Le Cesine National Nature Reserve
Situated on the Adriatic coast directly to the east of Lecce is an area of over 600 hectares of protected wetland, one of the most important in Italy. The marshland at one time spread as far as Brindisi in the north and Otranto in the south, but through major drainage operations to claim the land for cultivation and reduce the risk of malaria during the 19th Century, the area was reduced to its current size.
In the 1970s WWF Italia and the State Forestry Body initiated a campaign to protect this internationally important reserve. There are many rare plant, animal and insect species found here, and it is a haven for over 180 types of birds.
The Masseria, parts of which date back to the 16th Century, has now been converted into a visitors centre, with catering facilities, information and organised tours. Tours last around 2-2½ hours on foot (€8) or on bicycle (€12) with discounts for WWF members, and are available on Sundays and Public Holidays without prior organisation.
Porto Selvaggio Regional Nature Park
On the Ionian coast to the south west of the town of Nardo is the Parco Regionale Naturale di Porto Selvaggio. From the car park walk through a protected woodland of Aleppi Pines to the pebble beach where there are crystal clear waters for as far as you can see. The coast is filled with caves and former Messapic quarries.
Also at the site are the Palude del Capitano, Captain Marshes, which boast a number of rare botanical species around the 'spundurate', small salt water basins.
Parco dei Guerrieri / Vaste
On the south east side of the town of Poggiardo and south west of Otranto is the Parco dei Guerrieri, an archaeological park on the site of the important Messapic city of Vaste.
The city was established in around 600 BC, growing in wealth and stature sufficiently to constuct huge defensive walls around 300 BC. There are remains of the walls, a siege tower and necropolis. The city was destroyed in Roman times, but was re-inhabited, as evidenced by the remains of an early Christian church from c.700 AD. The city was finally wiped out by William the Bad in 1147.
To the east of Lecce and to the north of Otranto is the small fishing village of San Foca. There is a coastal tower built in the 16th Century which overlooks the small port.
This is a real destination for fish lovers, who can wait for one of the many fishing boats to come into port and buy directly from the fisherman. Alternatively there are 18 vessels which take aboard tourists to experience the fishing themselves, where they can take the catch home, or eat on the boats themselves.
La Notte della Taranta
La Notte della Taranta is a music festival particularly focusing on pizzica, the traditional genre of the Puglia region. It takes place throughout August each year - in 2015 it runs from 3rd-22nd August. The locations vary each year but travels throughout many of the towns of the Grecia Salentina around Lecce, culminating in a large event at Melpignano.
It started in 1998, and over the years has attracted contributions of numerous well-known worldwide artists. The festival hosts over 100, 000 spectators each year, making it one of the most important events in Puglia.
For more information see www.lanottedellataranta.it