Night location: Cisternino, Italy
After an auspicious start, our day has gotten progressively better and better! We left our bags at the hotel after another delicious breakfast feeling optimistic that we would return with our hire car within the hour. David took the lead navigating the busy suburban streets of Lecce as we had to walk about 20 minutes to the hire car office. He had mentioned several times that he hoped this car place wasn't an apparition, but Amber assured him that AVIS was a reputable company and that had we gone with 'Puglian Cars R Us' then perhaps his concerns would be more warranted.
Upon arriving at the address, we saw a large Renault dealership with no signs for AVIS anywhere to be seen. Given that we were not planning to buy our hire car we were a little intrigued but went inside apprehensive, but hopeful. None of the staff were interested in trying to sell us a vehicle so we stood awkwardly for some time before finally approaching a woman in a room to one side. She uttered the sound 'Ugh' before leading us to a desk and pulling out a sign that informed us that the AVIS office had moved to a different location. She then suggested, 'Taxi?' and was kind enough to ring one for us.
When Nonna arrived in her circa 1992 Citroen taxi we gratefully hopped in and proceeded to cross to the opposite side of the town. She attempted to converse with us in Italian except when she was resting her hand permanently on the horn to let out her frustration at being forced to stop due to congestion.
We had to negotiate our way out of being forced to drive a 2 door convertible Fiat made for Barbie and finally got the keys to Carlo, our very own Citroen. Trying to find our way back to the old town without going into the restricted area was stressful and after a few wrong turns, we finally parked, retrieved our bags and went on our merry way.
The first stop was the walled town of Gallipoli which is situated on the west, Ionian coast of Puglia's Salento peninsula. We wandered up the main tourismo souvenir strip towards the main cathedral which is quite unique in that its baroque facade is almost impossible to properly admire due to its close proximity to the laneway buildings opposite. The interior was really beautiful with paintings adorning the walls and ceiling. There was a small Mass taking place so we couldn't really explore but we sat and enjoyed the organ accompanied hymn before proceeding to a nearby cafe for a cool drink.
From Gallipoli, we travelled east across the peninsula to the Adriatic coast and the popular swimming spot, Grotte della Poesia. For many years this swimming hole has been on Amber's list of places to visit as the photos of the crystal aquamarine water surrounded by limestone are breathtaking. We walked across a seemingly banal rocky landscape towards the sound of loud cheering and the occasional splash. The limestone opened up dramatically to reveal a stunning pool of water that was fed by a small inlet and that receded into a large cave under the rock shelf. David was very brave and jumped in three times, while Amber traversed the narrow stairs that snaked down one side of the rock wall.
Feeling refreshed we continued exploring the coastline by visiting Torre dell'Orso with the 'Two Sisters' rock formation and then the more impressive Torre Sant'Andrea which featured a natural arch and other interesting rocky outcrops.
The 1.5 hour drive north took us out of the Salento region and into the more fertile Itria Valley and the iconic Trulli. For the next three nights we are staying in a Masseria which is a fortified farmhouse and will be sleeping in our very own trullo, which is a round stone hut with a conical roof. We are both really excited to learn more about this region in the coming days.