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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Slow-Travel Road Trip in Italy: Puglia and Basilicata - Page 4

Written by Russ & Emily Firlik
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Some 30 kms south-west of Lecce, off the beaten track, and on our way to Gallipoli was the town of Nardo (pop. 31,000), which is very near the heel of the boot at the tip of the Italian peninsula. This medieval town center was steeped in Baroque church history, historic buildings and narrow alleyways. The extraordinary 11th century Basilica Cathedral, including frescoes, shows Baroque architecture in its finest attire. Nardo is not known as a tourist destination, but for each historical sight, there were placards informing the reader of the historical significance (written in Italian and English). The Castello Acquaviva (15th century), and their massive walls surround the entire town. This was the first time on our visits we heard beautiful baroque music being practiced in the Chiesa Di San Giuseppe. We had to be torn away from this “gem” of a town.

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We moved 50 km to the Ionian coastal town of Gallipoli (pop. 35,000). Here we spent two nights, and to explore two other nearby towns of Galatina and Galatone. The Gallipoli sea coast stroll takes one along the 12th century walls, through alleys, souvenir shops, bars and cafes, with the sea always in front of you. Highlights: the preserved 12th century Angevin-Aragonese castle, many baroque churches, and the Palazzo Riviera, with a panoramic view. Excellent places to have lunch near the coast, and the view is something else.

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Galitina (pop. 27,000) is a sleepy beauty that has three architectural beauties: (1). The Romanesque church of Santa Caterina, (1390), a fine rose window and an interior with “bright” frescoes (1435) by F. d’Arezzo; (2). The Baroque church of San Pietro (1633), was stunning in design and proportions; (3). Basilica di Santa Caterina, with its Gothic (1369) frescos covered walls and ceiling, is one of the few Gothic churches in Puglia. It is among the most beautiful churches in Italy. The upscale historic center, pedestrian zones, and Baroque ornate iron balconies makes wandering a new sport.

Galatone (pop.15,000) sets inland of the Ionian Sea amidst olive groves and feudal estates. There were plenty of sights in the historic center. The three monumental portals, leads through the protective walls, and into the historic center. Inside, there was the Norman thick walled fortress of the Castello di Fulignano, and the boastful Baroque church of Chiesa del Crocifisso, with its elaborate carvings, a beautiful organ and an octagonal cupola adorned with statues. This town offers much from beautiful Baroque monuments to endless beaches, fine food and wine.

Sunday we were on the road again and a 70 km drive to our one day base at the large town of Casarano (pop. 20,000). We wanted to see the 6th century Church of Santa Maria Della Croce; the oldest church in Puglia. The frescos date back to the Byzantine time (1000- 1100). Note: This magnificent 1,600 years of architectural brilliance is only open for two hours on Sunday; well planned for us.

We spent the idyllic day in Sta. Maria Di Leuca, the Italian end-of-the-world. It is here that the town is nested between two seas: Ionian and Adriatic. First a visit to the iconic lighthouse, which is the second most important strategic lighthouse in Italy, after Genoa. Just enjoying our very fortunate experiences.

Traveling north along the Adriatic coast to our next two night base in Castro (pop.2,500). It is perched atop a cliff, and looks across Adriatic toward southern Albania and Corfu. Castro really was a sparkler! It retains its Old World (has a pedigree that predates the Romans) atmosphere, with its upper medieval town on the hill, and the marina below that still holds its tradition as a fishing village. And the setting: turquoise skies, green hills, white washed buildings and sapphire water is actually captivating.

The medieval center on the hill is a habitat of narrow lanes and lined with sentimental pretty houses. The historic center had two lively piazzas for gathering and five outdoor bars/cafes, two churches, and the remains of an ancient Temple of Minerva next to the church. The stone Castro Cathedral, built in 1171 in Romanesque (Norman) style and sports a dual-purpose clock and bell tower. This solid structure has survived the centuries well and is dedicated to the town's protector, the Madonna Assunziata. We took the trolley from the marina to explore the Aragonese Castle (16th century) and the remains of the 10th century Byzantine church.

The marina is a secondary attraction, though, with good reason. The coast is riddled with caves and coves, where wooden fishing boats are harbored and where tourists explore the caves of stalagmites and stalactites. Castro Marina offers some great seafood restaurants and plenty of seaside rocks for sunbathing and relaxing alongside the pristine water. This town is definitely for flaneurs, i.e., no particular goals in mind.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 July 2020

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