One of the most enjoyable aspects of traveling in Italy is discovering secret towns that stop you in your tracks — as Gagliano del Capo does for unsuspecting visitors driving down the Pugliese coast. The town's dry stone walls, round rock farm buildings, and olive trees on Lecce's highest elevation provide a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. Whether you love hiking, cycling, swimming or simply resting on the beach, Gagliano del Capo has something to suit your interests.
Meander through the historic center
Though the enclosing walls that formerly surrounded the medieval village are no longer visible, the historic center's modest cobblestoned alleyways have remained. A stroll through the town leads to small piazzas, hidden pizzerias and whimsical antique shops. With its tree-lined sidewalks, Corso Umberto is a fantastic place to sit outside and enjoy a cappuccino or cold drink before heading to the nearby Palazzo Ciardo, which now houses an oratory. The Palace, built on the ruins of an earlier medieval castle, was the birthplace of the well-known painter from Salento, Vincenzo Ciardo, and now draws people from all over Italy and Europe.
Take in the views at Ponte del Ciolo
The 40-meter-high, 60-meter-long Ponte del Ciolo (Ciolo Bridge) on the Adriatic coast is an unmissable landmark that spans a canyon carved by millennia of sea and wind erosion. Make like everyone else does — even in the dead of winter — and pull off the side of the road to take pictures of this captivating natural and human-made landscape.
Ponte del Ciolo is a popular spot for extreme sports. Daring young people, professional adventurers, and thrill-seekers are drawn in each year, on the hunt for exceptional dives. However, because of the rocky bottom and the height, diving here is prohibited. You may still enjoy the sea by entering from the cove below, and those seeking an adrenaline rush can dive from the rocks around the cove.
Go exploring on the Ciolo inlet
Ponte del Ciolo, with steps sloping sharply down to the crystal-clear waters of the sea below, crosses its namesake, the Ciolo, a narrow coastal inlet with historical and environmental significance. The enclosed Ciolo gorge is ideal for scuba diving, snorkeling or just swimming in the clear water. From the shore, a medieval shepherd's route leads up to the center of Gagliano del Capo and offers spectacular views of the earthy hues below.
Visitors also come to the Ciolo canyon for its three significant caves, the largest being the Grotta Grande del Ciolo. Distinguished by exquisite sea-level access and extensive areas of collapse, Grotta Grande del Ciolo contains a small lake set back just a few hundred meters from the bay. After passing the gigantic collapsed stones, the cave’s 30-meter-high entrance leads to a deep interior tunnel that brings you to the gorgeous lake with emerald-green reflections. The next cave, known as Grotta Piccola del Ciolo, is also accessible from the sea. It’s around 120 meters deep and runs completely underground over its whole length.
On the opposite slope of the Ciolo lies the Grotta delle Prazziche, which opens at 62 meters above sea level and is accessible by foot through a path that begins just after the entrance to the Gibò Luxury Club and ascends a steep asphalt road. A beautiful circular cavern, it’s exposed at the top and has an open-air vertical siphon.
Take a breather on area hiking trails
The Ciolo territory offers hiking and walking options along the Regional Natural Coastal Park to Novaglie. The Sentiero del Vecchio Ciolo and the Sentiero delle Cipolliane lead to some of the area’s natural and historical highlights. The Vecchio Ciolo path runs from Ciolo to the center of Gagliano del Capo and vice versa. The route runs through a long staircase close to Ponte del Ciolo, allowing access to a tiny cove and a steep road to the historic center.
Once used by merchants and fishers to transport salt and other goods from the coast to the territory's interior, the Cipolliane route begins with the imposing cliffs of the Ciolo inlet. It continues north along the coast to the tiny harbor of Marina di Novaglie. The rugged trail reveals the untamed beauty of the Salento landscape. It also leads hikers to one of the path's most famous sites: the Cipolliane Cave. The cave, which offers an expansive view of the sea, is reached through narrow branches that wind from the main path.
If you go
Getting to Gagliano del Capo from Lecce: Gagliano is 63 km from Lecce and takes about an hour to drive. Lecce to Gagliano del Capo by bus costs €2 - €7 and takes about two hours.
Where to stay: Ville Belvedere luxury accommodation offers a private infinity pool overlooking the Adriatic and a Turkish bath set inside an old restored trullo.
Where to eat: L'Incanto restaurant, situated right on the cliffs, offers Mediterranean dishes and breathtaking views. There's also a "Champagneria" and cocktail space facing the sea, where you can enjoy live music. It's open daily from 9am-11pm.