as cheese, antipasti, but also muesli and very good bread.
Our conclusion: An oasis that is perfectly located to explore the Salento. Unfortunately not cheap, but especially in the off-season you can get good prices. We would stay here again anytime.
Here you can book the hotel: Masseria Corte degli Aromi
3. East Coast Road: Sights & Places
One of the absolute highlights in Salento: driving along the fantastic coastal road (SP 366) in the east. The section between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca at the southernmost tip of Salento is particularly famous . But there are also some worthwhile stops north of Otranto.
We recommend that you plan at least a full day. The pure driving time along the coast is about two hours. But with photo breaks and enough time for sightseeing, a day is quickly filled.
In this chapter we introduce you to some worthwhile stops along the coast road from north to south. Our tip: start in the north and then arrive in Santa Maria di Leuca punctually before sunset. It’s gorgeous there!
Cave of Poetry
Let’s start at one of the most famous rock formations in Salento, the Grotta della Poesia. The power of the sea current has created a beautiful natural pool here .
Important to know: Swimming is now forbidden in the Grotta della Poesia. However, not everyone sticks to it (as you can see in the photo). Although the scenery is really picturesque thanks to the turquoise water, we think the Grotta della Poesia is a bit overrated.
Why? Personally, we were a bit put off by the rather touristy presentation (entrance fee, etc.). There are really so many beautiful spots (which are free of charge) along the Salento coast that we drove on relatively quickly.
Admission: 3 euros
Parking: e.g. “Parcheggio Roca Vecchia” car park (fee-based, approx. 5 minutes’ walk away)
The Two Sisters
Just ten minutes by car south of the Grotta della Poesia you will reach the next rock formation: Le Due Sorelle. In German: The two sisters.
From the parking lot you can walk to the cliffs in about 5 minutes, from where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the two rocks . You can also walk a little forward along the cliffs – but please always be careful, because there are no safeguards here.
Overall a nice spot, but nothing more. If your time is very limited, you could also skip this stop.
Parking: e.g. at the “Parcheggio Belvedere” car park (subject to a fee, approx. 5 minutes’ walk away)
In our opinion, one of the most beautiful natural scenery of Salento are the rock formations of Torre Sant’Andrea. A spectacular, rough cliff landscape awaits you here , which personally reminded us a little of the Great Ocean Road in Australia.
During our visit in the off-season, there was very little going on here during the day, so we were able to enjoy the breathtaking scenery in peace. If the sea is calm, you can also go swimming here because there is a small bay. However, the current would have been too strong for us.
By the way: We liked it here so much that we even came back the next day to admire the sunrise . The rising sun bathes the rocks in a beautiful light – a magical experience! In the high season you also have the chance to have the place all to yourself.
Parking: e.g. at the “Parcheggio dei Faraglioni” car park (fee-based, about 3 minutes’ walk away)
The next stop is the beautiful port city of Otranto. We would recommend that you plan at least an hour for this. We will tell you our tips and the most beautiful sights in the next chapter (“Cities worth seeing in Salento”).
Lighthouse at Otranto
The next stopover is recommended about ten minutes by car south of Otranto. Here, at the easternmost point of Italy, the lighthouse Punta Palascìa is enthroned .
From the parking lot (which unfortunately is tiny and almost overlooked) a gravel path (approx. 10-15 minutes) leads you down to the lighthouse. On a clear day you can even see the mountains of Albania on the horizon.
Parking: At the dirt parking lot on the street by the small military building (free)
Saint Caesarea Terme
Let’s continue south. Next we stop at Santa Cesarea Terme, a charming, rather posh spa town famous for its spa and wellness offerings. Santa Cesarea Terme is home to several caves with sulphurous healing waters, which have been appreciated since ancient times.
The town’s unofficial landmark is the Palazzo Sticchi, a striking Moorish-style palace. The palace is currently (as of autumn 2022) being renovated and scaffolded.
If you want to stop for a swim in Santa Cesarea Terme, then you will find a very beautiful bay here with the Spiaggia Porto Miggiano . The way down is a bit of an adventure and definitely not suitable for the elderly, infirm or small children.
A few parked cars and quite a few young people made us stop here spontaneously – and lo and behold: How lucky! From the car you don’t even realize the impressive surroundings you are in.
At a height of around 26 meters, a bridge (“Ponte Ciolo”) spans a spectacular gorge. Below in the depths is a picturesque bathing bay. A short stopover is worthwhile just to look down.
If you have more time, you can of course also hike down. We personally suspect that there is a lot going on here in the high season. In the low season it was pleasantly quiet.
Parking: Subject to availability on the road south of the bridge. (When it’s busy, though, it gets tricky.)
Santa Maria di Leuca
Last but not least the last stop of our little road trip along the east coast of Salento: Santa Maria di Leuca. The southernmost point of Apulia is perfect for enjoying the sunset. We will tell you our tips for this in the next chapter (“Cities worth seeing in Salento”).
4. Cities worth seeing in Salento
The largest and one of the most important cities in Salento is the baroque city of Lecce. With its numerous impressive baroque buildings, some of the most important sights of Salento await you in Lecce.
On the one hand, there are the numerous imposing churches of Lecce, above all the gigantic cathedral. He is enthroned in the spacious Piazza del Duomo. We were particularly impressed by the crypt below the cathedral – wow!
No less impressive is the Roman amphitheater in Piazza Sant’Oronzo. It dates from the 2nd century and was actually only discovered by chance during excavations at the beginning of the 20th century.
Overall, we would plan half a day for Lecce – so you can visit the most important sights. Ideally you’ll stay the night. So you can also enjoy the great flair in the evening hours.
Here you can find our detailed blog article: Lecce Sights & Tips
It is not for nothing that Otranto is one of the “borghi più belli d’Italia”, the most beautiful places in Italy. The cozy flair of the small port town with its whitewashed houses immediately appealed to us.
The old town of Otranto with its winding streets is a small jewel in Salento – but also quite touristy. You can tell by the fact that there are hardly any regional grocers or shops for everyday use in the old town.
We would recommend that you plan around two hours for your tour of Otranto. We can recommend the following places and sights:
- Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata: The cathedral of Otranto and the city’s most important monument. It is particularly famous for its floor mosaic from the 12th century. (A little tip: note the cathedral’s lunch break!)
- Castello di Otranto: The old fortifications date back to the 10th century. We only admired them from the outside. A museum is housed inside.
- Lungomare: The palm-lined beach promenade of Otranto is also worth seeing. It’s best to walk from the old town to the city beach – from there you have a nice view back towards Otranto.
The small port town of Gallipoli is also definitely worth a visit. Gallipoli is on the west coast of Salento, making it a perfect sunset spot.
It is no coincidence that the city’s name comes from Greek: Gallipoli was founded by the Greeks. The old town of Gallipoli is picturesquely situated on a rocky island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge .
A labyrinth of narrow streets awaits you – quite picturesque, but also quite touristy. In the off-season, fortunately, the rush is limited.
We would recommend planning about two hours for a visit. The following places and sights you should not miss:
- Castello di Gallipoli: The historic defense system is enthroned on the bridge at the entrance to the old town. The old fishing port is also located here.
- Basilica Cattedrale di Sant’Agata: The Cathedral of Gallipoli is currently (as of autumn 2022) being renovated.
- Spiaggia della Purità: The city beach and best spot for the sunset.
Santa Maria di Leuca
The small coastal town of Santa Maria di Leuca is located at the southernmost point of Puglia. This is where the Adriatic Sea meets the Ionian Sea. We ourselves were here before sunset and can highly recommend this time.
One of the most famous sights is the Santuario di Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae. It’s not so much the church that makes this place so special, but rather the spacious, impressive square, from which you can also enjoy a wonderful view down towards the harbor . There is also a lighthouse enthroned here – all in all really worth seeing.
Even in the off-season, this place gets busy before sunset. With a bit of luck you will find a parking space right in front of it.
Probably the best place for the sunset is about 10 minutes away by car at Cape Punta Ristola. Here you are really at the southernmost point of Apulia. Because the cape is quite exposed, you have a spectacular view in both directions (both back towards Santa Maria di Leuca and towards the sunset).
You can easily park directly at the cape (a bit of parking luck is required). If you want and are sure-footed, you can also hike a little forward over the rocks.
5. Beaches and coves in Salento
Along the rugged coast of Salento there are countless bathing bays and beaches – many of them tiny and hidden, others a little wider and long. The bays on the east coast tend to be rocky. Those looking for sandy beaches are more likely to find them on the west coast.
Important note: In the high season, many of the beaches in Salento are almost overcrowded down to the last centimetre. Apulia is also an extremely popular travel destination among Italian tourists. If you want to avoid the crowds , you better come in September.
Tips for beautiful beaches in Salento
Torre Sant’Andrea: This rocky cove sits right on the cliffs of Salento’s spectacular east coast. It gets cramped in summer, but the scenery is really unique.
Baia dei Turchi: A relatively wide sandy beach with rocky sections. Finding a parking space can be a challenge in high season. For five euros you can park at the “Parcheggio Baia dei Turchi Tenuta Schito”. From there, a short walk through a pine forest separates you from the beach.
Spiaggia di Pescoluse: This beach is nicknamed “Maldives of Salento”. That may be a bit exaggerated, but you can look forward to a very beautiful, fine sandy beach. However, there is also a lot going on here in the high season.
6. Map: All locations and tips at a glance
Would you like to get a better overview of the location of the individual towns in Salento? On this map you will find all the places and spots we have mentioned marked. A little tip: It is best to click on the rectangle at the top right to save the map on your smartphone (Google Maps app).
Transparency: Affiliate links
This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we will receive a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. A thousand thanks from both of us!