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.
Known as the pearl of Salento, you will love its beautiful old town, stage of many historic battles that alternates with splendid views of the turquoise sea of the Salento coast.
Things to see in Otranto
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.
Historic City Center
One of the essential things to do in Otranto is to stroll through its fascinating walled historic center. It is located next to the port and offers a wonderful views of the sea. 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.
The historic center that can be seen in Otranto is one of the most beautiful in Puglia, full of history it has managed to preserve the atmosphere of bygone times in its oldest streets. Among the labyrinth of streets are two of the main places of interest to visit in Otranto: the Cathedral and the Aragonese Castle.
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 to defend the city after the Turkish domination. The castle walls are surrounded and protected by a large moat, and from its walls you will have fantastic views of the port and the historic center.
You can visit its interior, after paying the entrance fee, where you will access the tunnels, basements and galleries. It is open to the public and sometimes houses temporary exhibitions and events of all kinds.
Cathedral of Saint Maria Assunta
Another masterpiece of Baroque architecture, the highest point of the historic center 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.
Things to see near Otranto
There is loads to see near Otranto and we recommend to visit some of these beautiful places.
Cava di Bauxite lake
You will rarely find this lake on the traditional tourist guides, however we recommend to visit it. It is located South of Otranto, easily accessible by car, you’ll have to walk a few hundreds meters to enjoy the so called red lake
It is an old mine, nowadays in disuse, in which an emerald-colored lake has been formed that contrasts sharply with the red color of the oxide of the walls that surround it. Despite not being one of the best-known places to see in Otranto, this lake is one of the most photographed places in the region, creating unique panoramic views.
Baia dei Turchi
Located a few kilometers from Otranto, the Baia dei Turchi was so named because this is apparently where the Turks landed and then invaded the area. This small bay belongs to the Alimini Lakes Natural Park and is hidden in a lush pine forest. It has a sea so clear and transparent that you will not believe it is possible. The Baia dei Turchi is Salento in its purest form, a surprising place where the sea takes on all kinds of shades of blue and the closer you get to it, the more transparent it becomes. Behind the beach is the pine forest.
Tours and activities to do
Here are just a few examples of the many tours and activities available in and around Otranto. Depending on your interests, there are many other options to choose from, including hiking, cycling, and cultural tours.
Otranto Old Town Walking Tour – Take a guided walking tour of Otranto’s historic old town and learn about the town’s fascinating history and architecture. You’ll see landmarks like the Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata and the Aragonese Castle, as well as charming streets and alleys.
Otranto Bike Tour – Take a bike tour and live a unique adventure pedaling on your favorite bike in a natural and archaeological park, guided by an expert guide who will tell you about the places, will assist you on the route and will assist you in any situation.
Lecce City Tour – Lecce is a beautiful city about 30 minutes from Otranto, known for its Baroque architecture and cultural heritage. Take a guided tour of the city and see landmarks like the Basilica di Santa Croce and the Piazza del Duomo.
Salento Wine Tasting Tour – Salento is known for its delicious wines, and this tour will take you to a local winery for a tasting. You’ll learn about the region’s wine-making traditions and sample some of the best wines.
Otranto Cooking Class – Learn how to make traditional Salento dishes in a cooking class with a local chef. You’ll get to taste your creations and take home the recipes.
Other places to visit
These is so much to do and to see near Otranto. However here are some nearby destinations worth visiting:
Lecce: Known as the “Florence of the South,” Lecce is a historic city renowned for its stunning baroque architecture, charming streets, and rich cultural heritage.
Gallipoli: A picturesque fishing town with a charming old town, stunning beaches, and a lively nightlife scene.
Santa Maria di Leuca: A coastal town located at the southernmost tip of the Salento peninsula, known for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and historic lighthouse.
Porto Cesareo: A seaside resort town with some of the most beautiful beaches in the region, including Torre Lapillo and Punta Prosciutto.
FAQs about Otranto
Otranto is famous for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and its historic center, which is one of the most well-preserved in the region. One of the most famous landmarks in Otranto is its Cathedral, which was built in the 11th century and features a unique mix of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine. The Cathedral is also famous for its mosaic floor, which dates back to the 12th century and depicts scenes from the Old Testament and classical mythology. Aside from its historical landmarks, Otranto is also famous for its food, which features fresh seafood and traditional dishes from the Puglia region. The town is also a popular destination for water sports, such as swimming, snorkeling, and diving, due to its clear waters and rocky coastline.
Yes, Otranto is definitely worth a visit! The town is located on the beautiful coastline of the Adriatic Sea and offers stunning views of crystal-clear waters and rugged cliffs. The historic center of Otranto is well-preserved, with narrow streets, charming old buildings, and numerous landmarks to explore, such as the Cathedral and Castle. In addition to its history and culture, Otranto is known for its excellent cuisine, which includes fresh seafood, local wines, and traditional dishes from the Puglia region. Visitors can enjoy delicious meals at the town’s many restaurants and cafes.
Here are several ways to get to Otranto:
1. By air: The closest airport to Otranto is Brindisi Airport (BDS), which is located approximately 80 kilometers away. From the airport, you can take a bus, train, or taxi to Otranto.
2. By train: Otranto is connected to the Italian railway network via Lecce, which is the nearest major city with a train station. From Lecce, you can take a regional train to Otranto.
3. By bus: There are several bus companies that operate services to Otranto from various cities in Italy. The journey time and frequency of buses may vary depending on the season, so it’s best to check schedules in advance.
4. By car: Otranto is easily accessible by car, with the A14 highway linking it to other major cities in Italy. However, be aware that parking in the historic center can be limited and it’s advisable to park in the designated areas outside the town and walk in.