Stage 35: Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca

Distance: 49.6 km

Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Speed: 18.1 km/h

Ascent: 456 metres

Total distance: 1762 km

Total time: 93 hours 51 minutes

Wordle scores: Captain 2 Stoker 3

Word of the day: “cambiamento” (cam-bee-a-men-toe) – change.

The Captain writes:

We learned how to pronounce Otranto properly a few days ago, when we were mentioning our future plans to an AirBnB host. Using the usual Italian conventions we would pronounce it “Ot-ran-toe”, with the emphasis on the penultimate syllable. We noticed though that she was pronouncing it “Or-tran-toe”, not only emphasising a different syllable entirely but also adding the “or” sound at the start. I have to confess that we’ve been practising it ever since, as it is so unusual.

The place itself is gorgeous, predictably enough (sorry, I know it sounds sometimes as though we may be being over-generous to these places, but I can assure you that we aren’t!). Almost every town we’ve visited in the Salento region has been built using of the karst limestones and dolomites that characterise the area, and it makes a very attractive building stone.

So when we wandered out into the streets of Otranto to explore yesterday afternoon we encountered the usual killer combination of narrow twisty streets, cobbled pavements, churches made of limestone, cathedrals made of limestone, castles made of… Well, you get the picture. Here is a selection from our walk past the harbour and back through the centre of town.

Before we went out for dinner we tried to take a selfie on the terrace of our lodgings, but the wind made the process a little tricky.

For dinner (after an excess of fine dining in Lecce) we opted for pizza and pasta, and very good it was too, while we watched the sun go down and enjoyed the evening ritual of the passeggiata. And so to bed.

Breakfast on the terrace, overlooking the sparkling water in the harbour, made for a great start to the day. After checking out I carried the tandem down some steps, then we loaded it up and we wheeled it through the already busy streets until we were off the cobbles and on tarmac, next to the aragonese castle.

Almost immediately we were climbing, towards the snappily-named “Parco Naturale Regionale Costa Otranto – Santa Maria di Leuca e Bosco di Tricase”. We stopped at a Belvedere to take a picture or two, and only later realised, when checking the map, that we were at Italy’s easternmost point.

It was a beautiful first hour – despite all the climbing – weaving in and out of bays and headlands and enjoying fine views out to sea.

As is usual on this coast we passed the odd “torre” – obviously the Turkish invaders were troublesome around here. Lots of limestone, too!

After a while the road dropped down into Santa Ceserea Terme, past a bizarre building which definitely doesn’t blend with the local vernacular.

In need of refreshment we pulled into a café for a large bottle of fizzy water. As we were drinking the water a message arrived from our host in Santa Maria di Leuca, saying that he could only be there to welcome us until one o’clock. So we gulped the rest of the water quickly and set off again, needing to complete the rest of our kilometres in well under two hours, including the day’s steepest and longest climb.

Well it wasn’t the most enjoyable way to finish the day, as it was fairly stressful, but we managed it! The climb went smoothly enough, up onto a plateau, but some of the roads were in terrible condition, and also fairly busy, so a lot of concentration was required.

Eventually the plateau gave way to a downhill section into Santa Maria, and after one last short but horrendously steep street we pulled up outside our lodgings…

…from where we can see two seas! As I sit on the balcony writing this I can see the point at which the Adriatic Sea changes into the Ionian Sea. I have to report that there’s no visual evidence of this (!) but it’s another milestone for us – ever since leaving Trieste we have been within range of the Adriatic, but after today that all changes.

It’s also the most southerly point of Puglia – not that we’re saying goodbye to Puglia any time soon, we still have to cycle back up the heel and around the corner into Basilicata, which will take a few days. Tomorrow, though, we’re pedalling nowhere, although, weather permitting, we will be enjoying a boat ride around the cliffs and caves in this area.

Here’s today’s route and a short video

Leave a Reply