Living in Puglia, Italy, or Apulia as it’s known in English, has been a long-time dream as an American. My favorite part about this region of Italy is the Salento area with its lengthy coastline, which offers unbelievable natural beauty – from rugged cliffs and turquoise waters on the east side to beautiful stretches of wide, sandy beaches on the west side.
While tourists flock to the well-known coastal towns like Monopoli, Polignano a Mare, or Gallipoli, locals choose some lesser-known spots that are wonderful gems worth sharing. These are places that can be enjoyed any time of the year. If you like to swim in the sea, visit during April to October. If you like tranquility and would enjoy having the place all to yourself, visit during November to March.
As Salento is a relatively small peninsula, so many of these places can be enjoyed during a day trip from your home town, whether it’s Otranto, Lecce or Nardo. Here are my recommendations for the most naturally beautiful and lesser-known places along the Puglian coast:
1. Torre Sant’Andrea
The name stems from an ancient watchtower nearby, which once guarded against maritime invasions and it translates to English as Saint Andrew’s Tower. Located about 1.5 miles from the town of Melendugno, this coastline is a testament to nature’s artwork with its dramatic cliffs and limestone arches.
The layers of erosion have carved out pillars standing detached from the main cliff, giving it an almost otherworldly appearance. It’s not uncommon to see adventurous locals cliff diving, making the scenery even more dynamic.
2. Porto Badisco
Situated roughly 5 miles from the town of Otranto, the Badisco Harbor is steeped in history and legends. Ancient tales suggest that Porto Badisco was the first landing point of Aeneas, one of the heroes of the Trojan War.
Today, the harbor is embraced by a crescent-shaped coastline, with caves dotted around that have revealed prehistoric drawings. The tranquil waters are a haven for various marine species, perfect for underwater explorers.
3. Grotta della Poesia
Found less than a mile from Roca Vecchia, and a half hour drive from Ottranto, this site is one of my favorite places that makes me greatful to live in Puglia. Archaeological studies have found that the cave was a place of ancient worship.
The tiered rock formations around the pool allow visitors to lounge comfortably, making it easy to spend hours here. Daring visitors might jump into the pool from the higher ledges, although caution is always advised. One of the best hidden gems of the region, Grotta della Poesia where you’ll find inspiration and relaxation during the offseason or a refreshing swim in the summer.
4. Marina Serra
Located about 3 miles from Tricase, this natural swimming spot is like a limestone amphitheater overlooking the Adriatic.
The sea’s ingress is framed by rock formations, which shelters the area, making it a perfect spot for families with children. Besides the main pool, there are several smaller grottoes carved by the sea over millennia, which can be explored. The surrounding trees also provide spots of shade, ideal for picnicking.
5. Palude del Capitano
Situated around 7 miles from Nardò, this coastal pond is a serene escape from the more bustling beach spots of Puglia. With reeds swaying along its banks, the Captain’s Marsh as it’s known in English is home to several species of amphibians and birds.
The dense Mediterranean maquis around the pond emits a pleasant aroma, especially during the flowering season. This locale is an ideal spot for those who seek solace in nature’s lap.
6. Cala Dell’Acquaviva
Located approximately 2 miles from the charming town of Castro, renowned for its crystal-clear, azure waters that shimmer against the backdrop of white limestone cliffs. The bay’s name, which translates to “Spring Water Cove,” is attributed to the presence of freshwater springs that flow into the sea, creating a unique sensation of swimming in a mix of fresh and saltwater.
With its unique beauty and pristine conditions, Cala Dell’Acquaviva is a favorite among locals and those in the know. Its seabed is rocky, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling and discovering the vibrant marine life of the region. While the beach area is relatively small, the surrounding rock formations offer plenty of spots to sunbathe or relax in the shade.
7. Punta Prosciutto
Located about 6 miles from Porto Cesareo, this beach is a stretch of Puglia’s coastline that feels almost tropical. With its sandy dunes rising behind and the serene sea ahead, it offers panoramic views of the Adriatic.
The area behind the beach, with its marshlands, is a habitat for numerous bird species. The curious name is believed to derive from the tower “Torre del Prosciutto” nearby, though the origins of that name are debated.
8. Duna Costiera
Situated between Campomarino di Maruggio and Torre Ovo, Duna Costiera is not just a beach but an ecosystem. The dunes, which can reach significant heights, are stabilized by typical Mediterranean vegetation, creating a fascinating landscape tucked away from the more crowded beaches of the western Puglian Coast, where locals fish, sunbathe and swim.
Between these dunes, you’ll find temporary freshwater ponds, which become a habitat for various fauna during different seasons. The entire area is a testament to nature’s adaptability and resilience.
9. Parco Naturale Regionale del Bosco e Paludi di Rauccio
Found around 7 miles from Lecce, this region offers a refreshing change from the typical coastal landscapes of Puglia. The forest is dominated by holm oaks, a tree species typical of the Mediterranean region.
Wandering deeper into this green expanse, one can find the marshes, which act as a magnet for migratory birds. The soft chirping of birds and the rustling of leaves create a meditative soundscape for visitors. If you head towards the sea, you’ll find Lido Kalu, a small beach perfect for a sunbathing and swimming break.
10. Scala di Furno and Surrounding Beaches
Located within Porto Selvaggio Natural Park and about 7 miles from Nardò, this bay is surrounded by dense woods and rocky cliffs. The seabed here is a mosaic of rocks, seagrass, and sandy patches, creating a diverse habitat for marine life.
Freshwater springs that flow into the sea here make the water’s edge a tad cooler, a refreshing sensation during the hot summer months. The bay is lined with fun, sandy beaches that are lively in the summer and very tranquil and relaxing during the colder season. The nearby pine forest not only provides shade but also a hauntingly beautiful backdrop, especially during sunsets.
Driving along the coastal roads of Puglia, one is often rewarded with unexpected views and hidden coves. It’s a region where nature’s beauty feels intertwined with the local history, culture, and gastronomy. So, take your time, explore these lesser-known spots, and let Puglia’s coast enchant you as it has done for me. Buon viaggio!
This article originally appeared on MyDolceCasa and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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