Lecce lay around an 80 min drive away from Martina Franca but with a fair bit of the sunny afternoon left, we decided to detour beyond to Otranto.It sounded appealing – a port of white stone buildings set against a clear, aquamarine sea. And to top it all (literally) an Aragonese castle! I think too, that I was still hankering after Trani.With me it’s always the sea, the sea…and now it was only further 35 mins away.

Another reason for the city being on my radar was that the name ‘Otranto’ is very familiar to us in Scotland, following the tragedy of the HMS Otranto which went down off a Hebridean island in 1918. As a result, 470 servicemen, mostly Americans , died in the island’s cold, dangerous waters. There is a very moving and impressive memorial to those who lost their lives off Islay.

The drive from Martina Franca south was through flat,  fairly uninteresting countryside, again well -populated with small holdings and lots of restored Trulli. But somehow, the initial appeal of these structures was short lived.

Perhaps it was the landscape which, though sun drenched, was very different to Tuscany where there are gorgeous views of vineyards and olive groves and rolling hills capped, perhaps, by an appealing farmhouse and a line of cypresses. One guide book described Puglia as the ‘new Tuscany’ but I didn’t see any resemblance at all.

Otranto and its walls

Got parked easily in Otranto opposite the grand walls of the 15th century castle which I have to say, looked tremendous! A walkway took us through an arch of the castle and up onto a viewing terrace overlooking the Marina and the sea.

Castello Aragonese

It was beautiful! Little boats bobbing in the astonishingly clear turquoise water – really the sea had quite amazing colours – and the almost white stone of the town walls lay ahead. Just another place we liked immediately.

Heading down from the castle
Lovely clear sea

Otranto was another very clean, attractive and non-touristy town perfect for a relaxed wander. Soon we reached a large piazza on the sea front, lined with little restaurants, right beside the aquamarine sea. Who could resist having lunch here?


Vecchia Otranto offered a decent menu and had been busy – usually a good sign.We were a bit on the late side around 2.30pm so with seats being vacated, we got a good spot outside and in the shade – even though it was March, the sun was strong. I just hoped it wouldn’t put us off our dinner later! A Clam, Courgette and Prawn Linguine for me.Mostly, very tasty with my only complaint being that Tiger Prawns should be banned from being sold anywhere! Tasteless and with the texture of rubber. Chris had a nice piece of steak with good chips. An appetising plate of chargrilled  vegetables too, something I always order in Italy. An enjoyable lunch all in – Otranto was a hit!

We strolled along the seafront past a stunning section of ancient walls and Otranto’s beautiful 12th century Romanesque cathedral.


Inside, its entire floor – 600 sq metres – is covered in superb mosaics in tip top condition. I had read that these rival the mosaics in Ravenna and they certainly were quite incredible.In fact they are amongst the largest medieval mosaics in Europe and virtually unaltered.They depict the Tree of Life and are an astonishing work of art.

Otranto cathedral
Otranto Cathedral
Otranto cathedral
Mosaic flooring, Otranto Cathedral
The superb floor mosaics
Otranto cathedral

Outside, the dazzling sunlight on the pale stone walls and the heat of early March, was a fine reminder of just how far south we were.

Otranto has a very wide, open seafront, perfect for strolling , taking us past clean little beaches of pale sand. Everything looked quite pristine. It was a delightful wander and in ten minutes or so we reached the newer part of the seafront, half a mile or so of low rise buildings and the road lined with palm trees.Nothing spectacular but just very pleasant indeed though I’d imagine those beaches get pretty busy in high summer.

Newer part of Otranto

Lecce called, so time to head back to the car and have a final admire of the superb Castello Aragonese. Otranto is still surrounded by defensive walls, another feature that for us, adds to a town’s attractiveness.

Castello Aragonese

A great decision to detour here – I would have been very sorry to have missed Otranto!


Onwards to Lecce now – it would be very different of course to this white stone port.Different but equal in its own way , I hoped. I was certainly looking forward to its Baroque magnificence.

Wildflowers in one field looked lovely

An easy, quiet 35min drive to Lecce where our accommodation was in the ancient ‘Palazzo Sambiasi’ ( Airbnb) in the historic centre.Firstly, we had to find free parking in a quiet street in the newer part of the city, suggested by our hostess. Google didn’t let us down though it was about a 20 min hike to the apartment; not that bad but it seemed longer given we had some luggage and various bags of supplies.

Palazzo entrance

At the palazzo, we were greeted by a very pleasant woman who explained that the apartment used to be the home of her parents.It was absolutely huge with fine antique furniture and (slightly gloomy ) oil paintings.Rather stark in some ways but no doubt very cool in summer.But it was certainly the real deal and placed us right at the heart of the historic centre.

Unfortunately, the head cold that had been building during the day, now reached a snivelling, shivering peak.Nose streaming, I had to go to bed at 7pm so Chris’s lovely birthday meal out had to be cancelled! He very graciously said that the whole holiday was his birthday celebration and not to feel so guilty but I have a Masters in guilt which just added to my overall misery that night.Had a pretty unpleasant time all in, hardly slept but incredibly, by the next morning it had dried up considerably and I felt much, much better. 

I’d enjoyed all our accommodation this holiday (not unusua,l as I research places to death before booking!) but I didn’t really enjoy the palazzo. Maybe not feeling well had put me against it but it was almost TOO huge and it felt slightly depressing with those gloomy scenes and portraits on the walls. Plenty warm enough with a good heating system though.The apartment had a large outdoor terrace with a little lemon tree and assorted pot plants though the cathedral view it promised was postage stamp sized.Mostly it overlooked adjacent houses.


Breakfast was brought to our rooms and set out on the huge dining table.That was a bit disappointing too as most of it was pre – packaged croissants and cake which never look appetising.More products which should be banned! I’m a home baker and like the Real McCoy.

However, Lecce awaited!

Out we headed after breakfast following a guide book walking route.Very quickly, it became apparent that the really grand Baroque buildings were actually very few and far between.

Lecce Baroque
Lecce Baroque

The city had a moderately handsome though very small historic core but without anything really stirring to make me feel ‘wow’ or ‘how lovely.’


There were the remains of a Roman theatre (of which we have seen many on our travels and I usually do love these) but it was tightly surrounded by fairly new though not unattractive buildings.


The amphitheatre

We passed a nice wee café in a quiet street which was playing classical music instead of the usual relentless pop ‘musak’ so we found an outside table and enjoyed some good coffee and debated what next.At 10am on a Saturday morning, the historic centre was very quiet, almost like a ghost town.

Our check – out from the apartment was a very civilised 11am, so decided we’d simply headed back and make for the car with the luggage.Barely an hour had taken us around Lecce but it hadn’t really stirred us very much and it felt like a let down.

The next 20 mins, we wandered about like headless chickens, as we tried to find the car! Somehow, we got very confused trying to reverse our hostess’ instructions which had described getting TO the Palazzo.We failed the IQ test on that, I reckon.I made the correct decision at one cross roads (and was rather proud of that) but then took us off in completely the wrong direction. Minutes later Chris said ‘stop! this is all wrong!’ and insisted we go in the opposite direction. Reluctantly I agreed but the tension was now mounting between us.Thankfully, numpties that we are, we both suddenly recognised a large concrete area and knew the car was tucked into the back streets behind this. Relief beyond belief!


We were headed now for Matera which meant we were leaving Puglia and entering Basilicata. It was a 2 hour drive via Francavilla Fontana, skirting Taranto on good fast roads – mostly – though initially Chris decided we would be much better off NOT heading for Bari again which he thought looked a very odd choice by Google Maps. So the first half an hour we trundled through small places on local roads, negotiating several diversions due to the inevitable road works. At Manduria, the coast didn’t look too far away and I felt a hankering to have a look but we pushed on.

As we approached Matera, the landscape became much more attractive with limestone outcrops and rolling low hills and farmland.

It didn’t take long to reach the outskirts of the historic centre where we got parked easily (on an inexpensive meter) just a 10 min walk away from the main sights.

The 17th century Palazzo Lanfranchi dominated the appealing and very busy Piazza Pascoli. Opposite this, I noticed open stone arches which gave us our first view of the Sasso Barisano which lay below.

Wow, what a place!

From this high level balcony viewing area , we had our first view of the old, restored city. It was stunning. Just superb.Beautiful pale golden stone, a fantastic jumble of buildings which were balanced one on top of the other.

View from the Duomo

In great excitement, we made our way along the busy ‘upper’ street of the newer section of the city, then found a staircase taking us WAY down into the heart of Matera.


I was amazed at how open and sunny the Sasso Barisano was.We followed a beautiful main avenue which wound it’s way along the base, a truly delightful place to stroll.It was also fairly quiet with no sense of crowds at all.

The bistro we found coming into view on the right

Feeling quite overwhelmed with what we were seeing, we nipped into a lovely bistro which offered a great view of the town and Duomo on a small terrace. Glass of wine for Chris, a salad and pasta between us and really, I could have sat there all afternoon, admiring it all.

Lunch finished, we headed out a short way to the Convent of Saint Agostino at the far end of the Barsiano which gave, to me, the best view we had yet seen of Matera. Here, a road circled the city’s base, giving the whole scene some perspective with the Sasso Caveoso visible too in the cliff-girt, limestone backdrop.

From the Convent
The cave dwellings

A wander up to the rock churches and then a climb up to the Duomo followed.

The rock churches in the centre, in a cluster
A stunning collection of buildings
Duomo ceiling

Some lovely newer buildings beside the Duomo…


The whole place was a joy to wander and really was a highlight of the holiday.Certainly, it’s right up there in terms of being one of the finest sights I’ve seen in Italy in terms of cityscape. Matera was absolutely pristine too, with very clean streets.In some ways, it reminded me of Modica in Sicily, viewed from across the gorge but Matera is more compact, much tidier and so many of the buildings are really beautifully restored.

The history of course is one of great poverty in the past yet there is now something very harmonious about the collection of buildings, several of which have been converted into smart boutique hotels.I have a fancy to stay in one of these if we visit again.

Sasso Caveoso

This time, we were staying outside the city in Masseria Torre Spagnola – the Spanish Tower – a gorgeous 16thcentury farm/tower conversion.

Masseria Torre Spagnola

It was a delight to arrive at, set in pleasant countryside about a 10 min drive outside Matera. A lovely girl, the owner’s daughter, greeted us with great enthusiasm and warmth, always a nice start. Our room was huge and SO stylish.Loved it immediately! The property still operates as a farm and they have 300 head of cattle though I couldn’t see any sign of them in the fields nearby.

Our spacious room

After getting settled and enjoying some much needed tea, we headed out again, turning onto a minor road which was recommended as offering a great view of Matera across the gorge – especially at sunset. It was an easy 10 min walk from a parking area, to various viewpoints. However, the light over the city was poor and I wondered whether later in the summer, it would get the best of the evening sun .Now, it pretty much lay in shadow.Our best view had certainly been earlier in the afternoon from the Convent.


The plan had been to eat out , our hostess having given us a list of recommended places, but we loved our accommodation so much and had had a long day, so we fell back on the usual suspects plus wine for Chris.


Half an hour later, we were enjoying some lovely prosciutto, tomatoes, Emmental and good bread , relaxing in our spacious room.The night sky was stunning here, with few other lights and we stood outside on the large stone terrace with a glass of wine and just picked out the constellations and stars we know (i.e very few!) Orion and Cassiopeia, the Pleiades, Sirius, the Plough.It really is a totally peaceful place.

My only regret is that seeing Matera at night, all lit up, would be quite something too.Next time!

Great breakfast next morning , setting us up for the day…melon, pineapple, cold meats, cheeses, freshly baked Italian cakes and croissants.Good bread.Nice people all in running this truly lovely place.

Part of the spread…


What was on our minds now was the fact that we had two nights ahead of us with nothing booked! Not something we normally do but there was so much available accommodation online that we’d decided even before we left Scotland, that we’d risk it.Plus that gave us the chance to decide where we most felt like going. One plan had been to head for the Cilento (we had been to Paestum) and Maratea but neither of us felt like negotiating the winding roads at this stage in the trip. But mostly, the pull was the Amalfi Coast! I was desperate to see it again, having enjoyed two separate holidays based in Positano in the past.

So, the Amalfi Coast it was – IF we could find somewhere to stay with drop dead sea views from a pretty balcony, in a lovely location and which didn’t cost a second mortgage. Not easy in this expensive, up market neck of the woods!


naples, puglia and the amalfi coast


PUGLIA CONTINUED: alberobello, locorotondo, martina francA



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