Puglia is a lot like Los Angeles: if you don’t have a car and you don’t consult the locals on where to go, you’re going to have a miserable time. The entire region is an insider’s mecca, but nowhere more so than Otranto, a seaside town whose unattractive port bellies a pirate’s bootie of buried treasure in and around its historic center. Here to help us scoop up the jewels are Milan-based brothers Ennio and Carlo Capasa – fashion designer and head of Italy’s Camera Nazionale Della Moda, respectively – who grew up in Lecce, a splendid Baroque town 30 minutes inland by car. In the late 1990s, Carlo began restoration on a magnificent masseria, a giant fortress-like castle made from huge slabs of local stone, with an enviable, rare position right on Otranto’s sparkling waters (read our story about it HERE). It is now covered in fuchsia bougainvillea, spills out with local relatives and is conveniently situated next to a bustling, full-service sandy beach bar that the Capasa family runs. Today, the brothers shuttle back and forth from Milan to Otranto, egged on by its fabulous cuisine, its emerald sea and their magical, family-filled home. But for those without a private estate, there are plenty of corners to discover, divine vegetables to eat, and several old-style masserie that have been converted into chic small hotels to make believe are your own.
THE INSIDE SCOOP: WHAT TO PACK, WHEN TO COME, WHAT NOT TO DO
“Whatever you do, don’t come in August,” advises Carlo. “You’ll eat worse, you’ll be treated like a tourist, and every place will be packed.” The best months are June or September, while winter is generally empty. “Don’t forget to rent a car,” Ennio advise, “Otherwise (like LA!) you’re screwed.” When the GPS breaks down, never fear: “Even the locals get lost!” Ennio adds. Clothing is rumpled chic: lots of linen, long cotton dresses and flat sandals.
THE CHICEST HOTELS IN AND AROUND OTRANTO
Masseria Spartivento – “We don’t like big hotels at all,” says Carlo. “The best places to stay feel like private homes.” This small masseria features a beautiful garden and great breakfasts packed with home made sweets. It is just 15 minutes to the beach.
Address: Località Patulicchie Sp 366, Litoranea Torre dell’Orso, 72020 Melendugno (Lecce)
Masseria Prosperi – “This one also has a perfect local flavor,” says Ennio. “It’s very small and chic with just 5 rooms that have all been personalized. An old aristocratic family runs it and you see horses, animals as well as a nice pool.”
Address: S.P. 366, Km. 23, Località Frassanito, 73028 Otranto (Lecce)
Masseria Montelauro – “If you want a bigger hotel, this one is really nice and has a great pool and a very good restaurant,” says Carlo. “We also come here for dinner.” By bigger, the brothers mean 30 rooms, not 300, that are scattered within a restructured masseria.
Address: S.P. 358 Otranto, Uggiano, Località Montelauro 73028,Otranto (Lecce)
Il Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli – “This is an ex-convent that’s been covered in fabulous patterns and textiles. It’s not on the water, it’s about 40 minutes from here. But it’s a very special place.”
Address: via Convento, Marittima di Diso, (Diso)
OUR FAVORITE RESTAURANTS- FROM MOM & POP PLACES TO MORE EXTRAVAGANT FARE — AND WHAT WE ORDER:
Laltro Baffo – A young chef named Cristina makes light, local Mediterranean food specialized in super fresh fish. “It’s right in the center of town and is our favorite restaurant,” says Ennio. “It’s creative but not weird. She does an amazing Parmigiana di melanzane with seafood and a Carbonara pasta sauce with sea urchins.”
Address: Via Cenobio Basiliano 23, 73028 Otranto (Lecce)
Il Diavolicchio Goloso – Another great restaurant for fresh fish. “My favorite thing is the antipasti di mare where they bring you 10 different things,” says Ennio. “It’s fabulous.
Address: Via Mammacasella, Otranto (Lecce)
Il Ficheto at Furnirussi – Inside a great restored country house on the biggest fig farm in Europe, this five star hotel also features a delicious restaurant. “There are so many fig trees you don’t even know you’re just 15 minutes from Otranto,” says Ennio. “They have fabulous dinners.”
Address: Strada Comunale Scine, 29, 73020 Serrano, Carpignano Salentino (Lecce)
Da Fabio– “This is a classic, good restaurant in Zollino,” says Carlo. “It’s nice because it’s in a very old house.”
Address: Via Sandro Pertini, 7, 73010 Zollino (Lecce)
La Torre da Marta – Puglia is packed with agriturismi and this is a great one for dinner. “The owner has her own animals and vegetable garden and she makes everything herself,” says Ennio. “The lasagna is great and her ricotta cheese is to die for—buy and take it home.” in Via Orte in Otranto.
Address: Via Orte, 73028 Otranto (Lecce)
Osteria Origano at Cantine Menhir – “This is a very nice restaurant inside a courtyard of a masseria in Minervino where you eat typical dishes. The town is very cute to visit especially the piazza.”
Address: Via Giuseppina Scarciglia, 18, 73027 Minervino di Lecce (Lecce)
Lemi – “If you want a fancy dinner, go here,” Carlo advises. “It’s the best restaurant in all of Salento, is Michelin starred and has a beautiful garden. It’s a classic.” Just 40 minutes from Otranto.
Address: Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 16, 73039 Tricase (Lecce)
Farmacia Balboa – “While you’re in Tricase, you should try this small bar,” adds Ennio. “They do a great aperitivo.”
Address: Piazza Giuseppe Pisanelli, 73039 Tricase
TOP LOCAL DISHES – FROM TRADITIONAL PASTAS AND DELECTIBLE DESSERTS TO SPECIAL CHEESES – AND THE BEST PLACES TO GET THEM
Sniff out warm ricotta cheese. The ricotta made from local sheep is as light as soufflé. “We buy it daily—while it’s still warm— and eat it at every meal,” says Ennio. “For breakfast like yogurt, at lunch on pasta (just mix the pasta cooking water with your ricotta and some oil, you’re set), and at dessert with cinnamon and honey on it.” Best place to score it is Caseificio Torre Sant’Emiliano – Litoranea Otranto-Porto Badisco – in Otranto.
Eat an Il Rustico – The region’s traditional round tart is made with tomato, mozzarella and béchamel. “The best ones are at Alvino, a great bar/cafe in Lecce which is right across from the Roman amphitheater,” says Ennio. “It’s a perfect coffee or aperitivo spot.”
Address: Piazza Sant’Oronzo, 30, Lecce
Try a classic Pasticiotto – “This is the local pastry made of pasta frolla and custard. It’s a very special taste. The best ones are in Galatina at Pasticceria Ascalone. You should also try the fruttona which has a jam filling and the Spumone which is a special stuffed ice cream cake that’s used in weddings.”
Address: Via Vittorio Emanuele, 17, 73013 Galatina (Lecce)
Fish out a Frisella. The hard baked bread from Salento becomes soft again once wet with water or oil. “We like the whole grain orzo version which is harder and more traditional, served the original way with only tomato, olive oil, salt arugula and lots of dried oregano,” says Carlo. “We eat this for lunch at the beach at Lido La Castellana.”
Address: Via Antonio Sforza – 73028 Otranto (Lecce)
Try pronouncing Otranto’s Pasta Tipica: Sagne ‘Ncannulate. Then, eat the long curly tubes of pasta made from whole wheat flour. “I like it with tomato sauce, basil and a special hard ricotta,” says Ennio. The brother’s favorite restaurant for this is Il Giardino Nascosto- in otranto in the historic center-
Address: Via G. M. Laggetto, 38, 73028 Otranto (Lecce)
DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT DOING OR SEEING THE FOLLOWING:
Collapse on a cool beach: Lido La Castellana offers clear green sea, a pristine beach, white umbrellas and wooden lounge chairs for rent and a simple restaurant that serves top-form friselle, home made tagliatelle pasta and café shakerato under a wisteria-lined gazebo. “This is our local beach club, we go every day,” says Carlo. “It’s run by my family and a lot of attention goes into it. We wanted to do something small and chic.”
Address: Via Antonio Sforza – 73028 Otranto (Lecce)
Hang out and eat sea urchins in Porto Badisco – a small town near Otranto specialized in fresh sea urchins pulled from the sea by fisherman. “You sit on poor little outdoor tables,” says Ennio. “We only go in months that have a letter R in them: March, April, September, February, which is when they are biggest. It’s a great Easter tradition.”
Take a Baroque tour in Lecce – “The beauty of Lecce is that it’s a mix of so many different cultures, plus their Baroque phase lasted 300 years!” says Carlo. “You need to see the Santa Croce, Palazzo dei Celestini and the Duomo.
Check out the Light Extravaganza at La festa della Luminarie in Santa Domenica di Scorrano – Every July, there’s a great town festival where all the locals compete with incredible, colorful installations covered with light bulbs. “It’s like Disneyland,” says Ennio. “It’s amazing.”
Art in Gagliano del Capo – Just in case you’re coming in August, there’s a nice fair that combines local art together with contemporary projects. “It’s quite good actually,” says Carlo.
Visit a Cool Tiny Town – “We love Specchia, a fabulous town north of Santa Maria di Leuca,” says Carlo. “The historic center is so special, it’s perfect for a day trip.”
Pet a Plant at Giardino Botanico La Cutura – “This is a huge green house with tons of different kinds of plants and is the biggest cactus farm in Europe,” says Ennio. “The owner is an ex-banker who went all over the world to collect them – it’s really fun to see.”
Address: Contrada Cutura, 73030 Giuggianello (Lecce)
Cave di Pietra Leccese – “If you’re into it, you can visit the stone quarries where they cut big blocks of local stone,” says Carlo. If you peek behind the quarry, you’ll find tons of artisans sculpting and working.
BEST LOCAL SHOPS & ORIGINAL ITEMS TO BUY
Handmade fabrics & Textiles in Tiggiano – “They still make them on old-fashioned machines so they have an antique feel,” says Ennio. “We bought all of our linens for the masseria at Tessitura Calabrese.”
Address: Via Provinciale per Alessano, 42 73030 Tiggiano (Lecce)
Ceramics from Lucugnano – “As soon as you enter the town, it’s all full of handmade plates and vases,” says Ennio. “You can’t go wrong. Just shop anywhere!”
Antiques in Lecce- Carlo prefers a shop called La Vitta. “He has a mix of Arte Povera artworks, Liberty furniture, and rustic tables and chairs.”
Wicker chairs in Bagnolo del Salento – “In this small town there are about 10 stores run by small artisans all next to one another weaving straw and wicker,” says Ennio. “It’s cool.”
– J.J Martin