Our Italian Adventure: A Beautiful Drive
PART 51: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We live in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter.
Step 1: As we explore towns in Puglia, we discover some incredible places, vistas, and history. Our local Puglian friends encouraged us to drive down to Santa Maria Leuca and then back to our area (near Nardo) through Castro, along the Adriatic coast. So we did just that.
Come with us.
Step 2: Where?
The lighthouse, church, town, and panoramas of Santa Maria Leuca are breathtaking, but I will describe that in another blog. Here we will focus on the drive.
After viewing the S. Maria Leuca marvels, our friends suggested that we take a longer way back home, through the town of Castro, to see what we might discover.
So after our visit, we hopped in our car, put "Castro" in Google Maps, and took the road towards the Adriatic coast.
Step 3: What?
"Wow! These views are awesome! Look at that!" we exclaimed as we left S. Maria Leuca behind. We were enthusiastic about the deep blue Adriatic waters on the right, rising hills with beautiful villas on the left, and occasional small villages and homes on the road's edge. "Imagine the views of the water if we lived there!" my partner said, laughing.
Since exploration was our focus, we decided to be spontaneous and get off the main road; we turned down an unknown street and found ourselves heading toward the water, having no idea what lay below.
As we zigzagged down, a small beach town revealed itself, lined with whitewashed homes, a few shops, and some water-related businesses. Once we got to the bottom, we spotted the remains of a 16th-century defensive tower; we pulled up and jumped out of the car. I practically ran up to it because I wanted to touch the stones at the base of that tower and imagine the soldiers or others who occupied it centuries before. What were they feeling, seeing, or expecting? We sat down and watched the water lapping against the tower's stones for a few minutes before driving on.
We continued to turn down unknown roads, found hidden streets with similar treasures, and stumbled on an ancient church with wide open doors. Of course, we stuck our noses in.
There are two parts to Castro: the Marina, where the beaches and sunbathers are, and the historical center, where one can experience a 16h century castle, a Byzantine church, and a clifftop piazza with stunning sea views.
Castro is a quieter town than Gallipoli or Otranto, but it is cute.
There's no sandy beach in the town, but there are beach clubs in the summer with platforms and deck chairs, and umbrellas hovering over the rocks. There is a piazza with a coffee bar and a promenade (Lungomare), which becomes lively in the evenings.
But the main draw to Castro is the historical center.
There is a large piazza with amazing sea views from the Belvedere di Castro. Getting a spritz at the bar close by and watching the sunset is easy and rewarding. Next to the 16th-century castle (Castello Aragonese) is an archeological museum, but I enjoyed watching the castle silhouette against the setting sun.
Wandering around Castro, we stumbled on the city's cathedral, Chiesa dell'Annunziata, which was built in 1171 and has a beautiful Romanesque facade. Attached to it are the remains of a 10th-century Byzantine church with traces of frescoes.
A few steps past the piazza is the Palazzo Vescovile, a privately owned palace that the owner restored; he sometimes opens it for tours or just visits.
At the end of the evening, we took the steps down to the port; it was a perfect ending to a wonderful day.
Insights: Getting out of our comfort zone and exploring areas that we are not familiar with leads to discoveries of beauty, history, and culture. The road to Castro is one of these areas, and the town itself was such a beautiful place that we resolved to experience again.
More next time.
My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Puglia-Californians-Southern-Italy/dp/1913680649.
And also, on Amazon Italy: https://www.amazon.it/gp/product/1913680649/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0.