Self-guided – 8 days
Walking through the Salento peninsula
A walking tour from Lecce to Leuca in order to reach the “end of the world” like the ancient pilgrims. A journey through the history that begins with the unmissable visit to the elegant baroque capital and then continues almost in constant contact with the Adriatic Sea, which is particularly crystal clear in this coastal stretch. Here it is also scattered with watchtowers, cliffs and sea caves among the most beautiful ones in the world.
Even the hinterland of the Italian heel is just as impressive. You will see some pajare guarding the countryside and timeless small villages where you can enjoy the specialities of local food and wine.
DAY 1: LECCE
Arrival and accommodation in Lecce. Welcome briefing with a member of Puglia Hiking Tours staff.
DAY 2: SAN FOCA - FRASSANITO
After an evening in Lecce, spent strolling through the beautiful baroque old town, in the morning you will be taken by private transfer to San Foca. The walk begins at the medieval coastal tower. You will see many more: these are military buildings built around 1500 to protect the Salento coast from Ottomans invasions. After a few steps you will arrive at Roca Vecchia, an archaeological park of great importance that hosts the excavations of a settlement that originated in prehistoric times and then survived until the Middle Ages. Opposite the ruins of Roca, you will come across the ‘Grotta della Poesia’, one of the 10 most beautiful natural pools in the world (as National Geographic recently wrote). From here begins a stretch of coastline with high cliffs dropping sheer into the sea: the path runs between the cliffs and a dense pine forest; you will be continually enchanted by the colors of the wood, the sky, the sea and the beaches. Along the way you will pass through Torre dell’Orso, a seaside resort named after another coastal tower and home to one of the most beautiful beaches in Puglia. Here you can enjoy a pasticciotto on the terrace of Caffè Dentoni. Another look at the famous white stacks in the hamlet of Sant’Andrea, and then the first stage ends in Frassanito, a short distance from the two Alimini lakes.
Elev. Gain: +109/-95 mt
Lecce and the Baroque old town – Grotta della Poesia – Torre dell’Orso hamlet
DAY 3: FRASSANITO – OTRANTO
The second stage begins to tell of the great and unexpected variety of the Salento landscape. You will leave the sea for a while and, without straying too far from it, you will spend the whole day walking alongside lakes. These are the Alimini lakes, two coastal lakes, one freshwater and one brackish, connected to the sea by a canal. You will walk between the lakes and then in the typical Salento countryside, where you will notice a crop that is only typical of this area: the vine shoots. These are vine shoots which are prepared here to take root and become the basis for new vineyards all over Italy. You will arrive to Otranto by land and enjoy the first view from the 17th-century chapel of the Madonna dell’Altomare, in a splendid panoramic position. A flight of steps will take you down to the beach and with a few more steps you will be under the great gateway to the historic center, a fortified village ending with the imposing castle, often the venue for important art exhibitions.
The old town of Otranto is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site.
Elev. Gain: +116/-117 mt
Alimini Lakes – Salento countryside – Otranto
DAY 4: OTRANTO – BADISCO
The third stage is one of the most beautiful coastal routes you can take along the Adriatic. In just a few kilometres it encompasses extraordinary places and stories. Immediately after Otranto you enter the ‘Regional Natural Park Costa Otranto-Santa Maria di Leuca e Bosco di Tricase‘. From now on you will continue within the boundaries of the park for almost the entire tour. The first sighting is the Torre del Serpente, a partly ruined coastal tower. Immediately afterwards you come across one of the most hidden and unusual natural gems of Puglia: the small lake of Orte. This is a lake created artificially following excavations for the extraction of bauxite. Or rather, it is the excavation that is artificial, while the emerald green water on the bottom comes naturally from the water table and creates incredible chromatic contrasts with the bright red of the steep banks and the shades of blue of the sky and sea surrounding it. Continue along a narrow but easy path to Punta Palascìa, where an imposing lighthouse that seems to plunge into the sea is the first to see the sunrise every morning: this is the most easterly point in Italy. A few more kilometres and you will be looking down on Torre Sant’Emiliano, which dominates the coast from the top of a cliff. A few more steps to reach the end of the stage, at Badisco, a small fjord with a beautiful beach where Aeneas, the hero of Virgil’s poem, is said to have landed.
Elev. Gain: +211/-214 mt
Baia Orte and bauxite quarry – Punta Palascìa lighthouse – Badisco
DAY 5: BADISCO – CASTRO
A lot of sea again on the fourth stage. The first few kilometres are just a few metres from the water, following ancient tracks and meeting along the way your immobile and imposing travelling companions: the mediaeval watchtowers. You will look down on Torre Minervino and up on Torre Specchia di Guardia. Halfway along the route you can stop in Santa Cesarea, a renowned spa town with splendid Moorish-style villas. Here we recommend that you stop at a bar and order the “caffè leccese”, an espresso coffee that is poured over ice cubes and sweetened with almond milk: one of the most authentic specialities of Salento. Just beyond Santa Cesarea, this stretch of rocky coastline offers one of the most spectacular sea caves in the Mediterranean: the Grotta Zinzulusa (Zinzulusa Cave). Discovered by the Bishop of Castro in the late 1700s, it has been open to visitors since 1957 and is well worth a visit.
A few hundred metres after the cave, the stage ends with the arrival in Castro.
Elev. Gain: +278/-233 mt
Coastal towers – Santa Cesarea terme – Zinzulusa caves – Castro
DAY 6: CASTRO – TRICASE
You will continue with the discovery of the many wonders that Salento has to offer: castles, villages, thousand-year-old trees, dry stone architecture. You can start your stop at the Angevin castle, which gives its name to the town (from the Latin Castrum = fortress), built around the 12th century on the highest point of the promontory. The village developed around the castle, surrounded by walls to defend it – like Otranto – from the constant assaults from the sea. Just outside Castro you will notice that the southernmost part of Salento is characterized by the presence of many small towns, sometimes only a few hundred metres apart. After the small town of Marina di Marittima, there is a long stretch of typical Salento countryside, with a few views of the sea and the presence of numerous “pajare”, circular or square buildings, built entirely of stone over the centuries by local farmers. They were used as dwellings or as shelters for animals and tools. Just before arriving in Tricase you will come across a huge tree, a Vallonea Oak, almost 1,000 years old: an authentic plant monument.
Elev. Gain: +258/-215 mt
Castro Castle – inland Salento villages – countryside and pajare – Vallonea oak tree
DAY 7: (TRICASE - GAGLIANO DEL CAPO) - LEUCA
On the previous stage, you already covered long stretches of it and in this last stage you will walk the entire last section of the Via Francigena, up to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae. Precisely the route that led from Canterbury first to Rome (through France, hence ‘Francigena’) and then to the ports at the eastern end of Italy, in order to embark on the journey to the Holy Land. In October 2019, the 900km route from Rome to Salento was ratified, making this last stretch an official part of the Via Francigena and the Council of Europe’s Cultural Routes.
From Tricase the stage begins with a short train ride to Italy’s most peripheral train station, often with small one-car trains. The landscape you will admire from the windows is that of the most typical Salento countryside. As you get off the train, you pass through the small town of Gagliano del Capo (Capo is Italian for “cape”) and immediately the landscape changes in an incredible way: from the quiet countryside you pass to the blue sea, caves, rock walls. A dreamy dive and a climb back up, back to Gagliano again, to take the Via Francigena on to Leuca.
The arrival is a real dip in the Mediterranean, with the last steps in the square and among the porticoes of the sanctuary of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae. At this point there is also the monumental waterfall that marks the end of the Apulian Aqueduct, an immense work of hydraulic engineering, over a century old and still one of the largest aqueducts in the world.
Elev. Gain: +198/-328 mt
Section of the Via Francigena – Leuca – Sanctuary of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae
DAY 8: LEUCA
After breakfast, check out and end of service.