Where in the World is Salento?
Let’s keep it simple; think of the very tip of the heel of Italy. If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Italy, but never been further south than Naples, let us introduce you to Salento, a well kept secret, the place the Italians go to holiday!
With it’s magnificent landscapes and crystalline seas, the area gives you the opportunity to explore and discover this pure and unspoiled Salento peninsula (peninsula salentina), limestone rock dividing the Adriatic Sea from the Ionian Sea. But not many people know about Salento, apart from typical Italian tourists, who have been travelling to its shores every August for centuries. Once you spend time in Salento, you begin to think it’s the best part of Italy.
A CULTURAL MIX
Salento is like no other place in Italy. The little coastal towns seem like old-fashioned seaside paradises, each with its unique culture and history. It’s Italy, but it also seems to be a bit of Greece, Turkey and what the Salentini call “Porta d’Oriente” – gateway to the east.
Salento’s geographical location was perfect for invaders attacking from the sea, so there are remnants and ruins of lighthouses, bastions surrounding sea towns, castle walls, moats and towers dotting the coastline – reminders of the largely unsuccessful attempts to protects its inhabitants.
There are still parts of Salento where an ancient version of the Greek language is spoken, and the bleached-white buildings stacked on hillsides certainly bring to mind that part of the world.
Each invasion and occupation left a mark on the region, creating a melting pot of cultures instead of one homogeneous genetic stamp. Because the area is so lightly travelled by outsiders, you really feel that you are the first one to discover it all.
The language spoken has been influenced by history but in general can be defined s Pugliese (Apuglian), belonging to the southern typology. However, distinctive dialects are spoken in pockets throughout the countryside.
The summer season starts in May and ends in October, when the weather is invariably hot and clear. There is an 18% to 30% rise in tourism, each and every year. In the past, the economy was based on the international wine and oil commerce. Nowadays, the most important activities are based on fishing and the growing tourism sector. For most of the year, there isn’t a shortage of sunshine, blue skies and warmth.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Farming is the major industry in Puglia, with acres of fruit and olive trees, creating wonderful scenery and the pure olive oil is renowned. As well as fresh fish caught locally, and fresh olives, tomatoes and vegetables, Apulia produces one-tenth of the wine drunk in Europe. The buffalo feed on the lush grasses to produce, arguably the best Mozzarella cheese in Italy. The soil is very fertile and some of the finest olive trees and grapes grow here.
The sea will provide you with wonderful fresh fish meals, caught on the day by the local fishermen and prepared at local restaurants, or you may prefer to take up a rod and catch your own from the shore. Either way you will also have the choice of accompanying your meal with a glass or two of the regions delicious and inexpensive wines.
Cooking with fresh, natural, local ingredients and eating are a major part of Salento life. Each region has it’s own speciality dishes and one of life’s pleasures is to learn the simple, easy methods used to produce delicious, healthy, food.
A quaint and welcome custom is the offering of free aperitivi called stuzziciono – little snacks when you go to a bar for drinks and the coffee bars will automatically give you a free cup of bottled water to chase your cappucino. There are so many little customs that will seem quirky to visitors but they are just part of the natural flow of life in Salento.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO?
The whole region is laced with historic sites and places of interest to visit. If stunning architecture is of interest, you will find the most beautiful and important religious and historical buildings.
If you prefer a relaxing time on the beach you can choose a different beach every day to enjoy some of the cleanest sea waters in Europe. Alternatively, there is sailing, water sports, diving and swimming in unpolluted seas.
The Salento coast is characterised by a variety of landscapes: the clear, fine sandy beaches, famous caves, Italian prehistoric settlements and Grotta Zinzulusa, ‘the pearl of caves’, owing its name to the dialect word zinzuli (rags) used by fishermen to describe the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
There are hundreds of celebrations (civil and religious), which light up the little towns throughout Salento. The streets are decorated with elaborate lighting and much partying is done all year. Unusually, celebrations would start with fireworks and church bells ringing during the daytime. In the evenings, entire families walk, sit and generally enjoy the atmosphere of fun, food and company.
Summing up, Salento has everything from simplicity to the exotic. Three words that bathe the mind in thoughts of an idyllic place to visit and explore are: Space, Quiet, Beauty.