From the easternmost Italian city to the southernmost point in Puglia, the stretch of coast called “Regional Nature Park Otranto – Santa Maria di Leuca and Wood of Tricase” encloses an immense historical and natural heritage. The protected area was instituted in 2006 thanks to a project for safeguarding the rich biodiversity and enhancing the treasures of Salento through the agricultural, touristic, social and cultural development.
Hiking in Puglia, in the unspoiled nature of the Adriatic coast in Salento, leads to explore paths and itineraries designed in detail for whoever wants to discover its most intimate secrets. Slow Active Tours will accompany you on this exciting trip on foot or by bike to enter in perfect harmony with the soul of these places.
Otranto – Leuca Route: on the traces of history
We cannot say history has not come through here: during your trail in this part of Puglia, you will have the opportunity to discover the traces of a very old past, dating back to the dawn of civilization. The human presence already in the Palaeolithic era has been confirmed by numerous witnesses. A guided excursion through the caves dotting the coast will give you unique suggestions both from a naturalistic point of view and from an archaeological point of view. Among all, Grotta dei Cervi, in Porto Badisco near Otranto, deserves a special mention, since it is the largest Neolithic pictorial complex in Europe. Moreover, the Grotte Cipolliane, nowadays reachable by foot, but entirely covered by the sea in very remote eras, have a great geological value.
Hiking in Puglia and in the Park Otranto – Leuca will let you discover, moreover, many megalithic monuments, in particular dolmens, menhir and “specchie” (heaps of stones with tomb or sighting function), typical of the Bronze Age.
Another fundamental age, which left a rich historic heritage in Salento land, was the Messapian one, up to the conquest by Romans. Nowadays, it is still possible to visit two very important Messapian settlements, one near Muro Leccese and the other south of it, near Patù. This latter is the ancient centre of Vereto.
Not only Messapian, in Salento you can still find many rupestrian settlements dating back to the Byzantine domination. The influence of this civilization coming from the East has highly enriched the artistic heritage of the Otranto – Leuca coast. During your coastal walk in Puglia, you will have, indeed, the possibility to discover beautiful Byzantine crypts (there are many of them) and also numerous hypogeum oil mills, dating back right to that historic period.
Towers and castles: bulwarks of the Medieval Salento
This splendid land in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea has always been geographically exposed to attacks from the sea. In the Middle Age the Saracen risk and the fear of the incursions by the pirates led to the construction of an imposing defensive system.
Hiking in Puglia will give you the occasion to admire the beautiful and imposing watching towers dotting the whole coast: squared or circular, still intact or ruined, the coastal towers are unavoidably part of the landscape of Salento and offer unique postcard-like views.
The Apulian “masserie”, immersed in wide rural areas, were often fortified, as well as many villages in all the territory, both along the coast and in the hinterland. During your coastal walk in Puglia, you will have the possibility to visit the town of Castro, which stands upon a hill and has a medieval structure. The beautiful Aragon Castle in Castro, moreover, hosts inside an interesting Archaeological Museum.
However, among the most popular castles in Salento there is certainly the Castle of Otranto, to which the homonym famous novel by Horace Walpole was dedicated. This fortress opens to the public its towers and undergrounds, too: inside, there are exhibitions and exciting tours, such as the virtual tour in Grotta dei Cervi, to which the access is not allowed for reasons of research and safeguard. The splendid Otranto has undergone a terrible Saracen attack in 1480, which led to the siege of the town and to the beheading of 800 martyrs, whose remains are preserved in the crypt of the Cathedral of the Annunziata.
Coastal walk in Puglia among the marvels of nature
While your mind will be fed of the historical and cultural richness that marked the centuries in this land, your senses will be captured by a triumph of colours, scents and melodies that the nature offers to whoever has the privilege to walk here, even alone.
The landscape is varied and rich in views that will stimulate your desire to take pictures of everything, to keep alive the memory of the suggestions it offers. The romantic charm of the caves, the bucolic recall of the country, the calcareous cliffs typical of the Mediterranean Sea, the sea breeze caressing your face and the birdsong as soundtrack of your walk: each element contributes to make truly perfect the atmosphere of your trip!
The rich nature of Salento is characterised by its forests of holm and oak trees, for the Mediterranean scrub and many botanical rarities, such as the wild orchids and the cornflower of Leuca. Hiking in Puglia will allow you to admire also the Quercia Vallonea in Tricase, the oldest oak tree in Salento, awarded as Italian “Tree of the Year 2020”.
The Park Otranto – Leuca on foot: paths and tips
Along the Park Otranto – Leuca you can walk along different paths, retracing the ancient “tratturi”. These are the ways of transhumance, traced over the time by the passage of pastors and cattle and probably of Prehistoric origin. Everything is natural along these paths: wearing cosy shoes and clothes, you will have the possibility to immerse yourself in the scents of the wild flora, deeply breathing pure air!
In the final stretch of the coastal trail in Puglia, we suggest you to follow the Via Francigena of the South down to Leuca, final destination of the trip. Arriving here, you will be able to visit the Basilica of Santa Maria di Leuca de Finibus Terrae, which has attracted many pilgrims from the Central Europe for centuries. According to the legend, this is the point from where Saint Peter started his work of evangelization. Hiking in Puglia down to its southernmost extremity can gain, for believers and not, more mystique nuances.
To end the day enjoying the maximum relax and to relieve yourself from the long walk, you cannot miss the occasion of a boat trip in one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in Italy, to admire the sea caves of the Ionian and the Adriatic sides of the Cape of Leuca. Leuca, indeed, being in the southernmost point in Puglia that divides the two sides, is also known as suggestive meeting point of the two seas.
Slow Active Tours proposes you an exciting walking tour along the South-eastern Coast, rich in experiences and guided tours, with also the possibility of customizations according to your specific needs. Hiking in Puglia following our itineraries is a chance you cannot miss!