The countryside around Salento is a magical place, and the first part of Italy to greet the sun every day. The landscape reflects the authentic character of this region, with its olive trees and dry stone walls, fortified towns and villages. The area boasts prehistoric sites, and evidence of the ancient Messapian people, and served as an outpost for Greeks, Romans and Normans, knights and crusaders, barons and viceroys. Just a few hundred metres from Tenuta Monacelli and Masseria Giampaolo is the historic Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate, which is well worth a visit.
Among other sites of historical and archaeological interest are the coastal towers, and the many caves and places of shelter used by Stone Age people. All around there are unique and unspoilt landscapes, protected as natural parks, and close to the two of the most beautiful coastlines in Italy and the Mediterranean.
Although the city may seem far away, in fact it is only ten minutes by car to the town of Lecce, where you can wander around the narrow streets of the centre and admire the dazzling facades of the noble mansions and churches.
Located in the heart of Salento, Lecce offers a surprising combination of ancient remains and delightful baroque architecture.
The Roman Amphitheatre in the town centre dates from the 2nd century AD, and could host 25,000 spectators. By contrast, the baroque architecture is a showcase of virtuosity: from the stucco decorations, statues, putti, and masks adorning the mansions and the Cathedral in Piazza del Duomo; to Via Libertini with the intricate facades of the churches of Santa Teresa, Sant ‘ Anna, del Rosario, and Santa Croce, and on to the imposing Palazzo dei Celestini.
Just a short distance away, the Adriatic Sea washes the sand and rocks of the coastline. At intervals along the coast, you can see the 16th-century watchtowers built by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to ward off pirates and Saracens. They are a prominent feature in the landscape, with names evoking myths and legends. Among these, the Rinalda tower and the Chianca tower mark the way to small seaside villages and pleasant sandy beaches just a few kilometres from Tenuta Monacelli.
The dunes, Mediterranean scrub, spiny oaks and salt lakes provide a habitat for storks, kingfishers and cranes, on the border between sea and land where wild orchids and morning glory grow. This is the Le Cesine Nature Reserve, which, together with the San Cataldo Nature Reserve and the Rauccio Regional Natural Park, are prime examples of the natural beauty of Salento.
Ensure you visit the quaint old town of Ostuni, the Piana degli Ulivi in the open countryside, and the underground olive mill. The beautiful town of Gallipoli on the Ionian Sea has a historic centre with many churches and a museum with an underground olive mill.
Locorotondo is an interesting example of rural architecture dating back to Mediaeval times. The area around Alberobello is rich in “trulli”. Other interesting places include Maglie, Nardo, Galatina, La Grecia and Otranto. You can visit the castle and ducal palace at Francavilla Fontana, and the famous caves of Castellana, one of Italy’s largest and most evocative cave complexes. Selva di Fasano offers a zoo safari and the Fantasilandia amusement park.