Salento and the province of Lecce, what to expect
A province in the Apulia region of South-Italy which is entirely within the Salento peninsula in the“heel” of the Italian “boot”.
For a long time we discussed visiting the province of Lecce, a beautiful region of Italy, but somehow always changed our plans for other destinations. And I wish we had visited this part of Italy before with its warm hospitality but most of all, its originality and pure authentic Italian style.
I would like to thank a friend, a local from Specchia, but living in Switzerland who has given us so many great insider tips, Grazie Isa!
I wanted to use the word under-developed – but figured that this is not the right word. Should I say less touristy, no, as this is also not true, I can imagine that it is buzzing during peak season. So let’s just call it “Pure Italy”!
If you are having any of these typical Mediterranean beach holiday destinations in mind, with multi-story hotels along the beach promenade. 1000’s of sunbeds lined up perfectly paired with the compulsory umbrella – delete it, and think again.
Instead picture a peninsula with masses of olive trees fringed by two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionian. A magical land in which mysterious dolmens and menhirs indicate the way, hidden amidst the olive groves and native Mediterranean scrub outlined by drystone walls. It is also a great wine region in Italy if you want to go on a vineyard tour.
Excellent Mediterranean cuisine, and genuine hospitality to be added on top.
The province of Lecce allows easy reach to the seafront fortified gems of Otranto and Gallipoli, the luxurious seaside resort of Leuca and Lecce itself – the Baroque masterpiece capitol.
During summer peak season, a very lively place, with kids funfair rides along the beach promenades and plenty of good restaurants to choose from.
If you like a quieter time, empty playgrounds and don’t mind if some of the activities are already shut down for winter, then September is a great month to visit and our preference.
With only one week to explore this pure and magical part of Italy, we needed to choose from the best that the province of Lecce has to offer. Being based in Salve we concentrated on the south part of the province of Lecce.
And these are our…
11 Amazing family activities not to be missed
Family friendly activities in the south part of the province of Lecce.
Beach – Percoluse
Alcoves & Cliff Access – Ponte Ciolo
Boat rental – Castro Marina
Swimming – Porto Miggiano
Oranto – Medieval city
Gallipoli – City and beach
Leuca – View point
Specchia – Old town
Lunch at the Taverna – Tricasa Porto
Enjoying a sunset
There is no doubt that the pristine beach which stretches for six kilometers between Posto Vecchio and Torre Pali is second to none and a main reason to visit the Ionian coast. This stretch is characterised by a long series of small dunes on which during the summer months, white wild lilies and ferns blossom in their full beauty. Golden fine sand and shallow, crystal-clear waters attract families with younger children for a good reason.
There are different beach sections, some providing sun beds and umbrellas for a small charge, others are just natural and without any services. On some sections you can encounter beach huts and bars providing drink, food and some entertainment.
Our Top family freindly Beach –
With plenty of free parking places available, and only a short walk to the beach, it made the section at Percoluse our favourite. Enter the gravel road by the Tropical sign and then park on the left where it says Elite.
A gentle slope into the sea makes it ideal for the kids to play and run in and out of the water without any danger. Do not forget your umbrella as this part is non-serviced.
Only a few metres down is the Tropical section which provides sunbeds with umbrella if you prefer.
All in all, the different beach-sections do not differentiate that much from each other. The only real difference is that some have payable shaded parking areas and sunbeds and umbrellas are laid out at the beach and other are free and not serviced. By the way the beach is not very wide, probably only 30 metres from the water to the small sand dunes.
Alcoves & Cliff Access
There are plenty of picturesque hidden gems tucked away along the east Adriatic coast. Where there are some stairs or parked cars there must be sea access for sure.
Many of these areas give you the feeling of being somewhere on a deserted pirate island where the magical cliffs are rising high above you, and the treasure just awaits to be found. Older kids will love these areas.
Our Top Beach Cliff access
We visited only a few between Leuca to Otario, and quite quickly is was clear that our top favourite was the gorgeous area at Ponte Ciolo.
The parking for this place can get a bit crowded as you park along the road. There is also a very nice restaurant overlooking the bay. From the bridge you walk down a long staircase to the very tiny beach. You will see people put their colored towels down along the left-hand cliffs as well. And because this place is so magical, nobody minds to be literally sitting towel by towel next to each other. (smile)
Alternatives to swimming
If you do not want to be sardined on the beach, then just go for a walk up the back cliff stairways. You will be enchanted by the beautiful Mediterranean vegetation, caves and some rare plants such as Leuca fjordaliso and numerous species of wild orchids can be found. We have not climbed the stairs as we felt the kids where just that little bit too small and it was quite a hot day. But it certainly looked amazing to just step into a hidden valley.
Alternative little fjords and alcoves which we have not visited but have been recommended to us are:
Acquaviva , Andrano, Porto Badisco
Although all these places are amazing and beautiful, they are not as small-kid-friendly as a sandy shallow beach.
Rent a boat
To get a good feel of what the coast has to offer rent a boat at Costa Marina and cruise north.
There are several boat rental companies directly at the beautiful port. They also offer a captain to come with you if you do not want to drive the boat. It is not allowed to enter any of the caves but the whole experience of being on the water and captain of your own boat, gives the whole family enough excitement and fun.
It is only now when you really realise how beautiful the coast is and how much character it has with the many alcoves and caves along the way. Dotted along the coast you can see people jumping in to the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Swimming at Porto Miggiano
We took the opportunity whilst cruising along the coast to anchor at Porto Miggiano bay for an open sea swim. Another tiny hidden beach area like so many along the coast. You can also reach it by land from the Porto itself, simply walking along a trail with more or less one hundred steps down.
A mix of sand and rocks makes the water crystal clear, creating a corner of paradise where shades of blue and golden mix together and never to be forgotten. A beautiful place.
Ensure the anchor is holding between the rocks before you all disembark the boat to cool off! (smile)
Cities to visit with kids in province of Lecce – South Salento
There are many cities to visit. If you have visited the medieval hill top towns and cities in Tuscany and are expecting somewhat the same, just remind yourselves that you are in a different part of Italy. The towns have a lot of Greek influences and are not as wealthy and touristy as the villages up north in the Tuscan region.
But by all means, a must to visit and engage in their history. The following are our top pick.
Visit Otranto with kids – our favourite
Top favourite has to be Otranto situated on the east Adriatic coast and part of the most easterly point of Italy.
It provides a holiday feeling as you arrive. It is a historic seaside town and with its picture-perfect blue waters, white buildings and a beautiful port, Otranto is often the frequent cover star of maps, books and articles about Puglia.
There is pay parking close to Otranto’s historic old town which will be your focus point in Otranto. and ideally situated to visit and roam the lanes discovering picturesque scenes and views.
Take a seat in the incredible twelfth-century Romanesque cathedral, listen to the Italian priests if a mass is in progress and just absorb the beauty inside this holy place. Our kids absolutely loved it and sat still for quite some time. It must have been the echo of the priest’s voice and the absolute amazing décor it had to offer. We’re not Catholics but this was quite an ambience.
Another part not to be missed is the Aragonese Castle of Otranto. Entry is payable and well worth the money if you like a bit of history.
Visit Gallipoli with kids
This was the furthest city to the west we visited. Founded by the Greeks, Gallipoli means “beautiful city” and certainly does its name proud.
The city is divided into two parts, the historic old town which is located on an island and connected with a 16th-century bridge to the new city.
I have never seen so many different churches in such a small space. We strolled along the historic city alleys and narrow passages, and it seemed behind every corner was an entry to a church.
This city, like so many in this area also has a beautiful port.
A surprise awaited us when we popped out of the rear city walls and encountered a nice beach with a shallow bay. As we always have the swimming stuff in the car there was no discussion needed on whether we should go swimming or not. Heck yes, we should…. Anyway it was super-hot that day and we kind of saw what we came for. A nice fresh seafood lunch on a breezy corner restaurant followed by two hours at the beach. Perfect day.
Visit Santa Maria di Leuca with kids
The town between two seas, nestled at the southernmost tip of the Salento peninsula in the province of Lecce, where the waters of the Adriatic Sea mingle and merge with those of the Ionian.
You can feel that the richer and wealthier tourists and I guess also locals are calling this home. Just have a stroll along the port promenade, admire which boat would be yours if money allowed then make your way up to the impressive lighthouse built in 1864 which has a 16thcentury watchtower. Its top is well over 100m above sea level. Still in use, it is one of Leuca’s most impressive landmarks.
A beautiful piazza lies in front which affords nice views down onto Santa Maria di Leuca.
Visit Specchia with kids
Specchia is a charming village set on a small hill and surrounded by olive groves. The village is inland in the Lecce province only 20 min drive from the southern beaches.
You have to head in the direction of the old part which is in the north of the city, find a parking place along the street and just wander around and take your time.
We felt that Specchia needed to be discovered to be liked. At first it seems nothing special, but soon the questions of “why it was awarded the EDEN award in 2007 (European Destination of Excellence) for best emerging, rural destination” is answered.
The most attractive area is around the Piazza del Popola and the Palazzo Risola with its medieval origins.
An imposing square tower and an attractive stone balcony make a good picture opportunity of the Palazzo Risola.
Tricasa Porto – Lunch at the Taverna
There are so many nice places with fresh sea food and fish and other typical Italian dishes. I have already mentioned in other articles that we‘re not really a going to restaurant family. The kids are just too little and nobody really relaxes and enjoys a nice meal.
As the Italian meal time is not at all set for us Swiss, we tried and decided to eat out for lunch as an 8pm dinner is just an impossible task. We could bring our sleeping bags to the table at this time. (smile)
But during this holiday the kids surprised us pleasantly and we could actually have some great and fun family lunches in some of the cutest and most scenic places there are.
Our absolute favourite was the “Taverna del Porto” in Tricasa Porto, fresh Mediterranean cuisine at its best. In front of the restaurant you will find a large piazza with a kids playground offering a breezy uninterrupted sea view.
It is well worth before or after your meal to explore the port whilst walking along the promenade.
If you have followed us for quite some time you know by now that ICE CREAM plays a big part on our ventures. And being in the Gelato country this is just heaven.
You will find a name that follows you through the whole province of Lecce, Martinucci the Gelato & Patisserie king.
It is well worth to find the exact street address and drive to the shop. Most of his shops are combined with a take away section and an elegant seating area where aperitifs and other appetizers can be enjoyed during the early evening.
Another really nice gelateria which was recommended by a local is the G&Co in Tricase. We made a special detour on the way back to Salve twice just to taste their ice creams.
Just around the corner from this shop is the Piazza Giuseppe Pisanelli with its stunning Catholic church Chiesa di San Domenico e Convento Domenicano dei SS. Pietro e Paolo. A nice place to enjoy your gelato whilst observing another area of the province of Lecce.
Enjoying a Sunset
Is there a nicer way to finish the day than watching the sun setting? A great way to digest a packed day full with new expressions, discoveries and excitement in a calm environment.
How to get to the Province of Lecce
Easiest way is to arrive by air directly in to Brindisi – Salento airport – from where you rent a car and drive 90 minutes south.
Where to stay in the Lecce with kids
Honestly, we have not seen many large hotels which is amazing. You can find self-catered apartments and traditional South Italy houses in the style of a Pajara – dry stone house.
We like to stay if possible in traditional accommodation and this time we found this amazing Pajara with an annex to allow more space for a holiday accommodation.
We can highly recommend to stay in the village of Salve from where you can reach all the above in under one hour. Except Brindisi Airport is 90 minutes away.
A fantastic region to explore as a family if you like the real Italian feeling. We would have loved to stay a few more days to explore a bit more up north such as the regional capital Lecce and some other parts on the north province. But never mind, it just means we have to go back.
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