Read our guide to discover what to see in Salento and what to do: the most dreamy and uncontaminated beaches, ancient villages full of history and art, excursions, events, food and wine tastings.
Salento, also known as the “heel of Italy’s boot”, stretches about 50 km along the Ionian and Adriatic coasts and is divided into Upper Salento and Lower Salento.
The Upper Salento stretches along the Ionian coast including the provinces of Lecce and Brindisi. It is famous for its small ancient villages such as Gallipoli, Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca.
The Lower Salento, on the other hand, includes the province of Taranto and stretches along the Adriatic coast. It is characterised by wilder landscapes, rocks and natural caves. Both are famous for wine and olive oil production, as well as traditional cuisine.
There are many things to see in Salento. If you are here for a short holiday, or if you have more time to spend, consider an itinerary that takes you to the most beautiful art cities and beaches, but also to the typical masserie, the Dolmen, (prehistoric funerary monuments built between 4000 and 2500 B.C.) and the trulli, the characteristic cone-shaped stone buildings.
The beauty of the Salento is also appreciated by foreigners. Among them, the multi-award-winning British actress, Helen Mirren, aspires to live here. She and her husband bought a masseria in Tiggiano, a tiny town in the heart of Salento, not far from the picturesque Capo di Leuca.
So come on, we are ready to explore these small ancient villages bordering the sea and deserve a visit. Follow us to discover the best attractions in Salento to enjoy a unique experience you can remember even after years. The reason why it makes sense to travel is to look at things with the eyes of the heart and revisit them one day, later in time, feeling the same effect.
The most beautiful places to see in Salento
If you’re looking for a holiday destination with a great climate, dreamy beaches, beautiful historic towns, delicious food and wine, fun… You are in the right place.
But remember, there are many places to visit in Salento and if you don’t have a guide to follow, you run the risk of clogging up the car… and your brain. The paradox is that when we have too many choices, we get confused. We would like to do everything, and this is understandable though not always possible, if time is limited. So we have to prioritise.
That’s why in this guide we include the most important places to visit in Salento, you can’t miss. 👇
Lecce is a beautiful city among the white stone whose splendid Baroque masterpieces earn it the nickname “Lady of Baroque”. Strolling through its narrow streets, the eye gets lost among the spires and portals of churches and palaces built in the famous Lecce stone.
To reach the historical centre, we recommend leaving your car in the parking area close to the University. From here you can take Via Palmieri to reach Piazza del Duomo, where you will find the Cathedral with its bell tower, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Seminary.
Along Via Vittorio Emanuele II, you get to the heart of Lecce, Piazza Sant’Oronzo, where you can visit the Roman Amphitheatre, the Sedile and Palazzo Carafa, seat of the City Hall. Nearby you can also find three wonderful churches, San Matteo, Santa Chiara and the Basilica di Santa Croce, an iconic example of Lecce Baroque.
Not to be missed in Lecce,
- Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Sant’Oronzo dedicated to the patron saint.
- Basilica di S. Croce with its Baroque architecture.
- Duomo, the Cathedral of Maria Santissima Assunta in Piazza del Duomo where the Bishop’s Palace is also located.
- Castle of Charles V, a medieval fortress with its inner courtyards and the beautiful 16th century style Maria D’Enghien Throne Room.
- Porta Napoli: ancient fortified city gate.
- Roman Theatre: ancient Roman theatre from the 1st Century AD.
- Church of San Matteo.
- Former Olivetan Monastery (12th century) on the ancient Via Appia-Traiana, surrounded by a beautiful garden with citrus and walnut trees. The monastery was built between 1171 and 1174 by Benedictine monks from Monte Oliveto. Today it houses a branch of the University of Salento with a library and several museums.
- Lecce Underground, to discover hidden places: oil mills, cisterns, granaries, Roman roads and a small river flowing under the historic centre…
Among the top places to visit in Salento, we recommend a visit to Melendugno, a small town about 30 kilometres from both Lecce and Otranto.
If you pass through here, don’t miss:
- Torre Sant’Andrea and the Faraglioni (there is no beach here). A few metres from the Faraglioni soars the 16th century tower. The small town is also worth visiting.
- Torre dell’Orso and the “Due Sorelle”, the Faraglioni: two very similar large rocks which, according to legend, are linked to the sad story of two sisters lost at sea. The bay is known as the “Caribbean of Salento”.
- Grotta della Poesia Grande e Piccola: caves that can be visited within the archaeological site (ticket cost = €3.00) the Roca Vecchia Archaeological Area.
Among the cities to visit in the Salento area, Otranto, also known as the “Gateway to the East” because it is the easternmost city in Italy, is definitely worth a visit. Its fame is due to its beautiful beaches, but that is not all.
Otranto is also more: its historic centre, the old town overlooking the sea, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site since 2010, is built around the Castle and the Cathedral, two masterpieces from the Norman era.
There are many things to visit and do in Otranto: you can stroll along the Lungomare degli Eroi (Heroes’ Promenade), admire the marvellous Aragonese Castle, or wander through the narrow streets to discover typical restaurants and old style craft workshops.
Here is what to see in Otranto,
- Cathedral Santa Maria Annunziata with its 1700s Baroque portal and Renaissance-style rose window in Lecce stone. Inside, the wonderful mosaic floor by the monk Pantaleone, commissioned by the Bishop of Otranto, with the Tree of Life and representations of the Old Testament.
- Bauxite Quarry: along the coast road from Otranto to S. Maria di Leuca is this ancient, now disused quarry with a small lake in the centre. A natural spectacle of rare beauty amid the fiery red colours of the bauxite and the spontaneous vegetation.
- Faro di Punta Palascia, the easternmost point in Italy, also known as Capo d’Otranto. It is an architectural structure that stands out at the meeting point of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, surrounded by clear waters and wild vegetation. From here you can access the “Grotta dei Cervi”, a natural inlet with archaeological findings dating back to the Neolithic period. An ideal place for trekking.
4. Castle of Corigliano d’Otranto
Among the things to see in Salento, in Corigliano d’Otranto is this castle: a specimen of military and feudal architecture from the early 16th century, built on a very ancient site to keep at bay the Saracen raids that were pushing towards the Salento coast. Today, the castle houses a multimedia museum dedicated to the history of the castle, exhibitions, shows and musical events.
5. Castro and the Zinzulusa Cave
On the Adriatic coast, 15 kilometres from Otranto and 45 kilometres from Lecce, you can reach Castro, a medieval village worth visiting for its characteristic atmosphere. The town is divided into Castro Marina, where the port is located in a seafaring context, inspired by the village’s vocation for fishing, and Castro Superiore, the old village overlooking the sea.
Here too, you can see fortresses dating back to the 16th century, built to keep the place safe from enemy incursions. Don’t miss the Castle and the Castro Cathedral (12th century).
The small ancient village is also worth a visit for the sea with its marvellous seabed and the caves, such as the famous Grotta Zinzulusa, a natural cave that can be visited along a 150-metre path. A karstic phenomenon among the most interesting to see in Italy.
One of the smallest and most beautiful old towns in Salento. Specchia also appears on the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The architecture has remained intact over the years and transports us back in time, with its narrow cobbled alleys that cut through the town, opening up its monuments and squares to the marvelling eye.
Here is what to see in Specchia,
- Piazza del Popolo with its buildings and the 15th-century Mother Church.
- Piazza di Sant’Oronzo
- Risolo Palace or Castle (‘500)
- Palazzi Ripa, Balsamo, Teotini, Orlandi Pisanelli, Orlandi Pedone
- Convent of the Black Franciscans with the Chapel of St Catherine and the crypt dug into the rock.
- Frantoi Ipogei, dug into the rock to transform the olives into olive oil, and where you can still see the stone millstones, the presses for pressing, the tanks for decanting and harvesting.
- Church of St Euphemia, Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Church of St Anthony.
- Church of St Nicholas of Myra, Crypt of Our Lady of the Pass.
The little town of Presicce is also one of the places in Salento you absolutely can’t miss. There is a reason why it belongs to the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy. More than one. Starting with the characteristic historical centre with its courtyard houses dating back to the 16th century, narrow streets, ancient churches and Baroque palaces.
Here, too, there are the underground olive oil mills, no fewer than 23 of them, where the olives used to be processed to make the prized oil that still remains one of the most renowned typical Apulian products.
Attractions to visit in Presicce:
- Church of St Andrew Apostle and the votive column of St Andrew
- Ducal Palace
- Casa Turrita, or Tower of San Vincenzo
- Museum of Rural Civilisation in the Baronial Palace
- Arditi Chapel.
- Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli
- Church of Our Lady of Loreto
- Church of the Carmine
If you have time to wander around the small tourist resorts dotting the coast, there are many things to see in Salento… And Gallipoli is one of those we recommend.
About 40 kilometres from Lecce, this ancient seaside town is one of the most famous and busy during the summer months, especially in August. Gallipoli is one of the best holiday choices for its sea and beautiful fine sandy beaches. In the waters of the Gallipoli sea, you can enjoy aquatic sports and activities like snorkeling, for example, if you are passionate.
Gallipoli offers a lot of activities: a fervent nightlife among clubs and typical restaurants, art, good food, and all the attractions in the so-called “Beautiful City” and “Pearl of the Ionian Sea”.
Here is what to see in Gallipoli,
- Historical centre
- Seminary Palace and Venneri Palace
- Angevin Castle
- Cathedral of St Agatha
- Church of Santa Maria della Purità
- Church of Santa Maria degli Angel
- Sanctuary of the Madonna del Canneto
- The Greek Fountain
- Hypogeum oil mill of Palazzo Granafei
- Sant’Andrea Island Regional Natural Park
- Punta Pizzo coastline, protected natural oasis.
Nardò is another place to visit in the heart of Salento, on the Ionian side, halfway between Lecce and Santa Maria di Leuca. Another small town steeped in history, with a very old centre to walk around with its churches, small squares and Baroque palaces.
You can start a visit from Piazza Salandra to see its wonderful Baroque palaces, such as the Sedile and the Palazzo della Pretura, as well as tasting some local food in the typical trattorias or exploring the traditional craft shops. In Piazza Salandra you could also find scheduled events, concerts and cultural manifestations.
Another famous square is Piazza San Domenico, where you can visit the Church of San Domenico with its Baroque façade. The square is also home to the Fontana del Toro. The Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (7th century) is located in Via Duomo.
The Acquaviva Castle is very beautiful and is now the seat of the municipality. It was built by Giovanni Antonio Acquaviva d’Aragona between the 16th and 17th centuries. The castle is characterized by four towers. The “Torrione dell’Innamorato” houses the Museum of Rural Civilisation and Popular Traditions, with furnishings and work tools.
Adjacent to the Castle is a very old Botanical Garden, dating back to the 19th century, with rare and indigenous plants, tropical and adapted to other climates.
Famous for its olive oil production and Primitivo di Manduria DOC wine, Manduria is a seaside and beach town with a very ancient history. Much of it is concentrated in its pretty historic centre.
Here to visit is Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi where the Palazzo Imperiali is located. Walking around, you enter the Jewish quarter, which has remained intact over time. Also worth a visit are the Mother Church and the Church of Santa Lucia.
If you can dedicate a half day to archaeology, we recommend the Archaeological Park of the Messapian Walls to learn about the history of the Messapi, the ancient tribe which founded Manduria.
Iconic of the town, the Museum of Primitivo Civilisation and Wine, where you can retrace the history of the precious “nectar”, among cisterns, presses, must containers, machinery. During the visit, it is also possible to taste local specialities accompanied by Primitivo wine.
Ostuni is located in the province of Brindisi and is known as “the white city”. It is a renowned seaside tourist centre with beautiful beaches and bays. Some of which can be found on the Costa Merlata. Ostuni offers historical and artistic attractions too, having a very ancient history dating back to the Palaeolithic period.
Here is what to visit in Ostuni,
- Historical centre, the old town where you can admire the white houses.
- Piazza della Libertà, heart of nightlife where you can visit Palazzo San Francesco, an ancient 18th century Franciscan monastery, now the Town Hall, the Church of San Francesco and the Obelisk (or Column) of Sant’Oronzo, dedicated to the patron saint.
- The majestic Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
- St Francis Church
- St James of Compostela Church
- The Diocesan Museum in the Palazzo dell’Episcopio, where you can see the archaeological collection and precious works of art, including the wax anatomical Christ.
- Ostuni Municipal Museum, where is preserved the skeleton of the “Woman of Ostuni” or “Delia”, the world’s oldest pregnant woman dating from the Paleolithic period.
- Natural Archaeological Park Coastal Santa Maria di Agnano
- Dunes Park.
12. Santa Maria di Leuca
On the southernmost tip of the boot’s heel lies Santa Maria di Leuca, between Punta Meliso and Punta Ristola. It is a popular destination for its many white sandy beaches and the active life it offers. The small village is also rich in history and art, to be visited with eyes eager for beauty.
What to see in Santa Maria di Leuca,
- Basilica of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae
- Vito Mele Museum
- Church of Christ the King
- Omomorto Tower, also known as the Old Tower
- Leuca Lighthouse on the summit of Punta Meliso, one of the highest and most impressive lighthouses in Europe, whose construction dates back to 1864.
13. The most beautiful beaches in Salento
Salento is famous for its beautiful beaches. So after the artistic and cultural tour, it is time to go to the sea. And here there is plenty to choose to enjoy the sea, sun and wind… Just to remind you of the famous adage (“sule, mare e ientu”).
Compared to the more exotic beaches of the Caribbean, the Apulian beaches on the Salento coast are characterised by fine white sand, bathed by inviting water even clearer than a swimming pool water.
We must distinguish, though, between the wilder and rockier Adriatic coast and the gentler and flatter Ionian coast with its sandy shores. In fact, two seas bathe the Salento: the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
The choice is yours.
- Torre Lapillo beach (hamlet of Porto Cesareo)
- Torre Chianca beach (between Porto Cesareo and Torre Lapillo)
- Punta Prosciutto beach (between the province of Lecce and Taranto)
- Torre Colimena beach (in the municipality of Manduria, province of Taranto)
- Beach of San Pietro in Bevagna (Manduria)
- Porto Selvaggio beach (in the municipality of Nardò)
- Baia Verde beach (south of Gallipoli)
- Torre San Giovanni beach (between Gallipoli and Santa Maria di Leuca)
- Pescoluse beach, the “Maldives of Salento” (Marina di Pescoluse, province of Lecce)
- Punta Suina beach, the “Caribbean of the Ionian Sea” (Gallipoli)
- Porto Cesareo beach (between Taranto and Gallipoli).
- Torre dell’Orso (Lido Orsetta, Baia d’Oriente, La Cueva, La Sorgente, the Caribbean of Salento and Le Due Sorelle) in Melendugno, in the province of Lecce
- Alimini Beach (Otranto)
- Baia dei Turchi (Otranto, part of the Laghi Alimini Protected Oasis)
- Bay of Porto Badisco (Otranto)
- Cala di Porto Miggiano (Santa Cesarea Terme, Castro Marina)
- Acquaviva Bay (part of the Costa d’Otranto Regional Park, between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca)
- Torre Guaceto Nature Reserve (between Brindisi and the municipalities of Carovigno and San Vito dei Normanni).
What to do in Salento
Visiting Salento with its villages and beaches is one of the things to do in this beautiful part of the world. But what if we want to discover other activities?
Here are some tips on what to do in Salento. 👇😎
a. Excursions and Trekking
3 ideas for hiking lovers:
- the Porto Selvaggio Regional National Park, departing from Nardò
- the route from the Grotta della Poesia to the Caribbean of Salento, departing from Roca Vecchia
- the route from the Otranto Bauxite Quarry to Punta Palascia.
b. Boat trips and excursions
To visit some of the hidden coves with their caves, you can take a boat trip during the morning or even at sunset, to enjoy an aperitif with wine tasting and typical dishes. One of the most intense experiences in Salento.
c. Tasting Salento specialities
The Salento cuisine is poor but very tasty cuisine coming from peasants, shepherds and fishermen. Here are some of the Salento specialities not to be missed:
- fish soups
- the typical dish made with broad beans or beans, wild vegetables, chicory or turnips, with the addition of toasted bread
- bean puree with chicory
- orecchiette pasta with turnip tops
- tagliatelle with chickpeas (tria)
- ‘minchiareddhi’, macaroni served with fresh tomato sauce and ricotta forte from
Salento, “scante o scanta”, i.e. spicy
- a typical recipe with octopus fish (“polpo alla pignata”)
- the traditional ‘scapece’, prepared with fish fried in oil and then marinated
- tripe with potatoes alla pignata
- fried meatballs
- lamb with baked potatoes
- pucce stuffed with tuna, capers, sun-dried tomatoes or vegetables
- fried panzerotti stuffed with tomato and mozzarella cheese
- Leccese pasticciotti
- Leccese coffee with ice
- local wines such as Primitivo, Negroamaro and Salice Salentino.
…and the many opportunities to taste these and other typical local delicacies such as olive oil:
- visits to wine cellars and olive oil mills
- local cooking classes with tastings
- festivals and culinary events.
d. Salento Handicraft
In the towns mentioned in this guide, you will also find many local craft workshops and laboratories. Among the excellent Apulian handicrafts: the production of ceramics and terracotta, which finds its centre in Grottaglie, in the province of Taranto. Another typical product is papier-mâché used to create dolls, masks and decorative objects.
Other craft activities include weaving and embroidery. In Surano, in the province of Lecce, there is the production of rugs, and wrought iron and woodworking are still alive. To discover Salento hand-made products, you can visit the Museo delle Maioliche in Grottaglie and the Museo della Cartapesta in Lecce.
Now that you know what to see and do in Salento, we just have to wish you a happy trip to Puglia! 😉