The Deep South (Part I)April 11, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C
Today we continued our exploration of Puglia by jumping into La Grande Orange, our rental car, and driving around the bottom of the Italian boot heel, from Gallipoli to Otranto. We had hoped to make the journey by following the coast all the way, however between roadwork and missed turns, we didn't always mange to stay in sight of water. Nonetheless, the ride was unbelievably scenic and inspired more than a few oohs and aaahs to escape our mouths. Unfortunately, the roads are often so twisty and narrow, it was far too dangerous to stop and take souvenir photos.
The Western side of the heel is coast to the Ionian sea and runs from fairly flat, sandy beaches near Gallipoli to rocky rolling hills as one travels further south.
This road trip saw us visit two extremes of Italy: the southernmost point and the easternmost point.
Our first stop was just to the west of the city of Santa Maria de Leuca on a little spit of land where the Ionian Sea meets the Adriatic. This point is as far south as one can travel in Italy. I felt a need to go there as I had already been to the southernmost point in the USA, Key West, Florida, and the kid in me had to have the experience on a second continent. However, unlike the US where the landmark is teeming with tourist trap shops selling everything imaginable with "Mile 0" printed on it, we were hard pressed in Italy to be certain we were in the right spot. We had to look at Google Maps on our phone to ensure we were indeed there, and sure enough, the little blue dot confirmed our position.
From our vantage point we could look over at Leuca and see an ancient flight of stairs climbing from the lower part of the city to the upper. Brenda immediately decided she wanted to conquer them. As we explored the city, we real realized the stairs were inaccessible from where we were and, although I offered to drive to the foot of the staircase, Brenda decided to forego the challenge.
Traveling in Italy at this time of year is both rewarding and disappointing. Rewarding because there are no throngs of tourists all vying for a glimpse of the same landmark and disappointing, particularly in the smaller cities, because virtually nothing is open. And so, after wandering around for a while, we decided to head off northward to our next stop.
Sometimes the navigation system in La Grande Orange is a little slow on the uptake and, as luck would have it, she lagged just as we came to a fork in the road leaving Leuca. Brenda suggested we take the right fork and we suddenly found ourselves in front of a large church overlooking the city at the top of Brenda's coveted staircase.
The church, which, in contrast to so many of the places of worship here, was so simply decorated I assumed it must have been built recently whereas Brenda was certain it was very old. Everything being relative, I guess we were both right, it was erected in the 1700's on the site of a former Roman temple.
After seeing the church and admiring the windswept trees in the piazza, Brenda was compelled to tackle the stairs. I, on the other hand, had no such desire and found myself waiting at the top of the monument with another tourist who was in the same predicament as I. His wife panted her way up to meet him about five minutes later and they went on their way while I waited for Brenda to complete her ascension of the 284 steps.
Interestingly, between the twin staircases there is a monumental man-made waterfall, built to signal the completion of the Puglia aqueduct. To showcase the grand project, Mussolini ordered the construction of a suitably showy finale: the mouth of the aqueduct is built into a bridge at the top of the promontory and a waterway of rocks falls away below, flanked on either side by 284 steps. The cascade is still opened a few times a year, but, sadly, not on the day of our visit.
Tomorrow I'll write about our northbound travels.Read more