One week in Salento

It's almost one year without writing... Vacations, chained with business trips, weekend work & other kind of killed my inspiration... Till I went back to Salento. This post is dedicated to Fabri "born & raised in Salento". Your recommendations made it truly magic, we will be forever thankful for that. Together with Daniel, you guys were magical hosts for this trip and I look forward to new experiences together, maybe on this side of the World?

Italy is a boot where Salento is the heel. Located at the south of Puglia region which is responsible for more than 60% of the olive oil produced in Italy, this little region is surprisingly unknown. We all end up there by seeing "someone else's" vacation pictures & asking about the location. I was lucky enough to have a native from Salento in my closer group of friends, that hosted us during a magical escape in 2016. I swore to come back with Enrique and it took me 3 years, but we did it.

Think of unexplored pristine rocky beaches, simple yet delicious Italian food, tiny little charming old villages offering dreamy stays at revamped Palaces and lack of gentrification. Great quality of experience at an incredible price. The kind of place where you drive along the coastline, spot some rocks, pull over the car and dive to find out that Coral Reefs are well and alive in the Mediterranean sea.

Preferably in June, July, September better than August, which can be quite packed by national tourists and locals back to their hometowns.

We tried both coasts during our vacation, spending 3 nights on each:
- Relais Valle dell'Idro [WEB] in Otranto, our base while visiting the East coast. Highly advisable, has private parking.
- Palazzo Presta [WEB] in Gallipolli, our base while visiting the West coast. Absolutely loved the place.

We flew to Brindisi airport, rented a car and drove directly South, missing to see some of the most picturesque villages highly recommended by our local friend (and surprisingly also the guy from the rental car) Lecce, Polignano a Mare, Alberobello & Ostuni. If you have time, may be worthwhile staying in Lecce to explore them.

Highly recommended to book the car in advance, using SIXT or another major company - check whether they have counter at the airport. It is pick up service, make sure you can call once you land to confirm the pickup point - which is sometimes not clear. Driving in Italy is an interesting experience despite being a seasoned Spanish driver with varied experiences like US or South Africa, just be mentally prepared for it. While safe, generic precautions such as not leaving any valuables or luggage in the car apply. The public parking in Gallipolli is the weirdest thing ever. Card payment doesn't work, note changer doesn't work, there is no free spot, but yet you can park on the "forbidden" lines with a 2 hour validity ticket and find your car the day after.

We spent a total of 6 days in Salento, 3 nights in Otranto & another 3 in Gallipolli:
- We reached the Otranto hotel quite late & went straight to bed
- Full day in Porto Miggiano
- Full day in Baia dei Turchi
- Full day in Sant'Andrea,
- Coastal drive from Gallipolli to Santa Maria di Leuca - the southernmost tip of Italy
- Coastal drive from Gallipolli to Punta Prosciutto, stopping in Santa Maria al Bagno on the way back
- The morning after, flight to Rome for our last 2 days in Italy.

The souvenir I brought is home perfume from a brand called Salentum, that has this Negroamaro fragance that reminds me so much of the Dr Vranjes one I used to buy in Japan.

1. Porto Miggiano
This small sandy beach nearby some concrete-covered rocks is a pristine spot preserved thanks to environmentalistas action. The plan was to build some salt-water pools but after demonstrations, everything got stopped leaving it as it is. A hard to reach, crystal clear spot to spend a lovely day tanning and snorkeling. Bring water & food, there is nothing. We left early to catch a long aperitivo at the uber cool Skafè al Casotto, followed by dinner at the fusion Laltrobaffo - pick the raw fish platter, near castillo Aragonese in Otranto.

2. Baia dei Turchi
The wind was quite strong, so we made the exception to spend the day at a sandy beach. The rule in Salento is simple, sand = crowded lettini e ombrellone while rocks = snorkel & privacy. Still it was quite convenient to park at "Due Palme" and be able to buy cold drinks instead of carrying them. Then we went for icecream-aperitivo to the best spot: Dentoni where both drinks AND sweets are available, how amazing is that? After changing clothes, dinner was waiting at Confine a hidden gem in Sant'Andrea, where you can find great fish and pizza. I really appreciate this Italian thing of "you can have it all" restaurant - very much in contrast with the uber narrow menu of traditional restaurants in Japan, where they only do one thing to perfection - it just makes it so simple to cater for a group.

3. Torre Sant'Andrea
If there was an iconic picture of Salento, it would probably be the arch of Torre Sant'Andrea. This is ironically close to Fabri's base in the coastline and also what got clearly imprinted in my memories 3 years ago. But the secret is to explore the other side, where magical rock formations & amazing snorkel awaits. When you are tired to check the fish banks, drop by lunch at Babilonia serving friselle - my absolute favourite holiday lunch, dry bread, tomato & tuna; simple, healthy & tasty! - and humongous schiaccine. This was our last day in the East side, so we kissed the guys goodbye & drove to Gallipolli.

4. Santa Maria di Leuca
We drove all the way to Punta Ristola in Santa Maria di Leuca, which is the southernmost tip of Italy to take some pictures where the Adriatic and the Ionian sea meet. We were a bit disappointed to find it was a cliff rather than a rocky beach. While we were about to drive out of the village, we spotted a German couple carrying snorkel gear downhill and decided park and follow them, to find the most amazing secret beach (understood as bunch of rocks to stay & snorkel from to the purest coral ever seen in the Mediterranean). We eat leftover schiaccine with some granita from the chiringuito back on the road & drove back to Gallipolli. On the way, we stopped at Pescoluse aka Maldive del Salento, to find it overcrowded & packed with ombrellone-lettiniers. I told you, sand is no good. Sunset Negronis served on sunset at the rooftop bar of Palazzo Presta (aka our hotel) were the sign of a great evening down the line. Following the mini-guide full of hits from the hotel, we went to Skafud Mare, for the most amazing dinner of the trip featuring tuna tartare with friselle, burratta & fondente.

5. Punta Prosciutto
Another drive, this time up North. I convinced Enrique to go the longer route along the seaside, so we could see potential places to stop. Once we reached our initial objective, the Punta Prosciutto, we saw the long sandy beach and drove further till some rocks we could spot at its Northernmost end. We were less than 10 people, doing what we could to stand somehow on the spiky rocks, but still the snorkeling was amazing - this time we brought the GoPro, you can see the amount of fishes and healthy coral in the video below. On the way back, we stopped at a bathing spot near Oasi Quattro Colonne (interesting place with 4 towers) in a village called Santa Maria al Bagno, as the sun was setting I was a bit cold - perks of living in Bangkok - and enjoyed the sunset instead of going for a swim. Back in Gallipolli, we went for our last Salento aperitivo and then had dinner in La Vinaigrette, another recommendation from Palazzo Presta guide that turned out a success.

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