This week we continued to explore Salento and discover the nature park, Parco Selvaggio and the seaside town of Santa Maria al Bagno.
Tuesday was our 19th wedding anniversary. We headed across the Salento from the eastern Adriatic coast to the Ionian on the west coast. The Salento region of Puglia sits on a very narrow peninsula at the southern most tip of Puglia. It’s an easy drive from one side to the other, about forty minutes. Nardò is a typical southern Italian town, 8km from the Ionian sea. Nardò reaches much further than the town, within the authority of the Comune are many small seaside towns and Parco Selvaggio.
When we went out to explore Salento last week we had finally discovered the location of the Parco Selvaggio nature park. It was too late that day to explore the park and its coastline. We made it our first port of call on this trip.
From Nardò follow the signs for Parco Selvaggio heading towards the Ionian Sea. You will know when you are getting close as you will see lots of cars parked either side of the road. That is if you are visiting in summer. Outside of the main season the roads are probably completely deserted. You might be tempted to follow the Italian lead and park on the road. If you do so you run the risk of a fine. There is free parking located close to the Torre Uluzzo entrance. You can walk from the car park to the entrance and then head down to the beach.
A bright red road train will take you south to the Villa Tafuri entrance, nearest to the Spiagga di Porto Selvaggio (Port Selvaggio beach). It is 2 euros per person to ride the road train, keep your ticket for the return journey. Don’t listen to the attendant in the car parking who will tell you it is a 400 metre walk from the drop off point to the beach.
We took the road train for a short road through the countryside. With a nice breeze the natural air-conditioning was great.
Porto Selvaggio nature park covers an area of 516 hectares and we saw only a very small part of it. Reforestation which started in the 1950s has transformed the bare, rocky landscape into a wonderful pine forest. The air was redolent with pine and unidentified Mediterranean plants probably including wild herbs.
The walk from the road train stop to the beach is not for the elderly, infirm or small children. It is at least 800 metres on a stony path with, in places, rocks and shingle and steep slopes. In places it resembes a dried out river-bed sloping down to the sea. Make sure you have suitable footwear with you.
The views are amazing, The pine forest opens out onto the Ionian sea, a wonderful landscape of blue skies, dark green pine trees and the bluest sea.
Sadly when we reached the bay we were very disappointed. Yes the sea is a crystal clear, sparkling blue, but the bay is tiny and very stony. There was no room for us. There are flat rocky areas surrounding the bay where people were sun worshipping and jumping into the sea. It was nice to see under the shade of the pines large wooden picnic tables and benches. There is a small concession selling cold drinks but not much more. Take everything with you if you plan to stay. Take beach shoes too.
It’s possible to walk along the rocks and explore other coves and grottos. We chose not too … a hot day and not much chance of beach space. For us this will be a place to visit in May, late September or early October. There will be fewer, if any, people and the temperatures will be much better for walking and exploring.
The walk back up the rocky slope was a challenge and we certainly worked up an appetite for lunch.
Santa Maria al Bagno
After taking the road train back to the car we headed south to Santa Maria al Bagno. A lovely seaside town with a small, but nice, sandy beach right in front of the town square. Research before setting out had identified La Pergola as a potential lunch venue.
We sat outside on the edge of the piazza with superb views of the town beach and surrounding coastline. Lunch was superb, possibly one of the nicest eaten out for a while. Read our restaurant review here.