Sitting on the boot’s heel of long-legged Italy is Brindisi, one of the three main towns of the Salento peninsula. Moving south, Italy changes, everything is different – the light is different, the language is different and the sea is different – deeper, open, Italian, Greek, Mediterranean.
Brindisi has always been known because of its port, the gateway to the East, built by the Romans that exploited its natural shape, which looks like of a deer’s head. It is one of the safest ports in the whole of the Mediterranean.
From here the Crusaders sailed to liberate the Holy Land. The Silk Route passed through Brindisi and it is still possible to spot the wagon rails used to move the goods from the trains onto the British P&O ships that connected London to Bombay.
More recently, the port’s most significant role has been to connect Italy to Greece and long before charter flights became such a big thing, travellers had to pass through here to make their way to Greece and further afield.
I must say the town has never done much to invite travellers to stop. What regularly happened was that thousands of people arrived every day in the summertime from all over the world and were left hanging around the harbour ’til late at night with nothing more to do than visit the beer and wine aisle in the cheap supermarket nearby.
Anyone who passed through Brindisi to catch a ferry to Greece up until the ’90s will tell you how boring their stay was, and how difficult it was to get local transport to beaches nearby or to small towns in the countryside.
Things have slightly changed however and are still improving. It really took a while, though! It took generations of politicians and now, as the local administrators are younger people, less motivated by the corruptive side of power, the results can be seen. The number of backpackers has fallen dramatically because interrailing is no longer the cheapest or the most comfortable way to reach holiday destinations.
More people speak other languages, more information centres can be found, and connections to pretty towns in the countryside are a lot easier.
Ostuni is only 35km north-west of Brindisi and its Arabic and Greek architecture attracts more and more visitors every year. A famous festival with street artists from all over Europe is held in the month of August and a number of other cultural initiatives take place all year long, increasing during the summer months.
Further north lies Alberobello, another little gem, with its famous trulli, pre-historical houses with cone-shaped roofs made of slates of dry stone.
Egnatia, near Fasano, with its Roman settlements and the white-washed houses in lively Cisternino are worth a visit as well.
South of Brindisi, near the beautiful Baroque Lecce, the picturesque Otranto and Gallipoli are among a number of resorts known for their nightlife and their clean and beautiful beaches.
Festivals, cultural events and sagras – occasions usually linked to the commemoration of the local saint – combined with delicious seafood and wine, make the Salento peninsula the ideal place for a really exciting holiday rather than just a stop over.
Remaining in Brindisi, the visitor can easily visit the local Archaeological Museum or the permanent exhibition of the bronze Greek statues rescued from the sea.
The unstable situation in the Balkans has forced the thousands of Turkish people living in Northern European countries to choose Brindisi as the only possible route on their way to Turkey for the summer holidays, which normally fall between the end of June and July. During these months the town struggles to cope with the number of cars waiting hours and sometimes even days for the ferries to Cesme or Igoumenitsa.
The travellers coming at this time of the year may have the impression of a chaotic hot and polluted place…and it’s not just an impression!
Author: Archangelo Amodio