Destination: the heel of Italy. A journey through the southern part of Puglia is quite unforgettable all year round, because each season has something special to offer. The sea meets the cloudless sky on the horizon, the ancient olive-trees extend as far as the eye can see, and rows of vines grow along the roads. The people of the Salento are proud of their past, and at the same time they are very much orientated towards the future. This is the land of three important vines - Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Primitivo - which dominate the so-called Great Salento, from Taranto Province to Lecce Province, passing through Brindisi Province. This is the land of the great fortified farmsteads - the masserie - now top-class hotels and resorts which have made Puglia world-famous. This is also the land of wineries which have made the history of Puglia and which are in the running to represent the region with distinction in the future as well. Some of the top names in Italian wine-making have invested in Puglia, attracted by the professional skills and resources of the local business community.
Besides the countless small towns and villages with their art treasures, their historical monuments and buildings and their excellent food and wines, the chief cities of the three provinces are definitely worth a visit.
Brindisi is impossible to separate from its port, whose two deep inlets have always provided a safe haven for sea-going vessels and their passengers. The Aragonese Castle is also known as the Forte a mare, and the heart of the city beats in its mediaeval churches, the town-houses of the aristocracy, and the arcades on Via Filomeno Consiglio, one of its oldest streets and traditionally associated with the Knights Templar.
On the opposite side of the “heel” there is Taranto on the Ionian coast, with its old town containing the Church of St. Dominic the Great (Chiesa di San Domenico Maggiore), the Cathedral of St. Cathal (San Cataldo, the patron saint) and the imposing Aragonese Castle. The old and the new cities are divided and connected by the Swing Bridge across the navigable channel. Across the bridge is the new city, the other face of Taranto, on the Mar Grande (Great Sea) and the Mar Piccolo (Small Sea), where you can see the Doric columns of the Temple of Poseidon and visit the National Archaeological Museum.
The roads to the outlying villages are very scenic, like the green road linking Grottaglie to Manduria, the city of Primitivo wine; on every side of the road there are alberello vineyards and monumental olive groves.
Staying on the subject of wine, while on the road towards Lecce it is definitely worth stopping in Guagnano, Novoli, Carmiano and Arnesano, small towns in the Negroamaro Park. This is where some of the region’s important wine-growers are based, and they offer an excellent combination of hospitality and quality products.
Lecce is the destination, the capital of baroque and of a very old traditional craft: papier-mâché sculpture. A slow stroll is the best way to appreciate the old city and see its imposing monuments – from the Basilica of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce) to the Palace of the Celestines (Palazzo dei Celestini), from the Cathedral (Duomo) to Piazza Sant’Oronzo – along with some of the smaller treasures, like the craftsmen making traditional cotto salentino, a sweet cooked wine, and others working with papier-mâché and Lecce stone.