SANTA MARIA DI LEUCA | THE APULIAN HOLIDAY
Santa Maria di Leuca sits on the southernmost tip of the Salento peninsula where the waters of the Adriatic Sea mingle and merge with those of the Ionian. A popular resort for wealthy Puglians since the early 1900s, as testified to by the eye-catching Art Nouveau villas that line the seafront, Leuca has all the necessary attributes for a quintessential Mediterranean holiday.
The town’s name comes from the Greek Leukos, meaning light or luminous, while the name of Santa Maria refers specifically to the religious sanctuary built on a site high above the harbour, once home to a Temple of Minerva. Legend has it that the temple crumbled to the ground as St. Peter passed through …
Leuca is also home to a monumental man-made waterfall, built to signal the end of the Puglia aqueduct. Started in mid-19th century, the aqueduct took an age to complete and only arrived in Leuca, its final destination, in 1941.
Mussolini was a great fan of project (the longest aqueduct in Europe) and ordered the construction of a suitably showy finale: the mouth of the aqueduct is built into a bridge at the top of the Japigo promontory and a waterway of rocks falls away below, flanked on either side by 300 steps.
The sandy beaches at nearby Felloniche, Posto Vecchio, Torre Vado and Pescoluse are excellent for families and well-equipped with lidos, bars, restaurants and other facilities …
Not far from the sanctuary is the impressive lighthouse, built in 1864 on the site of a 16th century watchtower. Its octagonal form rises 47 metres into the sky (over 100m above sea level) and contains a winding staircase of 254 steps. Still in function, it is one of Leuca’s most impressive landmarks.
Leuca has long been mentioned in the annals of history: Thucydides, Sallustius, Strabo and Horace all mentioned the town in historical and literary contexts, while documents attest to St. Peter sojourning there on his way to Rome.
But Santa Maria di Leuca is also, and perhaps principally, about the sea. The sandy beaches at nearby Felloniche, Posto Vecchio, Torre Vado and Pescoluse are excellent for families and well-equipped with lidos, bars, restaurants and other facilities, while the more dramatic stretches of coastline, as described by Virgil, feature rocky cliffs pierced with around 30 Karstic grottoes. The best way to truly these fascinating geological formations is by boat and there is no shortage of local sailors ready to take you out to sea off the coast where the world ends!
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