Otranto is a lovely seaside town with plenty of character and is one of the highlights of the Puglia region. With sandy beaches and an historic centre surrounded by defensive walls it makes a lovely holiday destination.
Otranto has a lovely seaside position with parts of the town set high above the sea behind the defensive walls and parts sit just behind the lovely sandy beaches. The turquoise waters of the Adriatic sea and the whitewashed buildings of the town make this a delightful destination.
In the summer the beaches are a major draw. Obviously the town beach can become quite crowded but just a short distance south is Porto Badisco. The drive to the secluded bay is worth doing for the views alone. The bay is a lovely secluded cove surrounded by rocks and is great for snorkling. It is, according to Virgil, the place where Aeneas first landed in Italy upon his escape from Troy.
In the summer a local bus service travels to beaches to the north and south of Otranto allowing you to try out a few beaches even if you didn't hire a car.
As well as beaches Otranto town is lovely and you can pass many a happy hour wandering its streets and stopping for a cup of strong Italian coffee or a glass of wine from one of the many vineyards in the region.
The main historic attraction in Otranto is the large 12th century mosaic which is on the floor of the cathedral. The mosaics depict a tree of life balanced on the backs of two elephants. Religious and mythical figures can be seen in the mosaic such as Noah's ark. The cathedral itself is a simple structure dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries.
Otranto was invaded in the 15th century by Ottoman forces. 800 survivors of the siege took shelter in the cathedral and were subsequently killed for refusing to convert to Islam. The bones and skulls of the victims are now in the Chapel of Martyrs in the cathedral. Behind the altar of the chapel is the stone that is supposed to have been used to behead the martyrs.
Another interesting religious building is the small Byzantine church of Chiesa di San Pietro which has some great frescoes.
Otranto's castle, the Castello Aragonese, was largely built in the 15th century but on the site of an earlier castle. From the castle ramparts you can get some great views. Inside the castle there are some murals though they are fairly faded.
The Castle of Otranto is the setting for Horace Walpole's Gothic novel of the same name. This is said to be the first ever Gothic novel.
However the main pleasure is just ambling through the narrow streets of the town and enjoying the atmosphere and the local shops and restaurants. Some bars and restaurants with particularly nice views can be found on the defensive walls looking out to sea and the area around the harbour is also very nice.
Places to Visit Nearby
Drive the coastal road to Leuca at the tip of the 'heel of Italy' peninsula for some stunning coastal scenery.
Map of Otranto and places nearby
Otranto places to visit
See more places nearby in the Puglia guide