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Salento has a rich history and a diverse landscape. It is a favorite summer vacation spot for Italians who come to enjoy the fine sandy beaches of the western coast along the Ionian Sea as well as the chalk cliffs, craggy grottoes and saltwater lagoons of the Adriatic coastline to the east. The interior of the peninsula provides rich soil for the many vineyards and olive groves; this region of Italy produces almost half of the country’s olive oil.
Salento Weather: This southernmost point of eastern Italy has hot, clear summers and mild winters.
Regional Cuisine of Salento: Orecchiette, frisella, baccala all Salentina, pasticciotto, pizzette
Regional Wine of Salento: Salice Salentino, Negroamaro del Salento, Primitivo di Manduria, Castel del Monte
Things to do in Salento: Grecia Salentina, Castello Angiono and Sant’ Agata Cathedral in Gallipoli, Santa Maria di Leuca, Basilica of Santa Croce and Cathedral Square in Lecce
Where is Salento? Salento is the southernmost part of the peninsula that forms the "heel" of the boot of Italy. It lies between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.
The wild beauty and quietude of Salento is welcome therapy after the noise and crowds of the northern Italian cities.
For anyone who loves architecture as much as I do, Salento offers stunning examples of unique styles found only in this region.
Grecia Salentina, located south of Lecce, has the whitewashed walls and stucco facades reminiscent of Greek island architecture intermingled with the typical Italianate styles. I was amazed to see that even road signs and menus are in a local Greek dialect.
In the early 20th century, the wealthy of Salento began building spectacular seaside villas in Santa Maria Leuca that were a blend of modern Art Nouveau styling with Moorish accents; going northward along the coast, I saw Gallipoli with its Byzantine and Arabic-influenced structures. As diverse as it may be, it feels right at home here in Salento.
Salento’s main city, Lecce, is the southernmost terminus of the main railway; from there, you can take the local train system – the Ferrovie Sud Est – to many of the smaller towns on the peninsula.
Because Salento is surrounded on three sides by water with the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the west, it is possible to travel to the coastal towns by ferry. You can also hire private boats to take you for a day trip to view the dramatic cliffs and grottos of the east coast from the sea.
One advantage of Salento’s isolation is the lack of traffic congestion. You can easily rent a car and travel to towns and beaches on your own schedule.
Fun Fact: The frenzied local folk dance known as Pizzica was once thought to be the only cure for a deadly spider bite.
Local Dish: Orecchiette, which means "little ears," is a local pasta whose shape makes it perfect for collecting mouthwatering sauces.
Local Day Trips: The nearby province of Bari has many attractions worth visiting. Not to be missed are the traditional trulli constructions found only in this area and protected by UNESCO.
Locals Love: If you ever wondered where Italians go during their August holidays, the answer is Otranto, a popular resort town on the east coast of Salento.
It’s always a great time to explore this hospitable southern region given the mild Mediterranean climate. However, if you want to really get a feel for the culture of Salento, August is the best time to visit.
The beaches may be crowded with vacationing Italians, but there is so much cultural activity that you’ll be glad you came. You’ll find celebrations and festivals in many towns and villages, but the largest and most popular is La Notte della Taranta. Held over multiple weeks in the Greek towns south of Lecce, the festival culminates with a final music concert in Melpignano that attracts up to 150,000 spectators, making it the largest music festival in Italy devoted to traditional culture.
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