Overlooking the turquoise blue waters of Puglia, the scene of historical conquests and encounters of cultures and people, Otranto is considered – rightly – the pearl of Salento, an essential destination for the people who visit this land for the first time. Like Matera, Otranto was also named a UNESCO heritage city and so it is no wonder that if its typical architecture and its unforgettable atmosphere continue to fascinate the numerous tourists who invade the alleys and beaches every year. Here our complete guide on what to see in Otranto and its surroundings.
Otranto: its position and how to reach it
Otranto is located in Salento, the southern area of the Apulian heel, and more precisely just over an hour away from Lecce, in the south-eastern tip of the Adriatic coast. Not far from the town of Melpignano, home of the famous Taranta Festival, Otranto can be easily reached in different ways:
- By car, starting from the capital of Salento, and following the panoramic coast road towards San Cataldo; or, also by car, taking the Lecce-Santa Maria di Leuca highway and taking the Otranto exit immediately after San Cataldo;
- By train, arriving in Lecce with the Ferrovie dello Stato and then continuing to the destination with the SudEst train company;
- By bike, through the path that goes from Acaya to Otranto, passing through the natural Oasis of the Cesines and the Cave of Poetry, on a naturalistic tour to discover the landscape richness of an extremely suggestive territory.
The nearest airport is Brindisi.
Historic center of Otranto: what to see
In order to immediately pick up all the secrets and the most famous attractions of the fortified city, we suggest you a nice walk in the historic center of Otranto. Indeed the first thing that captured those who arrive here is the long line of walls that protected the city from enemy attacks and that today contains its ancient heart. Getting lost in the streets of white stone and the typical local craft shops that animate the center is an experience that must be made, but not before having dedicated some moments to the cathedral of Otranto and the Aragonese Castle.
The cathedral of Otranto
Built in 1088, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata is not only a majestic white stone facade that harmoniously combines Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles. The real surprise is inside: it’s here that the remains of the 800 faithful who refused to renounce their faith before the Turkish invasion of 1480 are preserved: we are talking about the famous episode, known as the Massacre of the Martyrs. However, the floor of the cathedral of Otranto is even more surprising: created by the monk Pantaleone, it is in fact covered with over 600 thousand tiles that make up “the mosaic of the Tree of Life”, a floor art work that covers the entire nave of the church , leaving the tourists speechless.
The Aragonese castle
The Aragonese castle of Otranto, whose original structure dates back to the fifteenth century, was built to defend the city following the Turkish domination that had lasted less than a century. The construction that we see today is the result of numerous sixteenth-century alterations, in part also linked to the evolution of weapons and military art in general. Crossing the large moat that surrounds the walls, it is possible to visit the interiors of the castle, of which the underground passages are recommended. Tunnels and galleries manage to bring the visitor back in time, giving him the vivid feeling of what it must have been like to live then inside the Salento fortress. A reading tip for your holiday in Otranto? Clearly, “Il Castello di Otranto”, a book written in 1764 by Horace Walpole
The beaches of Otranto
Second only to the historic center, the beaches of Otranto are certainly among the things to see during your tour in Puglia. Those of Salento are in fact among the most beautiful beaches in the region and Otranto is certainly the right place to start living some of them. Starting with the town that, despite the summer crowding, enjoys clear water and a very pleasant light sand, ideal for those who want to enjoy a relaxing break without straying too far from the historic center. For the more “adventurous” there is instead a whole coast to explore, and not only!
The Bay of the Turks
The Turks are the fil-rouge of much of the history of Otranto and the surrounding areas and the “Baia dei Turchi” confirms it. It’s here that the Turks are said to have landed during the siege of the late fifteenth century city. And this is the place if you are looking for a true piece of paradise. Certainly the arrival from the sea is among the most amazing, precisely because of the numerous shades of blue that the water takes on and its complete transparency. This area is full of stretches of fine sand and tuff cliffs alternate, while the Mediterranean vegetation and the nearby pine forest are the verdant backdrop to the Bay. The nearest car park is located among the trees which also leads to the beach – to be done strictly on foot. Due to its unique natural characteristics, the “Baia dei Turchi” has also been included in the FAI (fondo ambiente italiano) List of the 100 landscape sites to be protected.
The Alimini lakes
The Baia dei Turchi is part of the Protected Oasis of the Alimini Lakes, the area north of Otranto that takes its name from its two natural lakes: “Alimini grande” and “Alimini piccolo”. The first, larger in size, is fed directly from the sea and, once, was connected with its small twin, now formed by a freshwater basin. Birdwatchers and nature lovers will be fully satisfied with a trip to the lakes because, despite their modest size and the prohibition of bathing, here it’s easy to observe the local fish and volatile fauna. The rich surrounding vegetation in fact attracts numerous species of migratory birds and large birds of prey, such as flamingos, swans, hawks and eagles, while fish and amphibians of different types populate the waters of the Alimini lakes thus creating a truly unique ecosystem.
Now that you know what to see in Otranto, all you have to do is book our 11-day guided tour and let us guide you to Salento and its beauties, including the famous Bauxite quarry, a natural mineral deposit that colors the whole landscape of the area red and green … but we’ll talk about it along the way!