August is vacation month for Italy, and while we had decided that we would never again go touring around in the heat of the summer, we find ourselves in the deep south enjoying beaches, boating and sightseeing. Puglia is the farthest south of the heel of the Italian boot, and Santa Maria di Leuca is the exact point where two different seas meet. On the promontory where the Leuca lighthouse is one can see a line with the different colors of water join together. It is quite a unique experience.
Puglia is very different from the lush, green hills of Cervinara. As we made our way down from the Benevento region where we live, over the course of the five hour trip we noticed many changes in landscapes and vistas. Where we have hills, vineyards and fields of green Puglia has a harsh soil that manages to produce only prickly pears, olives and figs. And rocks. Lots of rocks! Rocks that end up in countless walls that divide farm from farm and yard from yard. Rocks that ended up in "trulli", the peculiar traditional structures that are conical in shape and that dot the countryside. Rocks that are the foundation of almost every home here.
For Italians on vacation however, Puglia is all about the beaches. There are beaches and swimming opportunities for those who want white sand, for those who want rocky coves, for those who want grottoes to explore, and for those who want cliffs off of which to dive. We've seen them all and, except for the cliff diving, have enjoyed experiencing all the variety that Puglia has to offer.
But Mike and I have never really been beach people. I burn way too easily and Mike is not terribly tolerant of heat, so we haven't limited ourselves to seaside relaxing. As much as we have said that we would not be the crazy tourists traipsing through historic city centers in August, that is exactly what we have become again.
Inspired by our wonderful hosts here we have had visits to a couple of beautiful cities that should be much more of an attraction to people from all over the world. Lecce is a capital city of this region and it has one of the nicest historical centers I've seen. The entire area is a treat to the pedestrian sightseer because it is a zone of limited traffic where only residents can bring a car in. Wandering around both the broad main streets and the tiny back alleys provided us with visual treats and pleasant shopping opportunities. There were beautiful churches to enjoy although most were closed for the afternoon hours. When we asked why none of the churches were open, our waiter at our lunch spot chuckled and said that the faithful tend to prefer the beach to the church on hot summer afternoons.
And hot it was! Even inside the Duomo and down in the crypts of the churches we did get into, there was a tremendous heat that surrounded us and made our touring less than perfect. We guzzled water by the liter and sweated out as much. After several hours of walking through this medieval jewel we moved on to Otranto, another lovely spot in Puglia.
Otranto marks the easternmost point of Italy. It juts out into the Adriatic Sea and is a magnet for swimmers, boaters and sunbathers. When we got out of our car we were greeted by a blast of heat that was overwhelming. Mike and his cousin Rita both opted out of a hike up to the castle that dominates the city, but the rest of us decided to give it a try. We enjoyed the beautiful views along the lungomare, but were more than a little jealous of the folks splashing around in the water. We trudged through the narrow streets past shops and wine bars until we got up to the Duomo and then the castle. Enrica and I were the only ones to go through the castle and we were able to enjoy the history of this medieval fortress as well as an exhibit of Andy Warhol and other pop artists. Quite a contrast in styles, for sure. By going slowly and keeping hydrated, we were able to check another beautiful town off of our bucket list.
On the way home we decided to go for a swim, so Rita and Angelo took us to an isolated, rocky cove that was sort of a natural swimming pool. By that late in the afternoon many folks had started to leave but there was still a good crowd of people enjoying the cool water. A couple of hours there certainly refreshed us and we headed home cool and comfortable.
So, as much as touring around in the summer heat is not what we really want to do anymore, days such as this one are rich and enjoyable and we wouldn't miss them for the world. We sweated like crazy and dragged our dripping bodies up hills and cobblestone streets.....but it was all worth it.