Prehistoric monuments as a Dolmen and Menhir testify a thousand years of history. The natural environment is as diverse as it is beautiful, the green countryside and bare hills are covered with wheat, tobacco crops and olive groves, while the sea is the highlight of it all. The coast is high, rocky, rugged, dotted with caves and bays, while waters are rich in flora and fauna. All this is Salento. Perhaps most important of all is the story of its people who overcome famines and persistent poverty and now can offer their land to tourists with love and kindness.
Once the Salento peninsula included the territory occupied by the provinces of Brindisi, Lecce and Taranto, but today this term has been used to include the geographical area of Lecce, which is much smaller. The Salento stretches from the so-called "Messapian threshold" between Casalabate, north of Lecce, and Punta Prosciutto, north-west of Porto Cesareo, goes down to the Cape of Santa Maria di Leuca, and is limited by 220 kilometers of coastline overlooking the Adriatic and lonio Seas.
The Heart of Salento
Like any land, Salento has a heart, which is called Salento Greece. Its sunny villages, the dialect rich of Hellenic words, the spirit and tradition characterize this area.
Palmieri, Castrigiano of the Greeks, Corigliano d'Otranto, Lecce, Melpignano, Soleto, Sternatia and Zollino are a world apart, or rather what remains of a larger area known as the ancient Land of Otranto. This area was made Greek starting from the sixth century. It remained impenetrable to Latinization up to the eleventh century. The priests of this area continued to celebrate their Greek Orthodox rites up until the first half of the seventeenth century.
Take two or three days to dedicate to this part of Salento. The small villages made of white houses and beautiful sunny countryside open lands invite you to get lost in them while eavesdropping the so-called Griko dialect.
Then you can enjoy the Greek roots at the table with typical dishes of Greek derivation with Mediterranean aftertaste.
This is the most unexpected corner of Italy's heel. It's exotic and archaic character forces time to flow more slowly than elsewhere. The tour winds from Calimera to Soleto and you can travel it by car stopping every few kilometers at one interesting town or site.
The climate of Salento is typically Mediterranean. Obviously a result of the mitigating effect of the sea, the peninsula provides exceptionally long summers, dry and sunny days overall for and average of 2600 hours of sunshine per year. The colder weather is mild and brief, and is felt differently depending on the area you are in, as there are several micro-climatic zones. The high Adriatic coast, between Otranto and Leuca, receives more rain than the one on the Ionian coast up to Gallipoli, where warm winds from North Africa prevail. The area north of Otranto receives Balkan influences that determine slightly lower temperatures.
Villas and Farmhouses
The Lecce Baroque period saw its prelude with cities being reborn, large countryside farms being built, bishops and local aristocrats promoting local building activity, church and castle artworks being produced in Castro, Cupertino, Gallipoli and Otranto. In the seventeenth century architects and master builders transformed urban spaces and created new sceneries where to place squares, churches and palaces.
The Baroque of Lecce is still elegantly shaping the capital and cities such as Alessi, Cupertino, Gallipoli, Leverano, Minervino, Morciano di Leuca, Muro Leccese and Presicce. Elegance and imagination remained during the following centuries, as many homes in Liberty style in Santa Cesarea Terme and Marina di Leuca testify. Moorish villas reaffirm the memory of the link with Middle East.