A view of gay Salento
The idea of finding a romantic, Mediterranean village in southern Italy which feels like home, and then actually relocating there permanently, is a seductive one. Peter Simon, a friend of Further Afield, has done just that and has found the region of Salento, as well as its people to more than live up to his expectations. And to make your stay even better check out the Further Afield places to stay in the area.
Peter first viisted the Salento region in southern Puglia in the late 90’s and fell instantly in love. When he describes the area’s many draws that first grabbed his attention, it’s easy to see why. “The many colours of the Crystalline sea water, the southern Mediterranean vegetation, vineyards and olive groves, the sounds and smells of the fir forests, the food, and the architecture of the historic centres are too much to take in all at once,” he says. Peter’s exploration of the area was thorough and relaxed, which in his eyes is the only way one should experience these places. “It’s a magical land where you need to respect the slow pace of life in order to appreciate it to the fullest.”
Using only the local train network and a rented bicycle, Peter chose to go without a guide book – and rely solely on gut instinct instead. On his travels he discovered a gay beach and cafe in the coastal town of Gallipoli. He remembers being pleasantly surprised at how out and open the gay community was there. The relaxed and hospitable attitude towards the community could be considered a bit surprising by some; however, Peter has some insight on its possible origins. “Due to Salento’s geographical position, its people have a long history of encounters with other civilizations and customs, making them on the whole, very warm and accepting.”
Finding a Place to Call His Own
The property hunt found Peter falling for more than one town – an easy thing to have happen in a region as wildly beautiful as southern Puglia. “I was very taken with Matino, a town with narrow streets that wind up a hillside. Most of the properties there are painted limestone-white and have views from their roof terraces over Gallipoli and its beaches”. However, he ultimately decided to put roots down in Nardó (check out our Further Afield guide to Nardó). Due to the town’s proximity to the Brindisi airport, and the thriving Baroque city of Lecce, it made perfect sense, and he couldn’t be happier. “Nardó has attracted people from all over the world. Apart from my Italian friends, I have Belgian, French, German, Croatian, Swedish, British, Australian and American friends either living here permanently like myself or spending many months of the year here”.
The Gay Scene in Salento
Known as the Florence of the south, Lecce is home to the largest amount of LGBT friendly venues. Marilyn Cafe Lounge Bar is the official gay spot in town, while bars such as Verso Sud are popular as well. There is also a sizeable lesbian community in Lecce too. Even Peter’s quaint town of Nardó has a buzzing venue (Bar Parisi) that at times, seems more gay than not.
The main draw of Salento however, is, of course, its beautiful beaches. Just below Gallipoli lies stunning, gay-friendly shores. Other stretches of sand frequented by the community include Campo Marino and Torre Colimena. If that wasn’t enough, and you happen to find yourself there at the right time, there is a pride festival held annually in either Lecce or Gallipoli – in 2018 it’s August 11.
However, Peter points out that the scene is more relaxed than others in southern Europe, as well as covering a larger area. “Salento is not like Mykonos or Sitges where the gay community is more centralised and ghettoised, here we are spread far and wide, and a car or motorbike is needed to get around.”
Spending a holiday enjoying incredible food, gorgeous architecture, fun nightlife, and dramatically beautiful beaches is a luxury, surely. Spending it in a place as rich in history as southern Puglia is icing on the cake. To experience all that with locals whose warm hospitality is simply a way of life, well that is something truly special.