Carol Forster column

The tranquil sea at Otranto
The tranquil sea at Otranto

One Sunday morning I visited Otranto with my lovely friend Maria Rosa Cavalera, so we set forth in her car right down the heel of Italy, and stopped at some beaches on the way.

First, San Cataldo with its boats bobbing out to sea. Next, ‘Torre dell’Orso’, a beach which will be full to the brim in August, as you can see from the postcards of brightly coloured parasols and tanned beach bathers.

It was quite beautiful on this deserted Sunday, with lovely views of cliffs and boats and, although it was unusually chilly for April, it left a positive impression of Adriatic loveliness. Then we travelled to Otranto, past the national park where joggers and cyclists enjoy the luscious woods.

Arriving in Otranto was deceptive.

At first, it seemed like just another pretty town in Puglia, but then as we walked towards the old town area, I began to see what all the fuss is about.

A myriad of streets and palazzi, all in perfect harmony, and with a fascinating history too – here, tragically, the bones and relics of 800 Catholic martyrs killed by the invading Turks in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam, are displayed in the Cathedral, and there is also the Castello Aragonese standing proudly above the city.

As you walk to the seaside promenade you will be stunned by the sea which is limpid and turquoise, there by the city walls, and so inviting. After our sightseeing, we wandered to find a café and it started to power shower on us. At first I thought that Gerard Depardieu was having a bad day.

I soon realised that it was just an extremely heavy downpour.

Nonetheless, we had a cappuccino under a dripping ombrellone, and listened to the merry street vendor singing his song to us.

The café owners looked on aghast at how we could ‘brave the drops’under the huge umbrella, but it was lovely out there with that cappuccino and a slice of Otranto pizza – the perfect end to a wonderful day.