While much of Southern Italy was once part of Magna Grecia, several towns on the Salento Peninsula of southern Puglia, the heel of the boot, retain their more recent Greek heritage. This area, called Grecia Salentina, is a group of 11 towns south of Lecce whose whitewashed walls, architecture, and even language are reminiscent of Greece.
In most of the Grecia Salentina towns, a dialect of Greek is still spoken and taught in schools. Many signs are posted in both Italian and Greek (and sometimes also in English). Most of these towns have beautiful and interesting historic centers.
It’s easy to visit several towns in one day if you have a car. Some of the towns can also be reached by train from Lecce on the private rail line, Ferrovie del Sud Est or by bus from Lecce.
It’s believed that the Pizzica Salentina music may have originated in this area, as it is related to Greek music. See a pizzica video with more information.
Following are 4 top Greek towns to visit in Grecia Salentina, an area that’s not on the usual tourist itinerary. See our Puglia Maps for their location.
Corigliano d’Otranto has an impressive castle with a highly decorated exterior. Cross the bridge over the moat to wander around inside the castle and walk up onto the roof, where there’s a bar open in the evenings. The inner courtyard has some detailed decorations around the top and an artwork depicting the pizzica music. Special exhibits are often held in the castle.
Next door to the castle, Bar Castello is a good place to stop for coffee, great pastries, gelato, or the lunch buffet.
Continue walking by the bar (away from the castle) and turn right at the first street to get to Trattoria Olo Kalo where you can have a very good meal of fresh fish and traditional foods of Puglia. Try the octopus in pignata, a traditional Salento casserole.
Also in town are churches, an interesting fountain depicting traditional life and music, mansions and courtyards. Corigliano d’Otranto can be reached by train on the Ferrovie del Sud Est.
Sternatia has a small historic center with several interesting churches and historic mansions (palazzi) such as Palazzo Marchesale, now the seat of the town hall. There is also an ancient hypogeum. San Giorgio is the patron saint and there’s a big festival on August 22 for the Feast Day of San Girgio.
Sternatia has a small train station and can also be reached by train on the Ferrovie del Sud Est from Lecce or Corigliano d’Otranto.
MartanoMartano has the largest population of the Grecia Salentina towns. It’s a nice town to wander around and there are shops and a park as well as historic sights. Enjoy a coffee, pastry, or a drink in the pleasant square at Caffe Stella, by the walls and one of the towers of the former Aragonese castle. The castle was rebuilt in the 15th century with defensive walls, five towers and a moat. In the 17th century it was made into a residence and is now known as Palazzo Baronale but it still looks like a castle from the outside.
As you walk around Martano, be sure to look at the ornate balconies on the old mansions and look into the courtyards. One of the most decorated and interesting is Palazzo Pino. Martano’s 16th century Chiesa Matrice, or Mother Church, is built of typical Lecce stone and you’ll see other buildings constructed from the same material. The 17th century Cappella dell’Immacolata has a beautiful gilded altar. Outside town there is an ancient monastery and a prehistoric menhir.
Martano, a Salento City of Art, is famous for its craftsmen working in wood, stone, and iron. Several big festivals are scheduled throughout the year and during late July you can visit courtyards and palaces during Cortili Aperti.
Martano can be reached by bus from Lecce but there is no train station.
Castrignano dei Greci
Castrignano dei Greci has a compact historic center with churches, mansions, and a pretty square. It has a small 16th century castle that became the residence of a baron in the 17th century. The interesting crypt of Sant’ Onofrio is an ancient underground church in a grotto, however it has very limited opening hours so is difficult to visit.
Puglia’s Salento Peninsula
With miles of beautiful coastline, Salento is a top summer destination for Italian beach lovers. Along the coast are clean beaches, nature areas, and charming towns such as Otranto and Gallipoli. The climate is fairly mild so it’s a nice area to visit most of the year.
- Read more about Salento in Salento by 5: Friendship, Food, Music, and Travel Within the Heel of Italy’s Boot (see my review for more about the book).
- 5 Places to Go in Salento
- See Lecce Weather for the typical climate.
Ancient Greeks in Italy
Much of Southern Italy and Sicily was settled by the Greeks and there are several outstanding Greek sites to visit, some with very well-preserved Greek temples.
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