In Italy, there’s a strip of land that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea and stretches towards Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. This area is called Salento, or 'Lu Salentu' in dialect. It’s the most extreme part of Puglia, the southern tip of Lecce province and the heel of the Italian peninsula.
Cycling in this land is a journey through villages of white houses overlooking a turquoise sea; dry-stone walls bordering rows of centuries-old olive trees; and vertiginous cliffs jutting into the blue. You’ll pass through history to discover the civilisations of Messapians, Greeks, Byzantines, Turks, Lombards and Swabians, with a leap to the time of the Second World War; each historical phase has left an indelible and characteristic mark on the area.
This three-day, 150-kilometre (93 mi) itinerary embraces the southernmost lands of the Salento region, passing through the main towns of Gallipoli, Santa Maria di Leuca and Otranto. The route is mostly flat so it’s suitable for any type of cyclist.
Your point of departure and return is Gallipoli, which you can reach by train from Lecce. You'll continue south along the Ionian coast, dotted with long beaches of white sand and crystal-clear water, such as the Spiaggia di Pali beach. You'll then reach the southernmost tip of Puglia, in the town of Santa Maria di Leuca. Here, the blue waters of the Ionian and Adriatic seas touch and mingle.
From Santa Maria di Leuca, you'll cycle north towards Otranto, where the white beaches of the Ionian coast give way to steep cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea. This stretch of coast is dotted with caves and deep inlets, as the seawater pushes inland to form extraordinary bays such as Castro Marina.
In Otranto, you'll be greeted by the imposing bulk of the Norman castle that dominates the citadel. You'll be surprised by its cosmopolitan profile with Byzantine domes and Christian bell towers. You'll be captivated by the chromatic contrast of the white walls of the houses with the turquoise waters of the bay of the same name.
From Otranto, the itinerary leaves the coast to enter the Salento hinterland. Here, the landscape becomes barren, and you'll cycle along rows of olive trees, dry stone walls, and dolmens from prehistoric times; humans have worked these lands for thousands of years.
You can take this route all year round, thanks to the mild climate that characterises this part of Italy. However, the best times are definitely spring and autumn, away from the scorching heat of summer and before the winter rainy period.
I've divided the stages so that they end in the most interesting places, where it's easy to find bike-friendly accommodation and places to eat. In fact, this is also a journey into flavours: pittule (fried dough balls), pucce (tomato and olive rolls), frisedde (Pugliese hard biscuits) and pasticciotto (cream-filled pastries) are just some of the delicacies I recommend you don't miss.
Keep in mind that the wind can be strong here, as the local saying suggests: 'Salento tierra lu mare lu sole lu jentu' (Salento land of the sea, the sun, and the wind). Sometimes you might find yourself pedalling against an invisible enemy, but don't get disheartened: take your time and enjoy the scenery!
Ready to get going? Create and customize your own version of this adventure using the full Tour below as a template.
Last updated: June 20, 2023
The first stage of this itinerary takes you to discover the Ionian coast of Puglia and Salento. The low difference in altitude and the mostly paved surface make this route accessible to anyone. Start from the city of Gallipoli where I suggest you take some time to enter the Salento atmosphere, slow and…
This is the stage of the "End of the Earth", as it is often called Santa Maria di Leuca, the southernmost point of Puglia.
The itinerary follows the jagged coast to the north that divides the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic, for this reason characterized by a slow ups and downs which at the end of the day…
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
This is the stage of the coast to coast, from the Adriatic today you return to the Ionian crossing the Salento hinterland along provincial roads and secondary roads usually with little traffic.
The altimetric profile could induce fear, in reality it is a slow climb of 30 kilometers and 200 meters in altitude…
Bike Touring Collection by komoot
Bike Touring Collection by komoot
Road Cycling Collection by komoot
Bike Touring Collection by Robin Patijn - Farawayistan