I mentioned previously that our 7-night trip to Puglia was a mix of day trips and pool lounging. Our home bases were near the towns of Otranto (3 nights) and Ostuni (4 nights).
We visited 11 towns and one lighthouse during our holiday and whilst this seems like a lot for six days, we actually found ourselves with a lot of free time.
It’s worth noting that our visit was from September 20-27 which was the end of the tourist season and we were traveling during covid times. Both masserie that we stayed at were fully booked, however, all of the towns we visited were mostly closed-up for the season and tourists were scarce.
The weather was absolutely perfect for the first two days and then it went downhill very quickly. We went from lounging at the pool and complaining about the air conditioning not being cold enough to wearing jeans and multiple summery layers, wishing we had sweaters, jackets, and hats.
As Norwegians say, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
Due to the timing of our trip and covid circumstances, our town visits averaged one hour. There were so few restaurants, cafes, and shops open that this trip centered around wandering down narrow alleys and taking photos by ourselves. There were times when we went 10 minutes without seeing another person!
Day trip 1 itinerary
We planned two stops for our first day trip but it turned into a four-stop circular route. Our stops were Otranto, Punta Palascia Lighthouse, Santa Cesarea Terme, and Castro.
We drove ~30 miles (50 km) and spent about two hours in the car between driving, getting lost, and looking for a car park. The roads were narrow and winding and the speed limit was generally 50 kph / 30 mph.
I was foolishly abiding by country road speed limits the first few days of our trip. Don’t make this mistake!
Our first stop was to Italy’s most easterly town, Otranto. Otranto was one of the smallest towns we visited but it was one of the busiest.
Almost every town we visited had a “centro storico” (old town) and all centro storicos in the towns we visited were in zona traffico limitato (limited traffic zones).
To avoid accidentally driving into a ZTL, it was best to park on the outskirts of each town. In Otranto, we parked here. This car park was easy to access, free, and only a 10-minute walk to the centro storico.
As we approached Otranto’s centro storico, we saw the stone walls and moat of the castle. It was built from 1485-98 and has five sides with three cylindrical towers.
We crossed the moat’s bridge and found ourselves overlooking the alleys of the centro storico. I wouldn’t say it was packed with tourists but there were enough tourists to make social distancing difficult at times in the narrow alleys.
We began our visit by walking the perimeter of the town along the sea “walls”. There was a small harbor with a protected swimming area where a few people were cooling off.
We didn’t know it at the time but the day of our visit was the second-to-last day of really hot weather in the region.
It didn’t take long before we were both drenched in sweat. Little did I know that only a few days later, I’d be wishing I was drenched in sweat instead of wishing I had a sweater and a hat!
After walking the perimeter, we entered the centro storico via one of the many alleys, took some photos, grabbed a bite to eat, and then departed for Punta Palascia lighthouse.
Note: As with all photo galleries in this blog, you can click an image to enlarge it and then carousel through the full images in the gallery.
Punta Palascia Lighthouse
Punta Palascia lighthouse is about three miles (5 km) from Otranto. If you’ve got access to a bike, I’d recommend cycling from Otranto to the lighthouse, just to slow down life a little bit and take in the deep blue sea views.
The lighthouse is not visible from the gravel parking area but it’s only a short walk down the cliff (gravel path, not handicap accessible) before it comes into view.
The lighthouse was built in 1867, shuttered in the 1970s, and then reopened in 2008. It emits one white flash every five seconds that is visible at 18 nautical miles (21 mi / 33 km).
What isn’t visible in these photos were the rooftop tables and chairs on top of the two-story building. On a non-windy day, it’d be a beautiful place for a wedding reception.
Santa Cesarea Terme
Our visits to Otranto and the lighthouse only took us about 90 minutes so we decided to venture further south to the seaside town of Castro, stopping at Santa Cesarea Terme along the way.
Santa Cesarea Terme’s economy is almost fully based on its thermal baths. The town has the highest number of thermal baths in the region. Our original plan slated Santa Cesarea Terme as a back-up day trip in the event of inclement weather but it seemed silly to pass through it on our way to Castro without stopping.
Santa Cesarea Terme was almost completely deserted. We parked on-street just off of the main road. There were two people in a cafe across from our parking spot and we saw two other people during our 15 minutes walking around. That’s it.
Unfortunately, our stop consumed 20 minutes that we could have spent at our masseria’s pool but, hey, you can’t win them all.
The first thing I did when we arrived in Castro was pee in a vacant car park. The public toilet situation was a desperate one for everyone in the region. We saw many people pulled over on the side of the road urinating. I hate to say it was a thing but it was a thing.
We should have parked in the vacant car park because it turned out to be very close to the centro storico but we were sort of turned around direction-wise and ended up parking near the marina instead.
The color of the sea in the photo above is the real color of the sea. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it – the colors of the Adriatic Sea are unlike any other sea.
Here’s a close-up in a shallow area in the marina.
We stopped for gelato at a popular gelato shop a few steps from the marina and used that time to research where the centro storico was located and how we would get there.
Castro is built into the cliffside. It’s very steep – San Francisco/Seattle steep – so it was important that we knew for absolute sure where we were going before we started ascending the cliffs.
We walked around the backside of the marina and then climbed like 500 stairs to reach what I’m going to call the lower tier of the cliff. I told Peter that the stairs reminded me of the Blaine Street stairs in Seattle but double the stairs and triple the heat and humidity.
From the lower tier, we followed the main road further up the cliff and then turned onto a steep residential street. My best guess is that the street was an 87° incline. My shirt was visibly soaked in sweat at this point… for the second time that day.
There was one final set of stairs at the end of the street and at the top of the stairs we were presented with the main square of the centro storico.
We were the only people in the square for at least 10 minutes. It was so quiet, we could hear a pin drop.
Being two of a handful of tourists in Castro was great but also terrible.
We wanted so badly to sit at one of the tables in the photo above and drink a glass of wine but the restaurant was not open – almost nothing was open. The reverse perspective is that I have hundreds of photos without random strangers in them and we were able to experience the quaint towns [basically] alone.
Including our car park pop-up toilet, gelato, and centro storico stops, we spent about 90 minutes in Castro. We would have spent a lot more time if we would have found somewhere, anywhere, to serve us a bottle of wine and some nibbles but, it was what it was.
Following Castro, we drove back to our masseria at the blazing speed of 50 kph / 30 mph, weaving in and out of small villages along the way. Once at the masseria, we found our wine at the pool and spent the afternoon basking in the sunshine.