Home » Salento: Falling Head-Over-Heels with Southern Italy

Salento: Falling Head-Over-Heels with Southern Italy

by Stuart Haggas
Toree Saint Andrea, Salento, Italy

The historic coastal town of Gallipoli is an ideal base for LGBTQ visitors due to its proximity to several gay beaches as well as Village Picador, southern Italy’s biggest gay dance club

Stuart Haggas

As everyone from fashionistas to fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will know, a heel can be empowering and glamorous, can heighten sex appeal, and can elevate an ordinary walk into a full-scale sashay.

Located at the tip of boot-shaped Italy’s vertiginous heel, the Salento area of Puglia in southern Italy is all that and more. Fringed by the turquoise waters of the Adriatic and Ionian seas, this narrow stiletto of landmass has over 800km of coastline, and boasts fabulous coastal towns such as Otranto, Santa Maria di Leuca, and Polignano a Mare. The historic city of Lecce is known as the “Florence of the south” for its splendid baroque architecture. Equally splendid are handsome little towns like Nardò and Galatina. And Alberobello is a bustling magnet for tourists thanks to its quirky stone trulli houses that look like they belong in a fairytale or in Lord Of The Rings.

The region is a favorite summer destination for Italy’s LGBTQ community, so you’ll spot handsome hunks zipping around on a Piaggio scooter, dressed in their fashion best while sipping an aperitivo, or deliciously undressed on a sun-baked nude beach.

Although there’s plenty here to fall head-over-heels in love with, you may wish to include a brief affair with its neighbor, the rugged Basilicata region. The big temptation here is the spectacular city of Matera, which is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a key filming location in the new James Bond film, No Time to Die.

Matera in Salento, Italy

Photo: Marco Saracco

The historic coastal town of Gallipoli is an ideal base for LGBTQ visitors due to its proximity to several gay beaches as well as Village Picador, southern Italy’s biggest gay dance club, but with limited public transport, and with taxis a scarce commodity that require pre-booking, you’re best to hire a car to thoroughly explore the regions sights and gay scene.

Gallipoli’s charming centro storico (old quarter) is built on a small islet that’s connected to the mainland by an ancient bridge, so it’s surrounded by stunning sea views in every direction. Due to this strategic position, Gallipoli has spent much of its past under siege: hordes of marauding Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Normans, Angevins, and Bourbons have all bloodied their swords in the timeless quest to conquer Gallipoli.

Dating from the 13th-century, Castello Angioino is Gallipoli’s most imposing landmark. This robust fortress has thick curved walls built to withstand cannon fire. It’s now a visitor attraction and cultural center, suggesting that tourism is the ultimate conqueror.

Walk the entire perimeter of the old quarter and you’ll encounter chic seafront cafes, fishermen fixing their nets in the pretty harbor, and locals sunning themselves on the lovely little Spiaggia della Purita beach. Its warren of shady alleyways is also equally beguiling.

Several of Gallipoli’s grand old palazzos and monasteries have been transformed into boutique-style hotels, their frescoes and architectural details now complemented by contemporary designer furnishings. Recommendations include the 4-star I Bastioni San Domenico, Palazzo Presta, Relais Corte Palmieri and Al Pescatore Hotel & Restaurant.

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