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So you’ve made it to Puglia, and not just Puglia, but its fantastic sub-region of Salento, and now, you truly need the full experience. To say that the sea here is breathtaking would be an understatement. Salento, which boasts both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, is blessed with some of the most gorgeous coastlines in the entire world. At the most extreme point of Italy’s heel, and where the two seas “meet”, is Santa Maria di Leuca. Aside from being a city worth visiting, it also happens to have some of the Italian peninsula’s most stunning sea grottos, many of which can only be visited by boat. What better way to see them than on a boat excursion with a local, professional tour guide?
Where Geology, History, and Beauty Coincide
Santa Maria di Leuca’s karst marine caves are a geological and historical wonder. Its strategic position served as a crossroads between East and West and archaeological findings can date human presence to prehistorical times (approximately 80,000 years ago). Artifacts and other evidence have been found inside many of Leuca’s caves dating to the Neolithic and the Bronze Age.
The Marine Caves on the Adriatic Side
The tour departs from the port of Santa Maria di Leuca and proceeds to take you around Punta Meliso where you will see Leuca’s signature lighthouse. The water is very deep here and the sea water is an intense shade of blue. From here, you will sail on towards the marine caves on the Levante side of the promontory, or the Adriatic side. These include Terradico, Gabbiano, Verduseddha, Ortocupo (also known as the Grotta del Soffio), Vora, Cattedrale, and Manute.
Your captain will drop anchor at the Ortocupo Grotto or the Grotta del Soffio, so named for the water that sprays out of its opening. Depending on the wind, the sea can be quite choppy, and the spray jetting out from the cave, quite intense. If you time it just right, you will have a couple-second window to duck under the rock and swim into the cave. The water is crystal clear and the color an intense turquoise depending on the sun’s rays. Notice the colors and layers of the limestone rock itself inside the cave. Absolutely spectacular!
Exploring the Ionian Side
As your captain explains each of the grottos along the way, you will eventually make your way around Punta Ristola and begin the tour of the Ionian side, or the Ponente. These include the Diavolo, Mesciu Scianni, Fiume, Tre Porte, Giganti, Presepe, Stalla, Innamorati, and Drago, each with its own fascinating legend.
You will have another opportunity to swim in another grotto if you choose to and your captain will also serve you an authentic aperitif typical of the Salento region. Prosecco to drink (as well as non-alcoholic beverages), and to eat, Salento’s signature bread, friselle, with fresh tomatoes, oregano, and olive oil from the captain’s own garden!
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Tips To Help You Plan
Pack lightly with just a towel but make sure to wear your bathing suit, water shoes, or flip-flops (just remember that the rocks can be slippery and very sharp and you should avoid putting your bare feet directly onto the rocks in case of sea urchins). If you have an underwater camera, definitely bring it! This will probably be your most amazing underwater experience while in Salento and a chance to capture the magnificent colors inside the marine caves on “film”. If you don’t have an underwater camera, purchase a high-quality waterproof case for your cell phone.
This boat excursion will definitely be a highlight if not, the highlight, of your trip to Salento. The entire tour lasts about four hours but the experience will absolutely last a lifetime!
For more information, contact Ariel Escursioni on their Instagram profile.
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