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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Spotlight on Santa Caterina

PART 55: 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 gems worth sharing. Some of these are well-known tourist magnets; others are lesser known but always amazing. This week let's explore Santa Caterina.

Step 2: History. The beautiful town of Santa Caterina was born from violence. When the Saracens often attacked this coastal area, Santa Caterina was a defensive post, as evidenced by the two 16th-century watchtowers. The Spaniards built these to defend against Ottoman incursions.

The purpose of these and other towers in the area was communication. By day, soldiers sent smoke signals, and by night, fire; these signals would be transmitted from tower to tower if invading ships were sighted.

Because of its strategic location on the Ionian Sea, the miles of rocky beaches, and crystal clear blue water, the town evolved into the resort community one sees today.

Why all this history? History gives flavor to what one sees. When I hike to one of the two 16th-century towers above the town, I always touch the stones that make up the structure. I imagine the soldiers stationed in that tower and wonder what they felt as they gazed at the waters. Fear? Foreboding? Courage? Determination?

Step 3: Architecture. Today Santa Caterina is a summer beach resort community. Its architecture isn't that unique, so it is better not to come for that. Come for the sights.

Step 4: Sights.

  • Torre dall'Alto

Of the two towers in Santa Caterina, this is my favorite to hike up to. It only takes about 10 minutes up the hill to reach the tower, with sweeping views of the Ionian Sea. We find a place to sit and gaze at the sea, the occasional boats and yachts, and the beachgoers near Porto Selvaggio. The stairs up the tower were added later, but in the 16th century, this was a strategic lookout position as the Ottomans sought a foothold in this area. Adjacent to the tower is a nature preserve with trails parallel to the sea. It is an excellent hike that we often do.

  • Town center

The town center is merely a series of cafes and tourist shops, but we found our favorite coffee shop next to the small sandy beach (Momento). We come here almost every morning, sipping our coffees and gazing at the sea, boats, and people. It is a perfect way to start the day.

  • Rocky beaches

Rocky beaches are not my thing, though my friends love them because they are less populated than the sandy ones. But even I have to admit that the waters off the shores of the rocky beaches here are so clean and pure that they look like a blue emerald. Sometimes we walk down the rocky paths to the edge of the water. My partner keeps threatening me that he will jump in; it hasn't happened yet.

  • Hiking

The hills around Santa Caterina are great for hiking, especially in the nature preserve surrounding Torre dall'Alto. But a great sunset walk is between Santa Caterina and Santa Maria del Bagno. Ending the walk with a gelato or Aperol is the reward.

Step 5: Cool things.

The cool things to do in Santa Caterina, in my experience, include: starting the day at a coffee cafe with a sea view, followed by a hike up to the tower. A pause is necessary here as one sits down and gazes at the surrounding beauty. We stop, sip our waters and enjoy the view.

After this, a ramble through the nature preserve, following one of the trails.

Santa Caterina pulses with life and music in the evening during the summers. Temporary structures cling to the beach rocks during the summer, serving loud music, food, and drinks. But that's not my thing. I prefer to escape the noise, walk on the sidewalk towards Santa Maria del Bagno, and gaze at the moon reflecting on the waves.

Insights: Visitors to Santa Caterina might only see its tourist facade, but below the surface, one can find history and beauty, as well as a sense of community.

More next time.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

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