Otranto, is a historic and charming seaside town known as the ‘Jewel of Salento’. Salento is in the region of Puglia and refers to the southern tip of the peninsula on the heel of Italy’ boot. The port town of Otranto is famed for its beautiful sandy beaches, deep blue waters of the Adriatic Sea and its historic white-washed buildings and fortifications.
Along similar lines of much of Puglia’s past, Otranto has a long history and because of its strategic position has been under the rule of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans and the Aragonese family. The Turkish army of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror famously invaded Otranto in 1480 and 800 locals were executed for refusing to convert to Islam. For a short time after the invasion, the town’s cathedral was turned into a Mosque before returning to a cathedral when the Italian’s took the city back. Today, the bones and skulls of those 800 local martyrs whom resisted the Ottomans are stacked behind three glass displays in the very same cathedral.
What makes the Otranto Cathedral so special?
Built in 1068, the Otranto Cathedral’s facade is quite plain, the detailing is what to look out for when visiting this cathedral. The outside columns mimic a lace-like detailing which are exquisite, along with a beautiful rose window found on the gabled west front entry. It’s not until you enter the cathedral where the amazement awaits you, instead of looking up to the ceiling for breathtaking fresco paintings, the visitors gaze is drawn down to the floor which features intricately arranged mosaics. Often referred to as The Tree of Life, the mosaic represents the conflict between good and evil, and the journey of man from the Garden of Eden to the Last Judgement. Believe us, this Cathedral is worthy of a visit.
Other little things to do while visiting Otranto
The Punta Palascia Lighthouse located on Italy’s eastern most point is where the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea meet. Opened to the public in the last 10 years or so, the Punta Palascia is especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset, seeing the sun rise and set amongst a breathtaking backdrop is a view you will not forget. It’s also a popular spot to celebrate New Year’s Eve, seeing the first sunrise of the new year.
If visiting national parks is something you enjoy, then the Regional Natural Park Costa Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca should be considered. It happens to be where the Punta Palascia Lighthouse is located so you can make it a day trip visiting both sites. The natural park covers a large area of Southern Puglia protecting the wild and rugged coastline, wildlife, the pristine beaches, its unique caves and the plant life.
How is the local shopping scene in Otranto?
Typical of an old town, Otranto is full of little boutique stores, with most items handcrafted by local artisans. You can’t help but admire the beautiful character-filled shop fronts, featuring mainly ceramics. You quickly understand that ceramics are a continuing family tradition sometimes spanning over many generations.
As the sun begins to set, the narrow streets and little alleyways begin to get busier. The shops are open until late, the bars and restaurants begin to fill with people where you can sit, and people-watch, overlooking the port.
Food, food and more food
Everything is locally grown!
Historically, a poorer region, meat was a luxury, which meant vegetables, beans, pasta and fish were the staple dishes, as so much was grown locally. Not much has changed over time. Vegetables are either marinated in oil, grilled, fried or stuffed. This makes Antipasti most popular, where the vegetables are accompanied by local cheeses, olives and other seasonal delights. Whatever is served to you is bound to be bursting with flavour, you will be fighting against yourself as not to overindulge.
As a seaside town, fresh fish and seafood are a popular choice, served on their own or mixed with Puglia’s typical locally-made pasta Orecchiette (little ears), as well as other varieties you’ll struggle to find elsewhere, such as troccoli, cavatelli, stacchiodde, curti and gruessi.
If your palate is craving meat, you’ll find lamb (agnello) on the menu, but horse meat (cavallo) is also eaten in the region, if you’re game. Another interesting thing you will find is a Butcher with an open wood-fired grill (rosticceria) set up where your meat is cooked-to-order, just like the locals like it.
Contact the Vita Italian Tours team to find out about visiting this beautiful town and other little gems on their small group tour Spectacular South – Pulgia, Abruzzo & Matera. This tour includes a visit to Otranto as well as some of the best destinations of across Puglia, Abruzzo and Matera. If independent travel is more your style contact them for a tailor-made travel itinerary to Otranto, Salento and Puglia.