If the ancient village of Otranto, a town that was Messapic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Gothic, Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Aragonese, oozes history from every stone, returning by right among the Borghi più belli d’Italia, even the surrounding area are not from less.
Otranto between sea and land
In the Valle delle Memorie, defined as it boasts the presence of numerous historical sites, one finds one of the oldest places in the region. It is the Messapic hypogeum formed by a 33-meter corridor with a low vault and a barrel vault and a Latin-cross plan chamber. In the central area, the ceiling opens up to the sky and is surmounted by a cylindrical tower with walls covered by niches carved into the rock that suggest use as a dovecote.
Throughout the valley, not a few small cells can be seen along the rocky walls. This testifies to the presence, in the past, of people who took refuge in this area to escape raids by sea raiders. And probably the valley was inhabited by a rural community subordinate to the Abbey of San Nicola di Casole, the ancient Basilian monastery founded in 1099 by Boemondo d’Altavilla and destroyed by the Turks in 1480. Today little remains of this grandiose monument that was a an important cultural center whose precious manuscripts were saved in time and are now preserved in the most important museums in the world.
A few steps Masseria dei Monaci (we will talk more in detail in #sognidoro), which was the home of the monks dedicated to the transcription and study of ancient texts and that hosted our sleeps in Otranto. Facing the sea and a few kilometers Punta Palascia, the most eastern head of Italy.
Going down towards the sea, a short walk leads to the bauxite pond that stands out unexpectedly with its brilliant emerald green between rushes and reeds and the bright red of the heaps of the mineral from which the aluminum is extracted, extracted in this area until 1976.
Walking on the sweet vermilion humps brings to mind views of “another world” such as the canyons of Colorado in the American continent or Ayers Rock in the southern hemisphere. On the horizon you can see the tower of the Serpe, sentinel on the sea built in Roman times and restored in 1230 by Frederick II of Swabia. It was used as a lighthouse and watchtower and a legend tells that every night a snake, hence the name, climbed along the walls and introducing the head from the window, sorbisse oil from the lamp of the lighthouse.
Going down towards the sea we reach Baia dell’Orte, defended by a steep rocky ridge and one of the most spectacular and wild stretches of Salento along with Porto Badisco, whose coast is made up of a real miniature fjord, which in its the innermost part hides a small beach.
Here after the bath, except from May 1 to June 30, biological stop, the obligatory stop is from Carlo: do not be fooled by the sign that defines Bar Alimentari Tabacchi because at its tables you can taste in a simple and genuine way the thorny delicacies of the place, the sea urchins, which are opened under the eyes of the bystanders.
For those who prefer sandy coasts, ideal for the long beaches of the Alimini Lakes, a wetland of international importance where they stop numerous species of migratory birds including herons and storks. The beach is sometimes free, sometimes equipped in correspondence with the various bathing establishments. Protagonist the sea, clear, clean and dominated by the beautiful sand dunes and the wild and untouched nature.
The same nature in which the Altair Residence is immersed, within the exclusive Serra degli Alimini Tourist District that offers to its guests villas with garden in residence formula and elegant rooms in hotel formula with swimming pool and private beach equipped on the beautiful Bay of Alimini.
Among the Alimini and Otranto rivers, the Baia del Mulino (Water Mill) is worth a visit, where a cave with a collapsed vault offers colorful play of light and the Baia dei Turchi, with small sandy coves that served as a landing place and from which, according to tradition, landed the Turkish warriors during the siege of the city.
The tour of the town can be completed by going to the lighthouse of Punta Palascìa that if the sea looks like a tall guardian with a white livery, from the street you can hardly see.
Punta Palascìa, commonly Capo d’Otranto, is the easternmost point of Italy and I, Michele and Otto, reached it on board the Luigi Nicolazzo calessino (Otranto Touring Ape Calessino – Piazza De Donno – +39 327 4032100) while enjoying a vision of Otranto from a different perspective along the road parallel to the coast here particularly jagged, almost to natural defense of the territory.
Now on those rocks shaped by the wind and the waves of the sea no longer stationed soldiers to scrutinize the black Saracen sails on the horizon but local fishermen, mostly spry grandmothers and nice ladies over the years, who drop their hooks in the blue sea deep over ten meters deep to capture glimpses, scorpion fish and white sea bream.
The tour in Ape starts from the port at whose entrance stands the Kater I Rades, the Albanian patrol boat, rammed and sunk by the navy ‘Sibilla’ of the Navy, with 81 people aboard death drowned off the Otranto channel on March 28th 1997. Transformed by the Greek sculptor Costas Varotsos into a work of art, today it is a tribute to the old and new migrants.
It ends in front of the hydruntine fortress where at the Bar Castello, just in front of the manor, you can stop for a snack based on frisi leccese or simply to quench your thirst with an eye for even the four-legged friends.
For dinner, return to the Valle delle Memorie to taste the delicious dishes of Masseria Bandino’s restaurant (SP Otranto-Uggiano – phone +39 0836 804647 – www.masseriabandino.it), a Country House Hotel close to a lush pine forest.
The a la carte menu is a real gastronomic journey with tantalizing and refined proposals ranging from crispy octopus to cream of Jerusalem artichokes, anchovy powder and rosemary oil to scalded red tuna in carpione, citrus and mint on broad bean purée and fennel wild among appetizers and traditional “minchiareddhi” cheese and pepper on a pesto of beetroot with sautéed Adriatic, for a mixture of sea-land, and an exquisite and unusual risotto creamed with burrata, with scampi and orange zest as first courses.
The grande soirée closed in sweetness with a delicious trio of desserts: soft chocolate on black ground with seasonal sorbet, the tiramisu of the house and a mousse with almond nougat with the heart to the mou with crunchy almonds. Gourmet experience to recommend and to… redo!