We had arrived in Lecce, Italy the evening before and set out in the morning to wander the countryside in Puglia with our destination being the seaside town of Otranto. The group that I signed up with advertised this trip as “A Walking Tour of Puglia, Italy”, and promoted soul therapy and relaxation. This first day of walking lived up to it, although in days to come we found out many of the walks were definitely hikes and difficult at that. As a matter of fact, a trip member commented, “this isn’t soul therapy, it’s soul survivor”! The focus of today’s blog is our third day in Italy and first day walking through the countryside in Puglia in April of 2022.
If you are like me, until recently, you may not know where Puglia, Italy is or maybe never heard of it. Puglia is located in the Southern part of the heal of the boot in Italy! Much more remote and rural than Italy’s famous cities, Amalfi Coast, or Tuscany but nonetheless, it is a remarkable area of history, beauty, and culture. The towns we visited include, Lecce (known as the Florence of the South), Otranto, Santa Maria di Leuco and also Santa Maria al Bagno. Each one distinct in their own way. The countryside was green with growing gardens, lemon and olive trees. The coastal cliffs were beautiful against the blue of the Ionian Sea.
Our tour guide for the entire trip was Italian and from this area and she was fantastic. The company we traveled with from the States, contracted this tour company in Italy and the Italy tour company did a fantastic job. They mainly do bike tours but also other tours including this one. Check out their tour at this link. If this is the type of trip you are looking for, contact them direct, in my opinion there is no reason to go through a third party other than added expense. I felt Salento Bici Tour Group was honest, knowledgeable and also very accommodating.
Wandering through the Country
We stayed at a little boutique in Lecce the night before. Our group was transferred to somewhere south of Lecce where we were dropped off on a dirt road to start our walk!
Our goal was to walk towards Giurdignano where we would have lunch and than on to Otranto where we would spend the night. All in all, it was a fun, relaxing and lovely stroll.
We walked through olive trees, spring flowers, past ancient walls and buildings, and past farmers and crops. As a matter of fact, one farmer stopped and gave us all fresh picked lemons for our hike!
The Olive Tree Dilemma
One thing that we noticed were many dead Olive Trees all over the countryside. The main type of Olive Trees in this area are dying from a bacteria. This bacteria, called Xylella, is transported from tree to tree by a sap feeding insect called a spittlebug. It is believed to have originated in Latin America and was brought to this area around 2010 by import of an ornamental tree. It is so sad to see these dead Olive trees in the Puglia countryside as Olive Oil is a big deal in Italy.
Dolmens and Menhirs
Our first stop on this day brought us to an ancient large dolmen. The dolmen is called “Stabile”. The Dolmen, also known as Quattromacine, consists of a thin large rock set on smaller rocks with an opening in the front. It kind of looks like a little hut although the front is open. There are many views on the dolmen’s use. Most likely an ancient alter or a funerary monument. This dolmen dates back to the 2nd century BC. There are more dolmens in the area although this is the only one we visited.
San Paolo Menhir
A menhir is a long tall stone in a rock and is aligns astrologically. The menhir’s use may have been for rituals or ceremonies during the Neolithic period.
The San Paolo Menhir is located just outside of the village of Giurdignano and atop of a rock. Inside the rock is a small alter dedicated to Saint Paul (San Paolo). San Paolo is the protector of tarantate. Tarantate by definition is a women bit by the tarantula. The belief is some women become crazy after being bit by a certain spider. However, there are chants and dances done to rid women of the craziness from this. You can read more about this by clicking here.
Village of Giurdignano
Our stroll through the countryside of Italy continued to the Puglia village of Giurdignano. We stopped at a small grocery store. At the deli they made us sandwiches to go. We ate outside a local tavern. The owner opened the tavern for us for drinks, which was very kind. It rained while we ate but stopped once we were ready to continue. The town was very quaint and we saw very few people out and about, regardless it was lovely. We did visit the town square and also the church and then continued on our walk.
Just outside of town we passed an area of stations of the cross leading to a burial area complete with many family mausoleums.
Le Constantine Fondazione
We continued walking through the countryside of Puglia, enjoying this peaceful area of Italy. After walking past pastures and fields we came to a beautiful stone building.
Le Constantine Fondazione is a handmade educational center. Handmade woven goods are made using ancient techniques and looms. Watching the ladies at the center weave their goods was pretty amazing. The quality was top notch and the pieces beautiful. I also bought a couple of placemats for a a unique souvenir of the trip. You can read more about their foundation at this link.
The grounds of the area are very lovely, unfortunately we did not have time to explore here but we did get to see the old beehives.
We continued on our expedition to Otranto stopping to see the Byzantine Crypt of Saint Angelo. This cave was dug by Basilian Monks who lived here sometime between the 13th and 14th century. You can still see the frescoes painted on the walls.
The Final Stretch
After visiting the crypt it was just a short walk to Otranto. Although it was raining it was still a pleasant walk and I enjoyed the adventure of exploring Italy and the Puglia countryside and I was excited to arrive in Otranto.
In conclusion, although just walking the countryside, I really enjoyed my first day in Puglia and was excited to see what else this part of Italy has to offer during the rest of my trip. Next post will be about the town of Otranto where we stayed for two nights.
Diary of a Gen-X recommendations for hotels, restaurants, & tours are based on our own experiences. We do not receive compensation for recommending at any of these nor are we affiliates of any hotels, restaurants, or tours. The only hotels & restaurants we recommend are places we stay which are clean, comfortable, and also provide exceptional hospitality.
Distances per my Fitbit
Total Steps: 30, 779.
Total Miles: 12.15 miles.