Lecce was just a taste of Puglia’s Salento region in the heel of Italy’s boot! There are so many medieval towns, castles, olive groves, vineyards, beaches, caves, and clear blue sea to explore and enjoy! I won’t bore you with the details of my hitchhiking, partying, and all of the wonderful people that I met along the way. I do want to tell you about each of the villages that I kicked around in, though!
Santa Caterina di Nardo – A tiny, coastal village about 7 km from Nardo on the Ionian Sea. It’s situated between Porto Selvaggio and Gallipoli and offers clear blue waters, low, rocky beaches and tree covered hills. It is also part of the Porto Selvaggio Nature Reserve. It is a seaside resort that puts you close to Nardo and Gallipoli, as well as all of the summer festivals. Unless you have a car, though, it’s not easy getting around! I couchsurfed here and enjoyed the wonderfully helpful, sweet people that I encountered. It’s a quiet place, great for relaxing and dining out (I highly recommend Le Terrazze)!
Santa Maria al Bagno – I didn’t actually spend any time here. I saw this small fishing village from a hilltop in Santa Caterina di Nardo and passed through it on the way to Gallipoli. What an important part of history it played during and after WWII, though! Along it’s beautiful, crescent moon shaped beach, a few buildings accommodated over 100,000 Nazi concentration camp survivors on their journey to Palestine. Today, you can visit the Museum of Memory and Welcome which is dedicated to all of them.
Galatina – My couchsurfing host and his friends took me to Galatina for the Festival of Saint Peter and Paul. I wasn’t clear exactly what the festival was about until I researched it afterwards (my hosts English wasn’t that great and my Italian is very rusty). Apparently, Galatina is almost the only place that practices the ritual, tarantismi (spider music). The tarantella folk dance (which evolved from the spider music) is performed at this festival on June 29th. Tarrantati, victims of a tarantula bite, used to go to Galatina to dance and would then enter the church to be blessed and healed by Saints Peter and Paul. If you’re so inclined, look up tarantism. It’s fascinating reading!
Gallipoli – My couchsurfing roommate and I hitchhiked first to the gorgeous beaches of Gallipoli where we relaxed and had good conversation with other sunbathers before hitching into Old Town. Gallipoli is from the Greek word, Kallipolis, meaning beautiful city, and it is that! It is built on a limestone island that is linked to the mainland by an ancient bridge. The first thing that you see is the castle and, just opposite it, the fish market and restaurants. We dined on the most amazingly fresh shellfish (mussels, oysters, & prawns)! The town is not only known for its red prawns (gamberoni) but also for its nightlife of which we sampled, as well.
So many jewels throughout Italy’s Salento region (the southernmost tip of Italy’s “heel”) and so little time! The train from Nardo to Alberobello, the home of the strange little trullo houses, was next on my agenda.