Otranto is the easternmost town in Italy, situated on the spectacular Adriatic coast deep in the Puglia region. Due to its distant location down the Salento peninsula (the “heel” of the Italian boot), not many travelers ever venture this far when exploring Southern Italy. This is such a shame because the town has some exceptional cultural and naturalistic riches to discover. In this blog post, we will be covering Otranto’s fascinating history and incredible attractions in detail – giving you every reason to put it at the top of your Puglia bucket list!

Dive Into the Complex History of Otranto

The first thing to know about Otranto is that it’s the gateway to the Strait of Otranto which connects the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea. Directly east lies Albania and slightly southeast lies Greece. In fact, the town was founded by the Greeks as a colony and later incorporated by the Romans. Throughout the centuries, Otranto has seen its fair share of conflict and invasions – the most infamous being the Turkish massacre that occurred here in 1480 when the Ottoman Empire attempted to invade and conquer a decent chunk of Italy.

An army of 20,000 Ottoman Turks, aboard no less than 120 ships, landed on the shores of Otranto and ransacked the place – killing, looting and burning anything that stood in their way. The result was that 12,000 people lost their lives and a further 5,000 were sold into slavery. However, there was some resistance: a group of 813 faithful men led by the Archbishop hid in the cathedral. The Ottomans eventually found them and demanded that they convert to Islam. According to legend, they all refused and were murdered.

In the end, the Ottoman invasion failed and the town of Otranto was liberated about 13 months after the initial occupation. Today, the 813 brave men who died are remembered as the “Martyrs of Otranto” – with their bones and skulls displayed in a glass case in a chapel off the main cathedral. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata, otherwise known as simply the Otranto Cathedral, is where you can pay your respects to the martyrs at the ossuary chapel and marvel at the sprawling 12th-century floor mosaics depicting the “Tree of Life”.

This magnificent cathedral is nestled in the Centro Storico. Fortified walls preserve the historic center’s ancient atmosphere and white-washed houses line the streets. A pentagonal-shaped castle, with watch towers, also rises over the old town. Then there is the other historically-important site of the port. It gained prominence during the Roman era when it was used for trade on the edge of the Salento peninsula. The port is still active with fishing boats and ferry services running daily, in addition to acting as a marina for yachts.





Top Attractions & Sights in Otranto

These days the main industry in Otranto is tourism. The historic center and old port is bursting with funky boutiques, cool bars and fantastic restaurants to wander around, and on the outskirts of the town are glamorous beaches, stunning coastal walks and unique sea coves to visit. You can drive to the beaches in your own rental car or opt to book a boat tour from Otranto itself. The weather in this part of Italy is balmy, so you can expect warm days with plenty of sunshine from early May all the way through to the end of October.

When you arrive in Otranto, the first activity to tick off your bucket list is to walk through the Centro Storico and stop by the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata as well as the Castello Aragonese. Afterwards, especially on a clear sunny day, head to the Lungomare Terra D’Otranto to check out the seafront views and grab a gelato. Once you have delved into every nook and cranny of the old town, there are plenty of other fun things to do such as going to see the easternmost point in Italy at the Punta Palascia Lighthouse.

This makes for a nice drive and even better photo-ops. If you have already left the town, you might as well take a bit of a beach-hopping tour. About six kilometers north sits the picturesque Baia dei Turchi. It was here that the Ottoman Turks landed in 1480 (hence the name) but you won’t find any battles taking place nowadays, just shimmering turquoise waters to swim in and soft sand to sunbathe on. Continuing north for another five kilometers is the pristine Spiaggia Alimini with its long stretch of sand backed by trees.

In the same direction, you can drive further north to find yourself in the epic Grotta della Poesia (Cave of Poetry). A naturally occurring swimming hole is the offering at Grotta della Poesia – and it resembles the cenotes of Mexico but boasting water that is much more crystal-clear. For those who have the time to travel a little south from Otranto, one must-see spot is the Cava di Bauxite: a quarry lake known for its emerald green waters, jagged red rocks and scrubby surrounding landscapes. Photographers will absolutely love it!


Baia dei Turchi

Cave of Poetry

Punta Palascia Lighthouse

Cava di Bauxite

Best Accommodation & Restaurants in Town

Being a small town of 6,000 people means there are limited accommodation options in Otranto. That being said, as long as you book well in advance, you can still organize a wonderful stay. Vittoria Resort is a four-star (mid-range) hotel only ten minutes walk from the Centro Storico. It comes equipped with a pool and spa, alongside other amenities. Palazzo De Mori is another superb choice but it’s more expensive. The terrace at the B&B affords uninterrupted views of Otranto’s bay, so you will quickly forget about the heavy price tag!

The authentic local cuisine of Salento is another aspect of Otranto not to be missed. Fusing “Cucina Povera” and the fresh seafood produce of its seaside surroundings in genius ways, eating in the town is simply a pleasure. Dishes such as Polpo Alla Pignata (octopus stew cooked in tomato sauce) gives you a glimpse of the area’s gastronomy. Visitors who aren’t sure where to dine can stroll to the highly-rated Vecchia Otranto for tasty seafood meals. Additionally, finding an aperitivo spot to watch the sunset is essential in this coastal town.



How to Get to Otranto & How Long to Stay

Otranto is located 200 kilometers from Bari. Travelers planning on discovering the Puglia region in-depth can fly into the international airport in Bari and then hire a car or arrange a private tour with transfers included (more on that below). From Bari, it’s easy to traverse the coastline the entire way to Otranto – stopping off at some amazing destinations which include Polignano a Mare and Brindisi. For an even longer trip, the villages that make up the Valle d’Itria such as Alberobello and Locorotondo can also be visited on an inland detour.

Lecce, the baroque capital, is another possible stop-off on your journey down the Salento peninsula. The drive from Lecce takes 35 minutes, and many people choose to base themselves there and visit Otranto for the day. By utilizing Google Maps, you will be able to cruise to the easternmost town of Italy from a variety of different places. Having a car gives you the freedom to get to Otranto any way or time you please. It’s a good idea to ask your hotel in Otranto if they have parking, otherwise you may need to pay for it elsewhere.

In general, public transport is tricky in Puglia. Arriving to Otranto via bus or train would require a couple of connections and long wait times. But if you are on a tight budget and are flexible with your travel dates, then that option could be ideal. There is a small train station in Otranto which you can reach directly from Lecce. Upon arrival, getting around on foot – especially in the Centro Storico – is a breeze. However, the beaches and other surrounding attractions mentioned before will be challenging to access without a car.

In terms of how long to stay for, that really is your own prerogative. Of course, Otranto can be experienced in a day – allocating half of your time to the historic center and the other half to the beach-based activities in the vicinity. But staying for at least two or three nights is highly recommended. You won’t get bored because the area is bursting with hidden gems, some of which we haven’t highlighted in this article yet like Gallipoli on the western coast of Salento. To create your dream itinerary, Apulia Private Tours is here to help!




Book an Experience with Apulia Private Tours

No matter how you wish to experience Otranto – be it on an action-packed day adventure or as part of a larger tour of the Puglia region – the team here at Apulia Private Tours is at your service. We can put together an itinerary that incorporates all of your preferences – from history tours, to hiking trails, to healthy foods – with some surprises thrown in that only a knowledgeable local guide could provide. Get in touch with me, Fabrizio Cirrillo, today through my contact page and let’s start planning your once in a lifetime Puglia journey!


Apulia Private Tours