As we described in our previous post “Discover Puglia. Road Trip Itinerary”, Otranto is considered one of the most beautiful seaside towns in all of Puglia. And we unanimously selected it as our favourite town on that trip.
This post describes its pros and cons, attractions, beaches, tours, restaurants and bars, and other towns that can be visited nearby.
Otranto is located on the east coast of the Salento peninsula. The Strait of Otranto, to which the city gives its name, connects the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea and separates Italy from Albania.
It was founded by the Greeks, incorporated by the Romans, and lateroccupied by the Longobards, Byzantines, Normans, and the Turks.
The lighthouse Faro Della Palascìa, approximately 5 kilometres (3 miles) southeast of Otranto, marks the most easterly point of the Italian mainland. And about 50 kilometres (31 mi) south lies the promontory of Santa Maria di Leuca (so-called since ancient times from its white cliffs, leukos being Greek for white), the southeastern extremity of Italy, the ancient Promontorium lapygium or Sallentinum. The district between this promontory and Otranto is thickly populated and very fertile.
The harbour, once a thriving Roman port, is small and has little trade. Nowadays there are just a few small fishing boats, private yachts, tour operators and the navy. But I think this is an advantage, as it makes it quiet and relaxing, as opposed to those huge and smelly ones in the big cities.
The historic centre is overlooking the bay and its crystal clear waters. It’s still surrounded by the fortification walls, preserving its ancient and traditional atmosphere. Many cafes and restaurants are facing the bay where people relax and enjoy the sunset. The centre itself is an intricate set of alleyways and white-washed homes.
To sum up, Otranto is small and simple, but beautiful and relaxing. It’s the perfect size if you want to walk everywhere. 25 minutes should be enough to walk around the historical centre. Its central beaches are stunning (see the section below), with turquoise waters and most of the time as calm as a swimming pool.
One downside is that there are no airports nearby. However; the closest one is Brindisi, which is just an hour by car. You can also get there by public transport, but it would take 2 hours. Nonetheless, Puglia is one of those places in which you need a car.
Attractions and activities
The main attraction in town is Castello Aragonese (see picture above). It was reinforced by Emperor Frederick II and rebuilt by Alphonso II of Naples in 1485–98. It has an irregular plan with five sides, with a moat running along the entire perimeter. In origin, it had a single entrance, reachable through a draw-bridge. Towers include three cylindrical ones and Punta di Diamante’s bastion (“Diamond’s Head”). The entrance sports the coat of arms of Emperor Charles V.
The Cathedral is the second most popular building. It was consecrated in 1088, a work of Count Roger I adorned later (about 1163), by Bishop Jonathas, with a mosaic floor; it has a rose window and side portal of 1481. The interior, a basilica with a nave and two aisles, contains columns said to come from a temple of Minerva and a fine mosaic pavement of 1166, with interesting representations of the months, Old Testament subjects and others. Bones and relics of the Martyrs of Otranto, who perished in the 15th-century siege surround the high altar. The church has a crypt supported by 42 marble columns.
The church of San Pietro, with Byzantine frescoes, the catacombs of Torre Pinta and Idro, and a small river which the toponym Otranto stems from, are also attractions that you may want to capture with your camera.At the harbour, Torre Matta tower has sweeping sea views. Nearby beaches include the popular Alimini Beach (see sections below for more beaches). And there are 2 lakes inland: the saltwater Alimini Grande and spring-fed Alimini Piccolo. North is Faro di Punta Cràulo, and the edge of the town.
If you like running or hiking, I would recommend going South. You head to the harbour, and then turn right, you will find a footpath by the sea. You can start walking/running from the town, leave the car at the harbour, or even drive a bit inland. Essentially, what you will is a beautiful footpath surrounded by nature. Hills, rocks and the sea view all the way. There are two paths, one closer to the sea (which is rocky, maybe too much for running, although more fun), and another 20 metres or less inland, much easier to follow. You will also find Torre del Serpe, Torre Dell’Orte and Punta Facì. There is also a rural/agritourism hotel, and you would likely see a group of people riding horses.
And you can go even further, as you can see on the map above. If you continue south you will find a couple of small beaches such as Spiaggia di Baia dell’Orte, and after that Grotta del Vento and Punta Palascìa lighthouse. The latter, commonly known as Capo d’Otranto, is Italy’s most easterly point. It is one of five Mediterranean lighthouses protected by the European Commission. It is often visited by tourists, particularly at New Year, since it stands at the point where the dawn of the new year may first be seen in Italy. According to nautical conventions, Capo d’Otranto marks the point where the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea meet.
The beach in the picture above was our favourite, and it’s right there in front of the town. Turquoise, calm and warm waters all day long at walking distance. You can walk from your accommodation, find a good spot, and go to one of the shops nearby to take a break and relax. It’s called Spiaggia della Riviera degli Haethei. Some rock formations and human intervention have made this beach unique. There is sand but below there are rocks, so you cannot just put your umbrella on. However; there are some tubes already there so you only need to put your umbrella on top (no need to drill a hole). And when the sunset is approaching, if you still want a bit more sun, you can go to the opposite side (southern direction), next to Maestrale bar, and you will get it.
If you want to take the car and drive for some time you have plenty of options. Bear in mind that the area is not big, and you can get from one coast to the other in 30 minutes. But in less time than that, no more than 15, you can visit Alimini Beach, which is one of the most popular beaches in Puglia, and it is worth visiting without a doubt. It is a long white sandy beach with lots of private and public lidos and facilities. And there are 2 lakes inland: the saltwater Alimini Grande and spring-fed Alimini Piccolo.
There are more beaches nearby, such as Spiaggia di Porto Craulo o La Punta, Spiaggia della Plancia and Lido della Staffa, which are all at the north end of the town. There are also some smaller calas and grottas, such as Cala di Grotta Monaca and Mulino d’Acqua Beach. The latter is super beautiful but has no public access. We got there thanks to the boat tour we took, which I also recommend.
The tour departs from Otranto and goes to the end of Alimini. It takes 3 hours and includes two swims and complimentary appetizers. For more information and bookings visit the official website.
One key advantage of Puglia is that depending on where you are, you can either go to one side or the other because it does get windy sometimes. There are even some websites with live cameras on the beach, so you can literally check it out in real-time. In general terms, when the north wind blows, the Adriatic Sea is generally rough (from the Lecce seaside resorts to Otranto). While the Ionian Sea will almost certainly be calm. On the other hand, the Sirocco winds blow from the south and are hot winds. The sirocco agitates the Ionian sea, while it makes the sea calm along the north Adriatic side.
Restaurants and bars
L’Ortale was our favourite place and it deserves at least one visit. It’s just a deli, not a restaurant, offering cold cuts and cheese boards; however, the back garden is beautiful and the ambience is great. There is also live music and very good local wines. A very enjoyable experience no doubt.
In terms of restaurants, we had two really good meals at L’ora di mezzo (tasty ravioli with burrata) and Agli Angeli Ribelli (frutti di mare pasta), both recommendations from our host Silvia. We strongly recommend a place for dinner to have a real Italian agritourism experience a bit further from the town: La Gràmola – Natura e Cucina. And there is one more which is quite popular and needs reservation in advance (1 month at least): Le Stanzie.
We also liked very much both the food and gelato from Martinucci. It was our favourite pistachio ice cream of the trip. They also have good salads, sandwiches, sweets and traditional Rustico.
For a bakery, I can recommend casAmelia, which is close to the other two pubs/cafes: TEORIA del CAOS and La Combutta. Last but not least, if you want to buy good cheese you should visit Caseificio Santoro.
The first time we stayed at B&B Rocamura and we liked it a lot. Super modern and comfortable rooms with balconies. Cosy kitchen and excellent breakfast. Silvia is a great host, very helpful and friendly. She speaks Italian, English and Spanish and knows many places in the area. She gave us good recommendations and was always very attentive. The cakes were super tasty and are all day available. Its location is ideal, as it’s a 10-walk minute from the beach and 15 from the city centre.
The last time we stayed at an Airbnb, on the other side of the town. It was further from the main beach, but closer to the castle, the port and the town centre. The place has a terrace and we really enjoy our stay, plus Francesca the host was amazing and helpful.