During our 8 day holiday in Salento, my wife, Christine and I made visits to many of Puglia’s small seaside towns. All of them had three things in common: they all have a church that is the centerpiece of their town, a working marina and a centro storico or ancient center. Also, the people were lovely, almost grateful - in a way - that you have come to visit their under known and under appreciated part of the world. Tourists are everywhere but they seem more welcome in certain areas than in others and Puglia is one of those welcoming places.
Which brings us to Otranto: Otranto is another small seaside town with a population of about 5,000 people. It has a beautiful centro storico that opens up to a spacious piazzetta that overlooks the marina and a fascinating Cathedral.
Usually, I am not one for exploring churches while on holiday but this one was on my list to see. Upon entrance, one can’t help be beguiled by a giant mosaic that covers the entire floor. The mosaic is the tree of life balanced on the back of two elephants. It was created by a monk in 1165 and the mosaic depicts some really bizarre imagery along with Adam & Eve, Hercules, King Arthur and Alexander the Great. A you wind through the church, you also come to a chapel where the altar is surrounded by 7 glass panels housing the skeletal remains of 813 Otranto martyrs who were beheaded by the invading Turks.
The Aragonese Castle, the Cathedral’s next door neighbor, is grand and imposing and along its walls is a majestic view over the Adriatic. It was built in the late 15th century and is beautifully maintained though I would add, seeing it from the outside is better than going in. Inside is now mostly exhibition space.
If there was one place in Otranto where I could spend hours and hours, it’s the piazzetta overlooking the marina and the sea. There, Christine and I pulled up a couple of seats at Bar Molo and reviewed our thoughts about life, travel, love and laughter. It is a beautiful setting and I feel like I left something there. I may have to go back to retrieve it!
Otranto is a magnificent small town and it has one of the most beautiful beaches on Puglia’s east coast, Baia dei Turchi. It’s a sexy, white-sand beach with water that’s a mind-blowing shade of blue. A quick note: on the east coast of Puglia the shoreline is predominantly rocky but you can find some sandy beaches. Alternatively, on the west coast overlooking the Ionian Sea, you will find many more sandy beaches and more of a beach community.
I highly recommend visiting Otranto. While it’s a small town, it has a larger city personality. There are many restaurants, bars, a very fun ancient center, two beaches in the center of town and a robust history. It has what I like to call, "buzz." Not many small towns have that.
What more could you ask for?