Beginning our Vacation in Salento, Italy

We arrived at Brindisi airport on a hot, dry Saturday afternoon. Traveling with two small children in tow means we try to fly direct whenever possible, but we got a great deal on a flight from Paris with a stopover in Milan, and so our journey had begun quite early that morning. Stepping out of the main building, we entered the building next door to where the car rental shops are set up, and within the hour we were on our way south, away from the Adriatic coast and across to the Ionian Sea.

When we planned out this vacation, the consensus was that we were going to buck our trend of crazy busy travel from place to place and spend two weeks relaxing and enjoying time as a family. That meant no hotels in big city centers, no detailed itineraries, and no dragging the kids around for hours to see things they had no interest in seeing. We also weren't interested in huge all-inclusive hotels or large camping villages, preferring instead something more private and relaxed.

We decided on Italy as our summer travel destination fairly quickly, but didn't really consider Puglia until someone my husband works with suggested it's a great place for a relaxing family vacation. Puglia is located on the heel of the Italian boot, straddling the Ionian on one side and the Adriatic on the other. Historically it's been one of the poorer areas of the country, creating a now-famous type of cuisine called "cucina povera" or literally, poor cooking. The food relies on simple, fresh ingredients prepared equally simply, but with incredible flavour. Most of the tourism in this area outside of a few popular towns comes from Italian tourists from the north, then French, and a few German and English.

After doing some research, we chose to stay in the southern part of Puglia called Salento. The Salento region is home to protected marine areas, some of the most beautiful beaches and coastline in the county, and thousands of olive groves. We settled on the idea of spending one week on the coast, and one week in the countryside. We decided against staying in one of the larger seaside resort towns, particularly since some of the bigger ones are crowded in the summer and prices are higher, but also because most of them are located along rocky coastlines. The winding roads and views are spectacular, but the deeper water and rocky beaches aren't ideal for young children.

Instead, we chose a small town called Torre Lapillo, located just a few minutes away from the larger town of Porto Cesareo, which has a marina and a larger city center. Torre Lapillo has a small town center with all the necessities, but the real draw is the beach. Torre Lapillo beach was named one of the ten most beautiful unknown beaches in the world by the Guardian newspaper, and it's easy to see why. The beach is made of fine white sand, and the water is crystal clear and the most incredible shade of blue.

I've been on beaches in the Caribbean that weren't as nice as this one! In addition, the water is calm, shallow, and warm, making it perfect for children. Our three year old was able to play in the water without being knocked over by giant waves or strong currents.

The beach, on the roughest day we saw the water. Still very tame!

We rented a vacation home off AirBnB located less than a five minute walk from the beach, across the main road and down one of the side streets that runs perpendicular to the beach. The home had three bedrooms with individual air conditioning, a large living and dining area, a modern, fully equipped kitchen, private gated parking, and both front and back patio areas, as well as a rooftop patio. We didn't use the rooftop patio because it was too hot during the day and because the walls aren't high enough to keep a three year old from climbing them. Most of the rental homes here don't come with a pool, so we brought a small inflatable one for the kids and set it up on the back patio for when we were hanging out at the house. It was perfect. Air conditioning was charged on top of the rental fee, but we have found that it is a common practice in Italy. We used the air-conditioning a lot because there was a heat wave, and it only added and extra 30 Euros to the final bill. Well worth it in my opinion. We really enjoyed everything about our stay here. To see more photos of the house, click here for the listing.

When we rented the vacation home, the owner, a young man who runs two B&Bs in close-by Lecce, told us "The town is small, but it is not why you come here. You come for the beach." And he was right. The town itself lacks the charm of more developed seaside resort towns with splashy hotels and expensive restaurants. It is simple, with buildings built mainly of concrete, and narrow roads that branch off the main road running through town. It's hot and dry in the summer, and there is very little development outside the town center. There aren't any big name hotels either. Instead, there are plenty of small, independently owned stores and ice cream shops, inexpensive fruits and vegetables sold on the side of the road by local farmers, quiet evenings with a sky full of bright stars, and a beach that is clean, calm, and safe. It is a great place to see how Italians vacation. In fact, we only ran into one French family and one German family the whole time we were there. We didn't encounter any English speakers aside from a young boy who was on vacation visiting his Italian Aunt. The locals started referring to my husband as the Spanish guy, because he would mix Spanish with Italian to be understood. We got many curious looks, but everyone was friendly and were happy to help us with whatever we needed.

The beach is lined with a number of beach clubs, or lidos, that rent out two sun chairs and a huge umbrella for around 25 Euros a day. You can rent just the loungers for less. We spent our days at the Orange Sun, which was the closest to our rental home. It had bathrooms, showers, picnic tables, and a restaurant. The umbrellas are first come first served, so we would usually arrive by 9am and we had no trouble renting them. The beach also has public areas, where anyone can set up an umbrella and sun chairs for free. In Italy anyone can walk across the beach whether in front of the private beach clubs or not, and the beach is kept clean and beautiful the entire length. Some beach clubs cater more to families and others have more of a party vibe, so we explored a bit before choosing Orange Sun. There were many families there, and no one was annoyed by my kids kicking up sand or creating their own lagoon next to our sun chair.

Although we swore we were going to spend a week lounging on the beach, I think my husband and I are physically incapable of doing nothing for extended periods of time. Instead, we spent mornings on the beach before the sun got too hot and the beach too crowded, went home for lunch, and then set out to explore in the afternoons. Turns out there's a lot to see within a short distance of Torre Lapillo! Check back soon for a post on what to see and do in an around Torre Lapillo, as well as some recommendations for finding great gluten free food in the area.