I get around the area between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca since about 50 years now; I spent a few days every summer in this beautiful corner of Italy, appreciating the views, the people and the flavors. But, as often happens, I had never seen Castro. Or better. I always stopped at Castro Marina, between the Cave of Zinzulusa and Marina Serra, without ever bothering to “climb” to the Borgo, also because rumors were it did not offer anything special; a bunch of houses at 100 m above sea level had no particular attraction on children and adolescents, as adults we simply stops at the sea or to the cave or in one of the dozens of restaurants that “litter” the coast in the area.
This year, leveraging one of the many “so and so” days of a strange summer, we decided to “go up”. The road, narrow and winding, was not promising anything good and the initial interest was disappearing. However, right after having parked and walked to the pedestrian area, we found ourselves in a magical and unusual, for the area, atmosphere: a Square, very wide, with the west side open to the sea and the beautiful coastline. I do not think I remember other villages in Salento with this characteristic, the altitude makes this place magical and unique.
By keeping exploring, we found the traditional “salentini” alleys very well kept and, occasionally, a new scenic views opened on some other side of the rocky promontory on which lies the Borgo. No gift shop, no restaurants with tourist menus, a few B & B to emphasize the difference with the “Marina” a few kilometers away. We found out that Castro used to be one of the first counties of Salento, as well as a “Vescovado” (site of the Bishop). Moreover, recent excavations at the Acropolis have uncovered the ruins of a sanctuary most likely dedicated to Minerva, which would confirm the legend that this place was the first landing of Aeneas in Italy.
So much history and so many beautiful monuments and ruins to seal it. We spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering through the streets, looking at and talking to the women sitting outside their houses embroidering; we asked if they sold those little masterpieces, but the answer was disarming: “None, cce vindi! Sta fazzu la dote pe’ figghiama” (Are you kidding? This is my daughter’s dowry!!!) … .clearly in these magical places even the young people, or at least some of them, are still tied to the values and traditions, and their “social business” is in these small groups sitting on the alleys “enjoy being together even just only to criticize” as a nice old Italian song says….
I got impressed also by another scene… a woman filling and carrying buckets of water from the public fountain; and we found that the elevated position of the village does not allow a decent water pressure in the house on some hours of the day …. another flashback for me; many years ago, until the end of the 70s, we had running water in the house, during Summer, only from 9 pm and up at 7 am; the rest of the day they could not ensure a decent water pressure ….
The entire center is a pedestrian area, and the silence that reigns make it a priceless oasis in the holiday chaos. An aperitif in the square and the promise to return to visit the churches, the remains of the Byzantine basilica and other well-preserved beauty of this lovely little paradise just steps from the pit of vacationers from around the world.