The Seaside Town of Otranto in the Salento
One of the very best days at cooking school in Puglia, in the southern heel of Italy known as the Salento, is actually the day we don’t cook. That’s the day we make sandwiches (as big as our heads, our cooking teacher Silvestro likes to say) and head to the seaside town of Otranto for the day. It’s not a forced march of touring, but rather a day to relax in an otherwise busy week of cooking and learning about southern Italian food and wine. If you go, there a few things you absolutely must do and see – starting with getting your photo taken with your posse of friends with the gorgeous Adiatic Sea as a backdrop.Otranto is a seaside fishing town, as well as a coastal resort and a UNESCO world heritage site, so start by checking out the fisherman like Salvatore on the pier. They are catching minnows in nets – and Salvatore will happily eat them alive and while in front of you if you want to catch it on video. He will also be delighted to take your leftover half bottle of wine home for dinner if you share it with him.The fishing pier is also about as lovely a place as you could fine anywhere for a picnic lunch, so settle in, enjoy the sun and water, bring plenty of food and wine, and chat with your friends. The shops are largely closed from 1-4 anyway, so enjoy the afternoon Italian style.The cathedral in Otranto honors the Christian martyrs who were killed by the Ottomans, and the church floor is the largest mosaic in Europe. Be sure to visit the crypt also where you will find one of the few rare black Madonnas in the world.It’s a short walk through the interior walls of the old fortress, with its impressive massive walls, so linger, learn some of the history, and take a minute to honor the martyrs before you head back out of the old walls of the town.Before you head on your way, stop in the newer portion of town for some gelato. That’s where you will find Martinucci, some of the very best. I prefer pistachio, but honestly, you can’t go wrong with anything they offer.You’ll leave Otrano rested, and ready for whatever else your time in the Salento has in store for you!