Wondering what’s so special about Otranto, Puglia?
This little town in Puglia is the first place that greets the sun every day, being Italy’s most easterly city. But it’s also a mix of history, architecture, views, and amazing beaches, making Otranto one of the most charming and picturesque places in Puglia.
Once you’re there, it’ll come as no surprise that Otranto is counted on the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It’s an absolute dream destination!
So, in this Otranto guide, I’ll explain how to include Otranto in your Puglia itinerary and highlight all the best things to do in Otranto when you’re there.
Otranto Puglia: Can’t Miss Things to Do + Tips to Plan a Fantastic Visit
If you’ve decided to add Otranto to the places you’ll visit during your Puglia trip, you might be asking yourself how much time you should spend there and when is the best time to go.
Otranto is a little town, but one that has a lot to offer: between historical and cultural sights, incredible beaches, and its position close to other gorgeous locations, I suggest you stay in Otranto for at least three days.
But if you’re already staying nearby in the Salento, Otranto can be visited as a day trip from places like Gallipoli, Lecce, and Santa Maria di Leuca.
The best time of the year to visit Otranto is clearly in the summer when tourists and events bring the town to life. However, if you’re looking for tranquility, consider visiting Otranto in late spring or immediately after summer.
The warm, sunny Apulian days continue way past when the summer season is over! But the crowds are smaller and peak summer prices for hotels fall.
Where is Otranto, Italy?
Otranto is located right on the Adriatic Sea, looking through the Strait of Otranto towards the Balkans and Greece. On the other side of the Otranto strait, Puglia is bathed by the Ionian Sea. This location gives Otranto two different types of beaches, sandy on the Adriatic part and rocky on the Ionian. This is just one of the reasons why Otranto is one of the best places in Puglia to visit!
Otranto is situated on the Salento peninsula, in the province of Lecce. The area is part of southern Italy’s region of Puglia or the “heel of the boot.” Salento is known for having some of the most beautiful Mediterranean seascapes.
The name of the town is linked with its peculiar geographical location. Some believe that the name Otranto derives from the Latin word Hydruntum, which indicates a small river that crosses the valley of Idro, where Otranto is located. Others think it may derive from the name indicating a hill near the port area, called Odronto.
How to Get to Otranto, Puglia
As always in Puglia, the best way to get around is by car. The easiest place to rent a car is at one of Puglia’s main airports.
Brindisi Airport is the closest to Otranto. From Brindisi, you’ll drive south and be in Otranto in a little over 1 hour.
The Bari Airport is further north and is a longer drive to Otranto. The drive is 2 hours and 15 minutes from Bari to Otranto.
Once you’re in the Salento region with your rental car, it’s also easy to go from town to town. You could go from Otranto to Lecce (or vice versa) in half an hour.
However, If you aren’t in a hurry, you can take the coastal road that connects the town of San Cataldo, right outside Lecce, to Otranto. The unforgettable scenery will make the 1 hour drive a real pleasure!
From Otranto to Gallipoli (or the reverse), the drive is only 50 minutes. In under an hour, you can cross from one coast of Puglia to the other!
What to see in Otranto
Otranto’s strategic location in the Strait has deeply influenced its history and architecture.
In Roman times, Otranto was an important trading port and the starting point for Roman military expeditions to the east.
However, being so exposed to the sea made Otranto vulnerable to attacks across the Adriatic. The best known was in 1480 when an Ottoman fleet of about 150 ships attacked the city. As a consequence, Otranto became a fortified town, whose signs are still visible today.
Discover the Otranto Centro Storico.
The defensive walls enclose the old town. To access it, you’ll need to go through Porta Alfonsina, an opening in the imposing city walls built after the Ottoman invasion.
The captivating walk through the Porta Alfonsina leads you into the charming UNESCO recognized Centro Storico with its maze of narrow and winding streets full of typical shops and restaurants. One of the main spots to visit in the old town is the Monument to the Martyrs of Otranto, a statue crafted by Antonio Bortone to remember those who lost their lives defending the city during the Ottoman invasion.
The historic center is a real wonder: churches, monuments, and the sea viewpoints make Otranto one of the most charming towns in Italy. Discover it on your own or take a walking tour with a local guide who’ll share more of the history of the city.
Explore the Castello Aragonese.
Once you set foot in the Centro Storico, one of the first things that will strike you is the majestic Aragonese Castle. The fortress was built at the end of the 15th century: the medieval castle, with its ramparts, walls, dungeons, and towers, rises above the blue sea.
As soon as you are in front of the Aragonese Castle, you’ll be immediately drawn in by the “diamond pointed” bastion that extends out to the sea with its narrow oval shape.
The Otranto Castello is as magnificent on the inside! You can visit it up to the top, where the Archaeological Museum and the panoramic terrace are situated. History-lovers like me will love wandering the castle grounds imagining what it must have been like to live at a time when towns like Otranto needed protection from sea invaders!
The Otranto Castle also hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events.
The Castello Aragonese is one of the main symbols of Otranto, with its location almost above the sea and its imposing, yet grand stone walls. It’s so famous that it inspired the first gothic novel ever written by Horace Walpole in 1764, titled The Castle of Otranto.
Visit the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata.
Not far from the Castello Aragonese you will find the Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata.
Built in the 11th century, the Otranto Cathedral is a magnificent structure of tremendous artistic and historical value. The exterior facade is a mix of Byzantine, Early Christian, and Romanesque styles. Among its unique characteristics, there are the rose window and the baroque portal, which make the Cathedral a truly fascinating mix of different artistic styles.
On the inside of Otranto Cattedrale, the incredible mosaics on the floor will immediately catch your eye! The beautiful mosaic floor extends along the entire length of the church and depicts the tree of life, around which are various scenes illustrating parts of the Old Testament.
The Cathedral also houses the Chapel of the Martyrs. This chapel was constructed to honor the martyrs of Otranto during the Ottoman invasion.
History tells the story of 813 martyrs who were the last standing Otrantians after the bloody, destructive 2-week long invasion. It’s thought that they were killed here in this spot for refusing to convert to Islam. The Chapel of the Martyrs is the final resting place of some of their skulls and bones.
No matter how many times I visit Italy, it’s sites like this that still capture my imagination and leave me awestruck over the vastness of Italy’s history!
Don’t Miss the Church of San Pietro.
While you’re in the old town of Otranto, make a stop to see the Chiesa di San Pietro. Dating back to the 10th century, this Byzantine church is a treasure of Byzantine art, perhaps the best in all of Puglia.
Although from the outside the church may seem a bit plain and like many others, there are incredible frescos with Greek writing that go back to the church’s earliest days. Definitely take the time to admire them! It was a privilege to be able to see them.
Be Wowed by Cava di Bauxite.
The beauties of Otranto are not limited to its Centro Storico. Otranto’s surroundings are a real natural wonder.
A must-see is the Bauxite Cave. Only 6 minutes by car from the city center, the Cave was once a site for the extraction of bauxite, active until the mid-70s. Bauxite is a type of rock with high quantities of aluminum.
The Bauxite Cave is one of the most incredible places in Salento. The minerals in the soil turned the ground a deep red color, and the water that has infiltrated the crater of the quarry is a wonderful emerald green lake.
The combination of colors will make you feel like you’re in one of the great American Parks! Just be careful: the lake is not suitable for swimming.
Hike & Watch the Sunrise at Punta Pelascia.
Only 4 miles south of Otranto, you will find Punta Pelascia, also known as Capo d’Otranto.
There is a lighthouse, which stands tall (105 feet), on the rocky cliff overlooking the spot where the Adriatic sea and the Ioania sea meet. On clear days, when clouds don’t limit visibility, you can see the Balkan mountains on the horizon!
This incredible viewpoint is made extra special during sunrise because it is the easternmost point of Italy. The locals have the tradition of meeting under the lighthouse on New Year’s Eve to wait for the first Italian sunrise of the new year.
The lighthouse is the symbol of Punta Palascia, and it’s surrounded by paths and rich vegetation within the Otranto-Leuca Natural Park that make it a perfect spot for walking and trekking.
Discover an Otranto Puglia Secret, the Ipogeo di Torre Pinta.
Only 5 minutes drive from Otranto, there is a magical place almost completely unknown to tourists.
A family friend who lives in Puglia told me about this place but, unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to visit. (Sorry! No photo.) Still, I wanted to share for those of you who will take the time to read this guide and who appreciate one-of-a-kind travel discoveries. It’s at the top of my list when I return to Puglia.
The Hypogeum of Torre Pinta is located near the Tenuta Torre Pinta, an agriturismo in Puglia run by a woman named Mrs. Maria Giovanna. In fact, you might even consider a stay or a meal here to experience true southern Italian hospitality!
The tower has likely served many functions, including as a refuge for pigeons and doves. Its interior looks wonderful: the tiny overtures in the tall walls built of grey stone are partially covered by green moss, and the sunshine enters the building through the opening on the top.
The Ipogeo di Torre Pinta seems like the set of a fantasy movie!
The site is of great architectural and historical value. In fact, on the stones, some details suggest that its original construction may date back to the Neolithic when the Hypogeum was used for sacrifices or as a funerary location.
As I mentioned above, the Ipogeo di Torre Pinta is located on private property. You just need to ask the owners for permission to enter, and you will be able to visit this incredible place!
BUT PLEASE! Remember you are surely not the only visitor. Follow the “Leave No Trace” policy to protect this historic treasure and keep it available for others to see. I can’t help but think of some of the complaints of private owners in the Cinque Terre who’ve had to manage disrespectful tourist behavior.
Enjoy the Natural Beauty at Laghi Alimini and Spiaggia Alimini.
The Alimini Lakes Nature Reserve is a natural marvel just 10 minutes away from Otranto.
There are 2 lakes, Alimini Grande and Alimini Piccolo, and they are connected by a canal.
Alimini Grande is surrounded almost completely by rocks and covered with pine trees. It’s a saltwater lake caused by the sea that flows into it.
Alimini Piccolo is also called Fontanelle, and it is fed almost entirely by freshwater springs. Just be careful: as in the case of the lake in the Cava di Bauxite, the Laghi Alimini are not suitable for swimming.
However, at the Alimini Lakes, you can see lots of different animals, from swans to flamingos. The natural beauty of this place is definitely worth a visit, and you can always choose to visit the nearby Alimini Beach (Spiaggia is beach in Italian.) to relax and take a swim in the crystal clear sea.
Take a Swim at Grotta della Poesia.
If you’re willing to go just a bit further from Otranto, head north from Otranto for about 25 minutes to visit the beautiful Grotta della Poesia.
Translated directly as the “cave of poetry,” it’s easy to see why this natural pool enveloped by rocky cliffs may inspire a stanza or 2. The turquoise water against the limestone is striking!
However, word is out about this sea cave, recognized by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful grottoes in the world. You can jump into the water to enjoy a swim. Just be prepared for many others to be there trying to do the same.
ProTip: You can also easily visit the Grotta della Poesia from Lecce. It’s also about half an hour’s drive from the city center.
Moving along the coast, within a few miles from Otranto, there are fantastic beaches that you cannot miss if you are visiting the area. Characteristic of the Salento, these beaches are bigger and are surrounded by more nature when compared to places like Monopoli and Polignano al Mare.
One of the most breathtaking beaches is Baia dei Turchi. Awarded with the Blue Flag for the cleanness of the sea and the quality of the services, the Bay gives its name to the fact that, historically, the Ottomans (Turks) landed here before invading Otranto. The crystal blue color of the water and the white of the sand will make you fall in love with Baia dei Turchi!
Porto Badisco is a cove located a few miles south of Otranto and is characterized by cliffs, small sandy and stone beaches, and a crystal clear sea. This beach is surrounded by lush vegetation and is a natural paradise that has inspired artists and photographers. Definitely a not-to-be-missed stop if you are looking for a perfect day at the beach nearby Otranto!
The coast of Otranto has plenty of magical spots where you can relax and sun-bath, take a swim, or dive: Torre Sant’Emiliano, Baia delle Orte, and Spiaggia di Torre dell’Orso are just among the most popular locations for their beauty!
You can also get out onto the water to explore the Otranto coastline by boat with a guide. You’ll even have the chance to hop off the boat for some swim breaks during the tour.
A holiday in Otranto is not complete without exploring the local cuisine. Rich in taste, the cuisine of Salento is the perfect blend of maritime and peasant traditions. Among the typical dishes, there is “polpo alla pignata”, octopus cooked in a mouth-watering tomato sauce, and various types of fish soups.
Also, don’t miss the puccia, a traditional wood-fired bread from the Salento region or the calzoni! (My mother-in-law who is from Bari makes these and they are to die for!!)
At sunset, have an aperitivo overlooking Otranto harbor. Sunset is the best time to take in the views from the historic port. And similar to places in Puglia further north like Trani, it’s where the city’s nightlight comes alive.
If you are looking to try the traditional Salentin food in Otranto, you are in luck! The town is packed with restaurants that serve delicious food.
Ristorante Vecchia Otranto is located in the Centro Storico of Otranto, and the beautiful terrace with the sea view makes this restaurant quite special.
Ristorante Fronte Mare is situated on Otranto’s promenade. The pretty location, the quality of the seafood served, and the owner’s hospitality make this restaurant a great place to dine out!
Otranto Puglia Hotels
A fundamental part of every trip is deciding where to spend the nights. Staying one night or two in Otranto will give you a chance to visit the city and the gorgeous Salento.
B&B Palazzo de Mori is a historical palace completely renovated, maintaining its authentic character.
Located in the Centro Storico, the palace belonged to the noble Michele Leondari, one of the 800+ martyrs who fell to defend the city of Otranto from the invasion of the Ottomans. The B&B has a terrace overlooking the bay on which you can enjoy breakfast.
Masseria dei Monaci is located nearby the Cava di Bauxite. This Otranto Masseria was part of the abbey complex of San Nicola de Casulis, built in the 12th century. Elegantly renovated, the hotel hosts 14 rooms and a restaurant.
Tenuta Torre Pinta (mentioned above) offers a true Italian stay less than 1 mile from Otranto’s city center. Yet despite how close it is to Otranto, guests love how remote it feels and rave about the food and hospitality.
Otranto Italy is one of the amazing discoveries you will make on your trip to Puglia. With its mix of history, culture, art, and nature, The City of Martyrs deserves a place on your itinerary in beautiful Salento, Puglia.