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Santa Maria di Leuca

Santa Maria di Leuca

Santa Maria di Leuca (also known as ‘Leuca’) is a frazione (village) just outside of the town of Castrignano del Capo. Leuca is known for its distinctive white-washed buildings, historic sea caves, famous lighthouse, marina seafood restaurants and stunning coastline.

Leuca was originally named Leukos (‘white’ in Greek). Greek sailors saw the sun’s reflection on the natural fork formations and thought it looked like a white city. Although Leuca’s origins are not certain, there are many accounts of Leuca being mentioned by Greek authors.

It is a popular seaside destination, in part to its stunning weather, crystalline waters and Art Nouveau villas along the seafront. A popular tourist haunt is the nearby Parco Naturale Regionale Costa Otranto, a 3,200-hectare Protected Area of which Leuca is a part.

The natural landscape is a huge pull for visitors to Leuca, but not all of it is completely natural. The Cascada Monumentale is a huge man-made waterfall, built to replace the end of the Puglia Aquaduct, which was built on the orders of Mussolini. Finished at the beginning of the Second World War, the waterfall is 250 metres long and features a vertical drop of 120 metres.

However, the magnificent waterfall is not the only impressive major landmark. At the tip of the land lies a lighthouse and a fortified Basilica. The famous active lighthouse, built over a former watchtower, stands just under 160 feet tall and has 254 winding steps.

Next to the lighthouse is Basilica Santuario di Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae church, complete with underground quarters where pilgrims would rest. The church, which is on the path of the Via Francigena and Via Leucadense trails, was founded by monks around the 1st century AD, who wanted to build a church commemorating the spot where St. Peter passed through on his way to Rome.

It is said St. Peter vowed that anybody visiting the church in their lifetime can safely pass onto Paradise in the afterlife. As Romans considered Leuca at the very bottom of the heel of Sicily’s boot, it was christened De Finibus Terrae (‘The End of the Land’).

Below the Basilica, down another winding staircase, is the vibrant Marina di Leuca, where the port is the town’s main hub. Here you can visit many restaurants showcasing the very best of Salento cuisine. Artichokes and broad beans are popular vegetables, as are diavulicchi chillis (‘little devils’). Traditional dishes include ciceri e tria (‘fried pasta’ with chickpeas), quataru (fish soup) and octopus alla pignata, fresh octopus cooked in a terracotta pot.

The Marina also offers excursions by sea to many nearby islands and the stunning karst caves which date back to the Neolithic era. The Grotta del Diavolo (‘Devil’s Grotto’) is the most well-known. A popular urban legend claims that the caves are haunted by demons - or the Devil itself.