Isola dei Conigli Puglia (Rabbits Island)

About 1 km from the coastal village of Porto Cesareo there is the charming Rabbits Isle (Isola dei Conigli), a must-see if you’re in the area! The island runs parallel to the coast, it is about 2,5 km long and just over 400m wide.

Porto CesareoPhoto Credits Fran Flickr

Origin of its name!

Also known on the sailing maps with the name of Isola Grande, it was renamed Rabbit Island due to a herd of cattle that was started on the island for the local population, particularly rabbits.

The stretch of sea that separates the island from the coast reaches a maximum height of 40 feet, which is why a lot of people swim to the island or walk for short excursions or perhaps to spend the entire day.
Alternatively, the island can be reached by boat from the nearby harbor and, for a few euros, you can indeed get a ride from the local fishermen who can also come and pick you up at an agreed hour; alternatively you can hire the typical Italian “pedalò”.

DSC_0020Photo Credits Frank Flickr

It is important to note that the island is completely uninhabited and without accommodations, bars or any recreational structures. Essentially it is a true natural oasis.
The island is mostly covered by pine trees, Aleppo and Acacias trees, and typical Mediterranean vegetation, which cover most of the dunes and beaches of Salento Peninsula.
It is part of the Marine Protected Area of Porto Cesareo and is surrounded by beautiful seabed, perfect for diving lovers!

Isola dei conigliPhoto Credits Simone Flickr

Salento

Discovering SalentoSalento

Lu Salentu: lu sule, lu mare, lu ientu (Salento: the sun, the sea, the wind) is definitely the best saying that people use, here in this land in their own dialect, to describe this land.

SalentoSalento, also known as the Salento peninsula is a sub-region that extends over the southern part of Puglia, and is washed by the wonderful Ionian and Adriatic Seas. The area includes the entire Lecce province, almost whole Brindisi province and part of the Taranto one.

Otranto

Otranto is a town in the province of Lecce and is part the Salento area. It is located in a harbor along the east coast on the Adriatic Sea and is the easternmost town in Italy. Its small seaport is mostly used for fishing activity and tourism, especially for the ferry services to Greece. The city also gave its name to the Strait of Otranto, which separates Italy from Albania.
The old town of Otranto has been declared by UNESCO as “Heritage witness to a culture of peace”.

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Otranto is strategically located along the coast and is therefore always been considered a natural bridge between East and West. Especially during the Roman Empire when the town became one of the most important maritime centers of Italy and the natural point of trade with Greece.

Today Otranto is a quiet town and a popular tourist destination. Its historical center has been included in the list of the most beautiful towns in Italy, from “I borghi piu’ belli d’Italia”, and the town attracts each year thousands of tourists especially during summer months. The town still retains its characteristic appearance of the ancient market towns that are washed by the Mediterranean. While walking around the town, the ancient walls and the Aragonese Castle can be admired. The castle is a massive building which is part of the tough defenses of Otranto. It was built in the 15th century on one of Frederick II’s earlier fortresses ruins. It is open to the public and sometimes houses temporary exhibitions.

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Another masterpiece of Baroque architecture is the Cathedral of S. Maria Assunta, consecrated in 1088, it has a huge rose window. The interior, has columns said to come from a temple of Minerva and a fine mosaic pavement of 1166, it is one of the largest mosaics in the world and depicts the “tree of life” with interesting representations of the months and Old Testament subjects. The Cathedral has a crypt supported by 42 marble columns. It holds the bones of 800 martyrs (later proclaimed saints ) who were killed by the Turks in 1480 in an attempt to conquer the town. Bones are kept on massive shelves inside the cathedral.

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Despite the different destruction suffered throughout the time, Otranto retains a very well defined old town, with the typical aspect of the southern Italian houses painted in bright colors which make it very picturesque. The old town is still enclosed within its defensive walls; the small streets are full of bars, restaurants and small souvenirs shops. On summer nights Otranto has a lovely holiday scene and usually street artists fill up the city center with their shows. Tourism is in constant expansion thanks to the beautiful beaches and landscape that this town can offer, and the warm hospitality of the locals.

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Zinzulusa Cave

Just a couple of miles north of Castro, there is the phenomenal Zinzulusa Grotto, the most famous Karst cave along the Puglian coastline and considered to be one of the most important examples of this geologic phenomenon in Italy. The name comes from the word zinzuli, meaning rags. In fact the extensive collection of stalactites and stalagmites that fill this cave look like rags hanging from the ceiling.

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The cave was discovered in 1793 but has only been explored and open to the public for about 50 years. During its exploration, many vases and votive axes dating back 5,000 years were discovered. The excavated part is huge but only a small portion is open to the public and it can only be visited on a guided tour. The entrance to the cave faces the sea, the access consists of a long set of purpose-built steps followed by a walk along the cliff side. If there is high tide the steps are covered and the cave becomes inaccessible.

The cave consists of three different areas:

The entrance leads to the Corridoio delle Meraviglie (Corridor of Marvels) which preserves the best rock formations. In this area there is also a small lake, called Trabocchetto, of crystalline water mixed with fresh sea infiltration. It also houses a number of endemic species of aquatic life, among these there is a rare species of shrimp, with no eyes.

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The corridor leads to a crypt area, also called Duomo (Cathedral) where smooth walls soar 25 meters above the floor level, creating a rather enormous room. The Crypt used to be inhabited by bats which had covered the floor with their guano for 5-7 meters. The guano, solid and on which it was possible to walk, was lifted in 1940 by workers who also created the interior walkways, today used for sightseeing. All bats have since left for less crowded areas, leaving the room open for tourists to enjoy.

The final section of the cave is called Cocito, it reaches up to 160 meters beyond the entrance, and houses the small enclosed basin on Cocito. Its waters are characterized by a stratification: in the lower part they are warm and brackish, on the surface they are sweet and cold.

The Zinzulusa cave gets very busy in summer. During the summer season many fishing boats are also available just outside the cave’s entrance for tours at the water level: experienced guides will guide you along the cliffs overlooking the sea to discover many coves and small caves.

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Torre Guaceto

Located about 10 miles Northwest of Brindisi is the WWF Natural Reserve of Torre Guaceto, its name comes from the Arab Gawsit meaning “land of fresh water”. Since 1975 it has been declared a wetland of international interest and in 1991 a protected marine area has also been constituted. The reserve covers an area of nearly 22 km2 and 8 Km of coastline spread around the ancient fortified tower and is one of the best preserved stretches of coast along the Adriatic coast.

Torre GuacetoPhoto Credits: Flickr-NEVILLE ROSSI
The whole area is characterized by the different environments that include wetlands, marshes and dunes that rise up to 10 meters, the Mediterranean maquis and agricultural land. Its protected oasis represents the perfect habitat for many animal species: it attracts many species of migrating birds and turtles and reeds are also present inland.

The agricultural area is characterized mostly by large olive trees groves bordered by the typical dry stone low walls. The wetland is probably the most characteristic of the entire area. It is fed by underground spring water and covered with thick reeds grove. However the water is brackish as the whole area is located along the coast.

... un Salento da scoprirePhoto Credits: Flickr-FranK
The Mediterranean maquis, mainly covering the northern part of the reserve, is an ecosystem typical of the whole region: it consists mainly of shrubs and small trees but other species such as juniper, myrtle, thyme and oak can also be found here.

Lots of activities are available in the reserve to better discover this amazing place and enjoy your stay in the area: walks, cycling tours and snorkelling in the marine reserve are organized (bicycles and snorkelling outfit can be rent onsite).

For further information please visit the website: www.riservaditorreguaceto.it

Taranto

Taranto is a big city and capital of the namesake province of Taranto. Located on the coast it overlooks the Ionian Sea. It is called city of two seas as it lays on an isthmus that divides the Great Sea (Ionian Sea) from the Small Sea (an inner basin). The city consists of three different parts: the old town situated on a low rocky island between the two seas (here is where the oldest buildings are located), it is connected to the Borgo via a bridge and to the new city via the swing bridge (Ponte Girevole). The Borgo is mainly an industrial and commercial area, the new city is a mix of streets forming the grid pattern new city center. Two canals connects the two seas running alongside the small island.

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The historic origin of Taranto dates back to 706 BC when a colony of Spartans landed on the shores of the Gulf. However as the story goes, its foundation is linked to an heroic warrior named Taras (Taras was the first name of the city) who was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. While celebrating a sacrifice on the banks of a small river in honor of his father he saw a dolphin and that was the signal that in that place he would have found a new city. Even today, the emblem of the city of Taranto depicts Taras riding a dolphin.

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Taranto was a major Greek colony and one of the largest city of Magna Graecia. At that time the city had more than 300 thousand inhabitants, its fertile land and the sea abundant in fish used to attract the neighboring populations. The city very soon became an economic, military and cultural power and many beautiful buildings, temples, baths and museums were built. The Pythagorean school was also founded and great importance was given to culture and art. In 281BC Taranto began the conflict with Rome (it is said that the people of Taranto stained the robe of an ambassador from Rome while he was in a theater in the city and this was the pretext to declare war). The city fought and received help from Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, and Hannibal, but was conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire with Fabio Massimo. At that point the greatest power in the Mediterranean had disappeared and Taranto became a small fishing village.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city was conquered and sacked several times (like the rest of Puglia) by different civilization, including: Ostrogoths, Saracens, Lombards, Byzantines and Normans. The city became powerful again after the French Revolution. Taranto in 1860 was united to the Kingdom of Italy and the fate of the city changed rapidly: in 1887 the swing bridge, connecting the new city to the old one, was opened ; in 1889 the maritime arsenal was opened and this gave impetus to the economy of the area and turned the city into a military power. Taranto was chosen by the French and English as military base during the two world wars. During the Second World War the city suffered an heavy bombardment (now remembered as the night of Taranto). Famous is the quote of the English Admiral Andrew Cunningham: “Taranto, and the night of November 11th – 12th, 1940, Should Be Remembered for ever as shown HAVING Once and for All That in the Fleet Air Arm the Navy has ITS Most devastating weapon”.

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Numerous monuments and buildings scattered around the whole area prove this long and glorious history. Suggestive are the remains of the Doric Temple or Temple of Poseidon (father of Taras, the city’s founder) in the old city. One of the most popular tourist destination in the city is the Saint Cataldo Cathedral (Irish Bishop who died in Taranto in the 7th century and Patron Saint of the city). It was built in 1071 in the heart of the old town and has undergone several renovations over the centuries showing now different styles: baroque in the facade and byzantine in the dome. The interior is divided into three naves and includes the chapel of Saint Cataldo which is made up of a massive altar (that guards the bones of the Saint) and is decorated with statues and frescoes.

The Aragonese Castle was built in 1481 on the ruins of a Norman-Swabian castle but the first construction dates back to the 916. The fortification has 4 towers, and a quadrangular courtyard. Built for defensive purposes, in 1887 it was assigned to Navy.

Numerous remains of all ancient civilizations that ruled the city are guarded in the National Museum of Taranto. Named MARTA, an acronym for Archaeological Museum of Taranto it is one of the largest and richest in Italy with its 50000 Greek and Roman archaeological remains including ceramics, mosaics, coins and above all jeweler the museum has a huge collection of earrings, necklaces, rings, tiaras and bracelets.

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Finally, not to be missed is the seafront Vittorio Emanuele III overlooking the Great Sea which offers a romantic and suggestive view especially at sunset.

Santa Maria di Leuca

Leuca_faroSanta Maria di Leuca, often simply called Leuca, is a small village which is situated at the bottom of Puglia, in a stunning bay between Punta Ristola and Punta Meliso (where the 49 meters lighthouse was built in 1866). The presence of several archaeological remains in its caves proves the human presence in this area as early as the Paleolithic age. The village was named Leukos, literally illuminated by the sun, due to its beauty and brightness. Later, as the story goes, San Pietro chose the town as location from where to initiate his evangelical work, and thus added the Virgin’s name and for the Christians the village became the door to Heaven.

Well connected to other towns in Salento, it is a very popular and peaceful village, it’s indeed a tourist destination for travelers who decide to spend the holidays at the bottom of Puglia and particularly in Salento area. With the ability to see both sunrise and sunset over the sea it is often referred to as paradise between the two seas as it marks the point where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea.

By the end of 1800 Leuca became the summer residence of the Pugliese aristocracy, stunning Tuscan-style, Gothic, French, and Renaissance style villas were built which still today adorn the seafront and the landscape of Leuca. Many of these villas were ravaged and robbed during the Second World War, many of them were also despoiled from the metal decorations (needed to produce weapons) and a few were used in order to accommodate refugees. Some were badly damaged and restored after the war when they underwent a change of style. Among the most important we highlight: Villa Daniele, Villa Fuortes, Villa Mellacqua, Villa La Meridiana, Villa Loreta Stefanachi, Villa Episcopo, Villa Colosso, Villa Arditi, Villa De Francesco, Villa Seracca.

An impressive flight of steps leads down from the Basilica to Santa_Maria_di_Leucathe aqueduct inaugurated by Mussolini during the fascist era. It is, in fact, in Santa Maria di Leuca that the monumental aqueduct delivering water to the whole of Southern Italy has its outlet.

The promenade with its trend nightclubs, the port, landing stage of big fishing boats and holiday yachtsmen, the bathtubs, the 16th-century tower of the “Omo Morto” (the Dead Man Tower), the intense blue of the sea, its many coloured seabed, its caves and bays of sand, make Leuca a beautiful holiday destination. Leuca is a charming and fascinating place thanks to its history and traditions but above all it is admired for its sea and shores, which attract thousands of tourists, sailors and divers keen to explore the underwater caves. Among the other we remind the cave Grotta Treporte (where remains of the Neaderthal man have been found) Porcinara, Diavolo, Fiume, Bambino and Giganti. Finally, take a boat trip to the sea grottoes of Grotta del Diavolo, Grotta della stalla and Grotta Grande di Ciolo

Porto Selvaggio

The Regional Natural Park of Porto Selvaggio and Palude del Capitano has been instituted in 2006, it covers 1000 hectares and is located in the Lecce Province along the west coast of Salento between Porto Cesareo and Gallipoli.

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It includes Porto Selvaggio Park (instituted in 1980) and the Palude del Capitano and is a must-see during any holiday in Salento.

Porto Selvaggio (literally Wild Port) is a rocky cove between the two watch towers Torre dell’Alto and Torre Uluzzo. It covers an area of 400 hectares circa and is mainly covered by a dense pine wood, olives, eucalyptus trees and Mediterranean macchia (scrub-land) of acacias and brooms; it also includes a stretch of rocky and jagged coastline which overlooks the Ionian Sea.

To reach the coastline you will need to cross the dense pine forest: a ten-minute walk through a pristine forest floor and you will admire the crystal and always clear waters, rocky seabed (often explored by divers) and reefs that reach up to 40 meters.

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The whole area is protected against tourist development and has various type of habits which are home to a wide range of wildlife including lizards, weasels, finches, foxes and birds like hoopoe, thrush and kestrels. Along the coast there are numerous inlets and caves both underwater and emerged such as Grotta di Torre dell’Alto, Grotta di Uluzzo, Grotta Capelvenere and Grotta del Cavallo.

Mainly know for its natual and unspoiled environment, the park of Porto Selvaggio has also a huge importance from cultural and historic point of view and shows many areas of archaeological and pale-ontological interest. The park is in fact dominated by the three towers: Torre dell’Alto, Torre Uluzzo and Torre Inserraglio, built between the XV and XVI for defensive purposes. The Uluzzo Bay also takes us far back in time: in the Grotta del Cavallo (Horse Cave) numerous remains of animals (including rhinos) and artifacts have been found which date back to the Neanderthal Man and the Paleolithic period.

The Palude del Capitano, located north of Porto Selvaggio, is an area of marshland and low cliff that lies just a few meters from the coast. This area is mainly covered by the “Spunnulate” (literally sunk): caves that have lost their roof and are filled with water sourced from natural underground springs which communicate with each other and connect the marsh to the open sea. The area is much visited by lovers of bird watching who can admire different species of birds including the moorhen, egret, kestrel, the heron, the hoopoe.

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For further info please visit the website: www.portoselvaggio.net

Oria

Oria is a small lovely town in the province of Brindisi; it is located halfway between Brindisi and Taranto in the northern part of Salento. It is built on top of three low hills and can be seen from afar as it is dominated by the big castle, built by Frederick II. Oria is definitely a must-see for those who are spending holidays in the Salento area and thanks to its strategic location it is easy reachable from both the Adriatic and Ionian coast.

oria pugliaIt has ancient and glorious traditions. According to information handed down by the Greek historian Herodotus, it was founded around the 1200 BC by a group of Cretan castaways and it was named Hyria. As most of the cities in Puglia, Oria was ruled by Romans and during that period it had a great importance as it sits only a few miles away from the Appia Road (which Romans built to connect Rome to Brindisi). Upon the fall of Roman Empire it was dominated by different civilizations such as the Greeks, the Lombards and the Byzantines. Oria was also an important Jewish colony; the Jewish presence in Oria is one of the oldest in Europe though the community is no longer present in the town. However the Jewish ghetto, made up of twisting alleyways and named Giudea, is still well preserved by the Porta Ebrei (Gate of Jews). Between 1225 and 1233 the town was ruled by Emperor Frederick II who built the glorious castle in the highest part of the town and which still today dominates the town and the whole surrounding area.

oria pugliaOria has always been a place of great writers, artists and intellectuals. The town has been the bishop’s see from apostolic times. Today the town retains its beauty and provides visitors with ancient archaeological artefacts and pleasant walks through its old town.

The old town is characterized by steep and winding narrow streets leading to the castle and very often widen to form beautiful squares and charming courtyards. In one of these squares is the Basilica Cathedral, getting up here is a good walk but it is worth a visit as the nearby piazza in front of the massive Basilica Cathedral is breathtaking. On a clear day, it provides views of both the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea and of the immense olive trees groves. The Cathedral, been built in Baroque style, has Latin cross plant, three naves and a colored tiled dome. It also guards remains of the Messapian and Roman civilizations, such as a cistern and tombs of monks and bishops.

oria pugliaThe Castle is an imposing mansion which was built in the highest part of the town on the ruin of the ancient Messapian acropolis between 1225 and 1233 by order of Emperor Frederick II. Frederick intended the castle to be a defensive fortress: it has a triangular plant with the south wall having three towers 88 meters high and named Squared, Knight and Jump. The original castle had one square tower; subsequent rulers added the two round towers during the Angevin period. On the terrace of the tower “Knight”, a special marble slab shows the locations of the neighboring cities.

Oria is undoubtedly famous for being “one of the Frederick II’s cities”. Since 1967, the town celebrates their Emperor with an event that can’t be missed. During the second half of August Oria stages one of Italy’s best medieval pageants when the town re-creates the splendors of the glorious ages by performing a historical Parade of Frederick II and the Palio dei Rioni (Tournament of the four districts). The event originated in 1225 when Frederick II decided to “amuse the loyal inhabitants of Orea” while waiting for his wedding with the bride Isabella of Brienne, which occurred in November of that year in the Cathedral of Brindisi. This historical parade is the most important recreation of the Frederick II’s domain period that takes place today in Italy.

It’s a wonderful spectacle of colors and music, with over four hundred figures wearing original costumes marching on parade along the main streets of the town waving colorful flags and representing the four districts. Gloriously-costumed they march in a colorful procession through the streets of Oria re-creating original movements of noble ladies, knights, jesters, courtiers, pages and squires and celebrating faithfully the magnificence of the Middle Ages and the court of the Emperor. The parade is followed by a tournament that sees the four districts (Castello, Giudea, Lama and San Basilio) pitting against each other in a knights’ challenge and strength’s test.

For further information please visit website: www.visitoria.it

Martina Franca

Martina Franca is a city of about 50K inhabitants in the province of Taranto. It’s located on a hill in the Southern part of the Murgia and overlooks the green Itria Valley. It is a must-see and perfect stop for a day trip if you are taking a tour of Puglia and Itria Valley.

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The city was founded in the 10th century, and the name Martin comes from people’s devotion to St. Martin, the first human settlement was in fact right on the St. Martin Mountain. The name Franca, was assigned in 1310 as a result of various privileges that were given to the city. The most important was surely the taxes exemption and it was during that period that splendid buildings were built in the city.

The area surrounding the city is characterized by numerous caves and forests typical of the Mediterranean. The city is very elegant and cozy having its center closed to traffic, only small three-wheeled ape make their appearance now and then. Very charming and well cared is the old town entirely constructed in an extravagant Baroque style and made up of small winding alleys and whitewashed houses. Its streets have a particular depression right in the middle that funnels rainwater in the middle of the street and prevents it from reaching the cellars located in the basement of the houses by the street. Highest expression of this picturesque old town is the neighborhood Lama.

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The city has impressive buildings and Churches of great architectural importance. St. Stefano Gateway (Porta Santo Stefano) is the main entrance to the historic center and leads to Rome Square which is dominated by the Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale) that was built in 1668 by order of the Caracciolo family. A huge and expensive project which drew those of the luxurious Roman palaces; it consists of 300 rooms, chapels, stables, court, theater and guesthouse. Today it houses the town hall, a library and the tourist office.

The porches, built in 1854, it’s a splendid neo-classical portico. Once a meeting point for trade, it is today the meeting point of Performing Artists. St. Martino Basilica (Basilica of San Martino) which sits in the main square (Plebiscito Square) and it is dedicated to the patron Saint Martino, it was built in 1743 and with its 42 meter high facade is the main church in the city. San Domenico Church was built in 1746 has also a large and rich Baroque facade consisting of fancy decoration.

The city is also known for the international music festival of Itria Valley that attracts artists from all over the world and takes place in August.

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