In the “land between the two seas,” white sands and clear, blue waters stretch all along the coastline. Here are seven beaches you can’t miss.

Considered almost a separate region within Puglia, Salento (Salentu in local dialect) covers exactly the heel of the Italian boot. Its coasts are surrounded by the Adriatic Sea on the east and Ionic sea to the west. By the seaside and inland, you’ll find culture, traditions, and some of the best food and wine. People say “when you come to the South, you’ll cry twice: when you arrive and when you leave.” In other words, northerners might feel a bit of culture shock so far from home, away from their busy lives and surrounded by the slower-paced culture of the south, but in the end it feels like paradise. This saying couldn’t be more true than it is for Salento.

Salento: as ancient as human civilization

The ancient Greeks called Salento Messapia, which means “the land between the two seas.” The origins of Salento are as ancient as the Mediterranean Sea basin, the cradle of the some of the most diverse civilizations in the world. Remains all the way back to the Paleolithic and Bronze Ages have been found in the sea and in caves, such as wall paintings and fossils. Grotta Romanelli, Grotta delle Poesia, and Grotta dei Cervi at Badisco Port (the legendary landing site of Aeneas) are the most representative.

Countless populations have passed through this territory over the ages. According to Herodotus, at around 1000 BC inhabitants of Crete took refuge from a storm in these lands and founded the first urban settlements. They were called Messapii from the Greeks to indicate people living between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca.

The Roman expansion brought economic and social growth to Messapii, which only halted with the arrival of the Byzantines. However, during the Byzantine occupation, the arts flourished, many monasteries were founded, and the Greek language stabilized to the extent that still today Salento embraces nine provinces of Lecce (also called Grecia Salentina) where people speak Griko dialect. This land further became a rich tapestry of different architecture, cultures, and languages with the arrival of the Normans in mid-1000 AD, the violent Turkish conquerors in the 15th century, and then the Spanish.

In the past, Salento’s fertile soil and strategic geographical position attracted conquerors to its land. But today, its ancient history, centuries-old olive trees, and stunning natural beauty is what attracts people to this southern end of Puglia. With its mild climate, Salento offers warm winters and hot, sunny summers, characterized by a pleasant Scirocco wind. As they say down south, “Salentu, lu sole, lu mare, lu ientu,” or “Salento, sun, sea, and wind.”

The 7 most enchanting beaches of Salento, Puglia

1. Porto Miggiano

Located along the east coast of the Salento in Santa Cesarea Terme, Porto Miggiano is 45 km from Lecce. The area is known for its beautiful beaches, as well as its numerous natural sulfur springs nearby. Porto Miggiano is formed by a rocky, U-shaped cove that reflects the sunlight for a natural play of light and color, making it a particularly picturesque spot. It is also an excellent snorkeling area, as the cove protects it from winds and currents. The bay of Porto Miggiano is also known as the “beach of 100 steps” because of the long walk to its sands…but this just means there will be fewer sunbathers and swimmers!

Porto Miggiano

Porto Miggiano – © Andrea Cavalera

2. Salento’s Maldives

Do we need to explain this nickname? You might think it’s impossible to find the same clear waters, but in fact, Marina di Pescoluse (its true name) is even better than the Maldives – don’t forget all the delicious food you can eat while you’re lying on the sand (a favorite pastime of the Pugliese is to bring plenty of fresh provisions for a long day under the sun)! Four kilometers of fine, white sand reflecting the warm Salento sun, and you’ll have the perfect combo for a natural, transparent pool.

Salento's Maldives

Salento’s Maldives – © Marco Molino

3. Punta Prosciutto

Well, it means “Ham Top” (it’s hard to separate Italians from their food). The real reason behind the name is unknown, but it’s considered one of the wildest beaches of Salento, surrounded by a pine forest. It is the perfect place for relaxing and beach volleyball or water sports. Its clean waters and soft, white dunes are waiting for you, 7 km from Torre Lapillo.

Punta Prosciutto

Punta Prosciutto – © Andrea Riezzo

4. Torre dell’Orso

While not as popular as in, say, Hawaii, surfing is definitely still a fun sport in some spots in Italy, and Torre dell’Orso with its constant wind is the ideal surfing place. Pine forests surround the sandy coasts, and out in the water sit the Two Sisters, two boulders in the middle of the sea. Legend has it that two women were so enchanted by the beauty of the sea, they jumped into the water. The gods transformed them into two big stones so they could forever admire the place they loved so much.

Torre dell'Orso, the Two Sisters

Torre dell’Orso, the Two Sisters – © Creative Commons

5. Baia dei Turchi

Not far from Otranto is the bay that was very likely the anchoring point for the Turks when they invaded in the 15th century (which, coincidentally, has a similar name to the Scala dei Turchi in Sicily, another striking coastline). The dramatic, jagged coast is surrounded by lush vegetation, making it the perfect spot for a picnic with friends and family.

6. Torre Sant’Andrea

Also known as the “sea stacks bay,” with a scattering of rocks and boulders at its coastline, Torre Sant’Andrea has the Grotta degli Amanti, or Lovers’ Cave, where, according to legend, two young lovers sought refuge during a violent storm and tragically died when the high tide trapped them. It is a beautiful cave, and the entrancing, azure waters invite you to enter.

Torre Sant'Andrea

Torre Sant’Andrea – © Freddyballo

7. Porto Selvaggio

Selvaggio means “wild,” and this port is considered a natural oasis that is best appreciated if visited during different times of the year to admire the seasonal changes of its magnificent landscape. For more daring types, it also has a good spot to dive from the high rocks into the crystalline waters below.