In this travel diary, I will take you to the south of Puglia and share with you my favourite places, the specialities you must try, my favourite addresses and itineraries ideas. Andiamo!
I settled in the extreme south of Italy in August 2022 where I developed an unconditional love for the Salento and its inhabitants. I like to observe this Italian culture through the prism of my French culture. This extravagant way of being, of looking and speaking deeply, without filter, this love of overflowing, this generosity until the sharing of the last olive on one’s pizza, the sense of community, the smells of coffee mixed with tomato sauce, the bursts of laughter, the joyful cacophonous bazaar and this so approximate way of driving. A unique combination of colours, smells and incessant fantasy.
The Salento is poignant, its beauty touching: the landscapes are breathtaking, like a lost paradise, and are magnified by a past of dizzying richness: monuments, legends and ancestral traditions inherited from various civilizations. Sure that this land will hold a special place in your heart.
For your trip to Salento, listen to my Italian playlist ici.
SOME BASICS FOR YOUR TRIP
TRANSPORTATION | To get around Salento, you will need a car. If you want to park in town, you need to be careful in summer to pay for your parking (of course…). It’s often rare to find parking meters that accept credit cards. For my part, I use the PayByPhone application, which is very useful, especially if you want to extend your parking time without returning to your car. If you are there for a few days, I advise you to enjoy the South and not necessarily to do too much at once (leave the North of Puglia for later), the watchword here: DOLCE FARNIENTE. We slow down. Besides, think about it, in the afternoon everything is closed: Siesta oblige!
BEST TIMES TO VISIT THE SALENTO | May, September, October are ideal if you want to swim and enjoy beautiful temperatures without the high heat and the horde of tourists of the high season. In general, avoid the month of August, otherwise it is beautiful all year round.
RESTAURANTS | Obviously, avoid eating in places that are too touristy, you might be disappointed: Gallipoli or Porto Cesareo in summer. If you come during the high season, remember to book to eat in restaurants. I’ll tell you below what specialties to try during your stay, but in general you can always start with the Antipasti della casa – they’ll bring you a festival of good things to try. When you’re on a day trip to the beach or hiking, I recommend stopping off at a small local Supermercato where you can usually make your own « panino » (sandwich) with fresh produce from the counter (cheese, cold meats, tomatoes, etc.). TOP restaurants to try near the masseria: La Dispensa dei Raccomandati in Nardò for the quality of the fish and the service + Trattoria I Corsari for a taste of chef Massimo Vaglio’s traditional cuisine.
ACCOMMODATION | Galeta Masseria. A haven of peace and quiet even in high season. It is also a guarantee of an authentic experience with a 100% Salentine family who knows the history, the legends and the gastronomic traditions. You can eat here, take yoga classes and go trekking with Alessandro, a tour guide.
A BIT OF HISTORY | Salento has always been a place of passage between different civilizations. Salento’s history is rich. The territory has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and numerous archaeological excavations are still taking place in Salento today. The history of Salento is marked by numerous Turkish attacks, Spanish domination by Carlo V. The many defensive coastal towers are the legacy of this. Other peoples and cultures have succeeded each other and left a huge heritage. More than anything else when you travel here: talk to the locals, ask them to tell you the history of their land. There is always a legend behind a pastry.
During your stay, you must try:
- Puccia, a typical hot sandwich filled with seasonal products with a bread that resembles pizza dough, airy and crunchy
- Orecchiette al Sugo con Cacioricotta or Cime di Rapa – the typical Apulian pasta (the best ones are from Galeta Masseria, you can ask Sandro to prepare them for you). Cime di Rapa is a winter vegetable, so don’t eat it if it’s not in season.
- Friselle, dehydrated hard breads that are filled with, for example, pomodori and rucola. The juice of the tomato and the olive oil make them soft.
- Rustico leccese, a pasta sfoglia with béchamel sauce, mozzarella and tomato inside. A treat when you’re hungry, for example when you get out of the water in winter to warm up. You’ll find the best one at the Central Bar in Copertino.
- Calzone (fritto) leccese, while pizza are from Naples, the « calzone » is an invention of Puglia. Calzone comes from the word « trousers », because in the eighteenth century, workers’ wives found a way of closing the pizza by folding it up and putting it in their husbands’ pockets when they went to work. It’s a pizza dough-based turnover, baked or fried (olalala) with mozzarella and tomato inside. You must try the fried version at least once in your life. You’ll find the best one at the Central Bar in Copertino.
- Fish, of course, simply grilled.
- Café Leccese con latte di Mandorla (almond syrup). A cold coffee served with ice and almond syrup. I ask for it « con non troppo zucchero e un po di latte » (otherwise they always put too much syrup for my taste)
- Pasticciotto, a typical pastry from the Salento region, made of shortcrust pastry filled with custard and baked
- Spumone, an ice cream mousse made of three different flavours and a crunchy gourmet part (biscuit or nougatine)
Personally, I always fall for the Cannolo from Sicily: a roll of fried dough filled with sweetened Ricotta cream or the Sfogliatella, a Neapolitan pastry filled with Ricotta, flavoured with vanilla or cinnamon, and orange peel.
…. and so many other good things (Scamorza, Tarallini, almonds in the shell…)!
The city has an exceptional concentration of monuments, palaces and churches in a delicate baroque style. The decorative exuberance is lightened by the use of pietra leccese, the typical honey-coloured limestone. Go for a walk at the end of the day when the pastel lights of the sky and the sun come to embrace and magnify the façades. At night it is also incredible. An open-air show. Don’t miss the Basilica of Santa Croce, a masterpiece, the Piazza del Duomo, the Piazza Sant’Oronzo and its amphitheatre.
I love to stroll through the streets and be dazzled by the beauty of the buildings, to catch glimpses, to look out of the windows, to stop in a café. You will find many vintage and second hand stores, sometimes you will find beautiful things (for example: Mercatino Franchising Lecce).
Parking: To park in Lecce is easy out of season, more complicated in summer. Personally I always find places in the streets around this address: Via Giovanni Antonio Orsini del Balzo, 42. Close to the center and cheaper or near to the train station (0,60€ per hour instead of 1€10).
– Coffee and pastries: on the terrace of Pasticceria Pinti, Bar Cotognata, Café Alvino, Aldemorisco
– 300MILA, a mythical bar that has won many awards. I recommend it for the cioccolato al taglio, if you want to bring back some really good chocolate from your vacation. Honestly I am not a fan of the decor and the pastries I tasted were not the best.
– An ice cream at Natale or Baldo Gelato
– Café Leccese at the counter of AVIO café – an old roaster of very good quality coffee, which can be bought on site
– Shops: R4 – clothing shop, Vico dei Bolognesi – concept store and bistro, Mr jam – clothing shop
– Have a drink: L’ Altro Vino Enoteca Naturale, Quanto Basta, Shui cocktail mixology
– Restaurant: 3 rane, Les zie Trattoria Casereccia, La Cucina di Mamma Elvira
– Sreet food: Mezzo quinto, Il Pozzicotto (pizza al taglio)
I have a crush for Nardò. Strolling through the narrow streets of the historic centre inspires me enormously. I get excited by the Italian architecture: the exuberance of the baroque style of the churches contrasting with the softness of the colours on the facades of the old palaces. I like to walk there early in the morning or at the end of the day, in the evening, to look up to the sky, to see what is going on in the privacy of the other side of the windows.
So Nardò, I say YES to enjoy the Dolce Farniente. Nardò à la folie to drink a coffee in the morning with a little sweetness or for a spritz at the end of the day.
– Café Parisi for morning coffee or a spritz at the end of the day
– Café IL GABBIANO, the best pastry shop in Nardò
– La Dispensa dei Raccomandati, my favourite restaurant in Nardò ((I absolutely do not recommend Trattoria San Giuseppe cenobio – even if the reviews are good)
– Antica Trattoria Salandra
– Hostaria Corte Santa Lucia
– Jungle bar. A very nice bar/restaurant in a park with live music sometimes
– Euma esthetics – waxing, massage and more
A must visit: the Basilica Santa Caterina d’Alessandria which pierces the heart with beauty. Taste the pastries of Pasticceria Andrea Ascalone, why not a lunch or dinner at Anima e cuore (I like the place but personally a bit disappointed by the food, …), excellent pizzas at Tipozero.
– Pasticceria Andrea Ascalone
– Pizzeria Tipozero
– Restaurant Anima e cuore
A city dedicated to the art of ceramics because it is built on clay soil, with many art centres, shops and laboratories. A must see! During your visit don’t miss: Ex Frontaio – art gallery dedicated to ceramics and photography which receives artists from all over the world in residence, Antonio Fazano (go and chat with him, he is incredible), Enza Fazano, Giorgi di Palma and the famous Studio Cromie, Angelo Milano’s art gallery. Angelo is amazing and very active! He also makes clothes, organizes exhibitions, a festival. Travel the world accompanied by artist to paint on the walls. Stroll also in the historical center which is magnificent. The small sloping streets remind me of Lisbon. After your tour in Grottaglie, go for a walk under the olive trees in the park Gravina e Cave di Fantiano. Continue the day at the sea: Marina di Pulsano + Piri Piri + Marina di Maruggio. The color of the water, CHE MERAVIGLIA!
– La Capasa Osteria
– Alfredo Ristorante
– Volver Vintage Shop
( The west side where you can see the sunsets and the clear turquoise water)
PORTO CESAREO | (To be avoided in high season) For the sunset, a walk or a run by the water, a breakfast or a snack on the terrace. The water is more turquoise than turquoise.
- Pasticceria Dolci tramonti (irresistible cannolo, very good ice cream)
- Breakfast on the terrace Bar Principe
- Spritz and sunset Lido Le Dune (maybe not in july – august)
- An ice cream at Jacopo Falli Dolci&Gelato (many say they are the best ice cream, I was disappointed)
Addresses and restaurants around the Masseria (Porto Cesareo, Sant’Isidoro, Copertino):
– Copertino isn’t touristic, but I find the historic centre beautiful at night. If you want to do as the locals do, go and have a coffee at the Central Bar and try pasticciotto, pasta di mandorle, rusticco or calzone. You can dine at the Lanterna del Greco.
– Jolly Mare Restaurant (Sant’Isidoro). Waterfront location, superb views, fish and pizza for a great evening.
– Trattoria I Corsari (Villaggio Resta): the best restaurant for traditional food by Massimo Vaglio. You can even buy paintings from him. A very simple place, but all made with love and quality.
– Solaris Restaurant (Torre Lapillo): Take a sunset bath in front of the restaurant, then dine there. Nice & family atmosphere. This is a restaurant located in a tourist area, which has a large number of covers, perhaps not ideal if you’re looking for peace and quiet and to avoid the traffic in summer. You can have Antipasti de la terra to share, tuna and grilled vegetables, chocolate – orange cheescake! This is a friend’s restaurant. Tell Eugenio you’ve come on behalf of Sandro and Emeline.
BEAUTIFUL BEACHES AND WALKS AROUND THE MASSERIA
- A walk and a swim at La Strea, in the early morning, in the afternoon or at sunset (park in Via Lisbona, 3)
- Swimming and walking in Torre Uluzzo
- Walk and swim in the Porto Selvaggio natural park (swimming in Baia Verde)
- Walk along the waterfront from Torre Lapillo (on the right)
- Walk along the Salina Monaci and swim at Torre Colimena
- Walk in Torre Sant’Isidoro (along the sea to the left of the tower)
- Go to Marina di Maruggio for the long, wild beaches with a California feel. Drive along the coast from Torre San Pietro, possibly stopping for a coffee or a sweet at the Moma Lounge Bar
- For beautiful beaches not too far away: Spiaggia del Frascone (and stop off for a self-made panino at the Supermercato Gastronomia Bella Viola), Spiaggia delle Dune, Torre Lapillo, Spiaggia di Punta Prosciutto + The beach in front of Hotel Tabù: the water is incredible. You can cross the Lido (the private beach) and find yourself a little cocoon on the rocks.
SANTA CATARINA AND SANTA MARIA AL BAGNO | The two cute seaside towns Santa Maria Al bagno and Santa Catarina are very nice for an off-season swim, a walk along the seafront, lunch or a drink at sunset.
SANTA CATARINA | Arriving in Santa Catarina, take the Strada Santa Catarina to admire the beautiful homes dating back to 1900. From Santa Catarina, take the small cactus-lined path up to Torre dell’Alto (10/15 min walk) and down to Porto Selvaggio for a swim. On the way back, stop for an ice cream at Bar Momento de Santa Catarina. I recommend arachidi – mandorle, pistacchio, yogurt. Take a look at the grotto on the little beach in front. Women used to bathe there in the 50s when they weren’t allowed on the beach.
– Bar Momento, for an ice cream
– La Gintoneria for a Puccia at lunch or a Spritz at sunset
– One of the bars of Santa Maria Al Bagno for a sunset drink and why not the Art Nouveau restaurant
– Lido beija flor, this is a great lido with a snack bar and DJ set
GALLIPOLI | A white paradise with a view over the infinite blue sea. On the other hand, avoid eating there! I do not recommend it during the high season, Gallipoli becomes a very young town with a very festive and touristy atmosphere. Walk/swim in Punta della Suina + Lido Pizzo + Punta Pizzo.
SANTA MARIA DI LEUCA | For me this place is mystical with its lighthouse and all its legends. From the centre or from the port, walk to the Sanctuary to reach the tip of the heel, the end of the end of Italy. After the stairs: panoramic view overlooking the sea. On the way to Leuca: stop at the Spiaggia di Pescoluse, the Maldives of Salento, and eat at Lido Venere. In Leuca, lunch in front of the water at Cafè do Mar or Ristorante Fedele.
(The wilder + sunrise east coast)
The Adriatic coast is wild, incredible in spring, the green of nature on one side and the infinite blue of the sea on the other. Going up from Santa Maria di Leuca to Otranto you will find some sublime spots along the way: Cala dell’Acquaviva, Castro, Santa Cesarea (thermal town), Porto Badisco and a walk to Sant’Emiliano, fabulous!
– Don’t miss to eat at la taverna del Porto, in Tricase
– Have an ice cream at the gelateria G&CO in Tricase, artisanal ice cream, not too sweet. The fig one is apparently a delight. The best ice cream in Salento?
– Eat at the Ristorante Lo Scalo overlooking the sea in Marina di Novaglie
OTRANTO | Otranto is the easternmost city of Italy. Because of its position, it has often been subject to Turkish attacks, as witnessed by the relics of the martyrs in the Cathedral of Otranto, which recalls the massacre of 14 August 1480: 800 inhabitants were killed by a Turkish army after refusing to convert to Islam after the fall of their city. « All those massacred were recognised as martyrs of the Church and venerated as Blessed Martyrs of Otranto. Most of their bones are in seven large wooden cupboards in the Martyrs’ Chapel built in the right apse of the Cathedral of Otranto » – source Wikipedia.
There is the beauty of the city – a white paradise overlooking the infinite blue of the sea… which contrasts with the weight of its tragic history. This is the magic of Salento. The colours of the city are incredible in winter. In Otranto I love the Liberia Anima Mundi, if you want to improve your Italian. A must try is the restaurant Laltro Baffo. I recommend walking from the port towards Torre del Serpe (you can ask Alessandro to tell you the history of this tower), continue along the sea until you reach the restaurant Orte. You can continue your walk while watching for dolphins in the distance.
In Salento there is always a small town unknown to the tourist trail that hides treasures. Let yourself be surprised and transported, stopping here and there according to your desires.
MATINO | Stroll through the historic centre of Matino by night and eat at the Foscolo or Lu Riale restaurant. There is a great exhibition FOOD YEAST happening in summer.
VEGLIE | Nothing incredible but you can stop there (if you don’t want to do only touristy stuff) for an ice cream at Gelateria Artigianale Roxy or for Eroboristeria il tulipano: there are herbalist shops everywhere, but Anna Lucia is a friend, so welcoming. She will give you good advice. You can buy sweet almond oil or calendula for sunburn there.
SUP PADDLE & SURFING | A different way to explore the area: by the sea. SUP Paddle (fantastic at sunset) or surfing lessons with the best: Angelo!
From the Masseria you can also go on a trip to visit Matera, Ostuni, Martina Franca.
– Otranto + walk to Torre del Serpe + evening in Galatina
– Swimming around Galeta Masseria, end of the day: walk / spritz in Santa Catarina + Santa Maria al Bagno, Dinner in Nardò
– Gallipoli > Santa Maria di Leuca. Walk around in Gallipoli. Swimming at Punta della Suina + Lido Pizzo + Punta Pizzo. Continue to Spiaggia di Pescoluse, the Maldives of Salento and eat at Lido Venere. Finish in Santa Maria di Leuca.
– Santa Maria di Leuca and drive north along the Adriatic coast, stopping at the coves and beautiful coastal towns
– Grottaglie, Marina di Pulsano, Marina di Maruggio