If by chance you have heard of the small village of Tiggiano in Italy’s southern region of Apulia (Puglia), it is likely only because of Helen Mirren. A few years ago, the acclaimed British actress purchased a large property, known as a masseria, here and has since become quite an advocate for the region’s art and culture. In this article, we’re here to show you that while Mirren may have put Tiggiano on the map, the truth is, Tiggiano is where it has “always” been. Here is a mini-guide on everything you need to know when you visit Tiggiano in Apulia’s Salento region.
- A brief introduction to its history
- Art and architecture
- Cuisine and culture
- Outdoor activities
- Tips for your visit
It is a fact that this part of southern Puglia was occupied as early as Neolithic times as evidenced in many of the sea grottoes that have been excavated along the Adriatic and Ionian coasts. Then, it was populated by the Messapians, Greeks, and Romans. Interestingly, none of these cultures left any physical traces in Tiggiano, if not their customs and dialect.
It isn’t until the 13th century with the arrival of the Normans and the Angevins that Tiggiano officially shows up in historical records. Most of its buildings can be attributed to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in an interesting combination of Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
Art and Architecture
Tiggiano’s cathedral is dedicated to its patron saint, Hypatius of Gangra (Ippazio di Gangra in Italian) who was a 4th-century martyr from Turkey. The building dates to the late 1500s but was redone many times over the centuries. The altar has an inscription that dates to 1601 which explains Hypatius’ virtues. He is unique for a couple of reasons: one, Tiggiano is the only town in all of Italy devoted to him; and two, he is the protector of male virility and inguinal hernias.
There are three other small churches in the historic center including the Chapel of Madonna Assunta (18th century), the Oratory of Saint Michael Archangel (16th century), and the 19th-century Chapel of the Immaculate.
Palazzo Baronale, currently Tiggiano’s Town Hall, overlooks Piazza Castello and dates to the mid-1600s. It belonged to the Serafani-Sauri ruling family and has been renovated various times over the centuries. Numerous stately rooms belonging to nobles, beautiful courtyards, and even the palace’s orchards and woods can be visited.
Along the coast, you’ll find what remains of the Nasparo Tower. This defensive tower was built during Spanish rule in 1565.
Cuisine and Culture
Salento is known for its simple, genuine food that is deeply rooted in its agricultural traditions. Homemade orecchiette pasta as well as minchiareddi (maccheroni in standard Italian) are laboriously made by local women using nothing but barley flour and water. Typically, pasta dishes will be simply topped with homemade tomato sauce from the summer harvest. Broccoli rabe, other wild greens, and also fava beans are widely used as well. Bread baked with olives known as puccia and also friselle (a type of dry, baked bread that gets a second life by soaking it in water) are must-tries as well. And you absolutely cannot leave the area without having their signature pastry, the one and only, pasticciotto.
Something unique to Tiggiano and also tied to its Sant’Ippazio festival on January 19th is a purple carrot known as the pestanaca or the pastanaca. Remember how the saint’s virtues include virility and curing inguinal hernias? Well, let’s just say that the carrot is typically sold with two local berry fruits known as giuggiole and we’ll just leave the symbolism to your imagination.
Enjoying the Outdoors
No article about anywhere in Salento would be complete without devoting at least an entire paragraph to its sea. As already mentioned, Tiggiano is just minutes away from some of the most sought-after seaside destinations in all of Italy. Its closest beach happens to be Marina Serra, a fantastic natural pool and grotto. The very tip of Italy’s heel and where the Ionian and Adriatic Seas meet is the iconic Santa Maria di Leuca, just a 20-minute drive away.
Traveling up the Adriatic coastline towards Otranto, you’ll find Castro, the Zinzulusa Grotto, Santa Cesarea Terme and so many more of Salento’s top destinations. Going the other direction, on the Ionian side, you can be at the world-renowned beach of Pescoluse (called the “Maldives of Salento” for its turquoise water and white sand beaches) in just 30 minutes by car.
Aside from enjoying the extensive park and wooded area attached to Palazzo Baronale, Tiggiano is very close to one of the oldest oak trees in Europe, the Quercia Vallonea di Tricase named “Italian Tree of the Year” in 2019. This 700-year-old oak tree is truly a sight to behold!
You should know that Salento is no longer a well-kept secret. It has enjoyed mass tourism for the past fifteen or so years from international visitors. The very best time to enjoy everything Tiggiano and Salento have to offer weather-wise and crowd-wise are the months of June, September, and early October.
The nearest airport to Tiggiano is Brindisi about an hour away. Train connections are, unfortunately, very limited and most people prefer to travel by car. The closest major city is Lecce which is 45 minutes.
As you can see, Tiggiano is the perfect location to enjoy everything Salento has to offer: on the one hand, small village authenticity; and on the other, an ideal starting point for seeing the entire area!
We suggest staying at the Casa di Giò Bed & Breakfast conveniently located in the historic center of Tiggiano!
Photo credits: second photo from the top, Palazzo Baronale © Melissa Clelia Calo’; third photo from the top, Sant’Ippazio Festival © Daniele Met Photography