Taking a trip to Gallipoli from Torre Lapillo meant a drive along the coast before crossing the bridge to what was formerly a fortified island on the Ionian sea. Now the island is essentially the historical center that is at the heart of the area's tourism, and surrounded by the more modern city that has popped up around it. There is a large parking lot at the port that is still free for now, although the locals told us that it will be a paid lot next year. From there we skipped the staircase that leads directly to the old town center and instead ducked through the doorway that leads to the harbor for private boats.
The kids were intrigued by the boats and the fish swimming in the water, and couldn't wait to get up onto the man-made breaker to admire the view of the sea. After climbing a few more stairs, we were rewarded with the sight of the small local beach tucked between the walls of the old town and the marina, creating a secluded, calm bay in which to swim. The sand is more golden than white, and the rocks pop up quite close to shore, but the colour of the water doesn't disappoint and the calmness of the sea still makes it great for kids.
After admiring the water and the beach for a while, we finally climbed the steps up to the old town. Gallipoli is circular in design, and you can walk along the edge of the old walls to incredible views in every direction. The sun gets hot though, so heading into the narrow old streets provides some shelter from the heat of the sun. Gallipoli has a storied history, being founded in ancient times and serving as a city of Greece. Over the years it passed to the Romans, the Goths, the Normans, and more, being sacked and rebuilt more than once. It was once the largest olive oil trading post in the Mediterranean. What this all means for the traveler is that there is a lot to see in a walkable area!
After admiring the beach and the fortification walls from the 14th century, I recommend checking out the castle that dates from the 13th century and was built by the Byzantines. It offers a great history lesson that helps situate a visitor in the town, and let's be honest, what kid doesn't like a castle? There are some souvenir shops and gelato places located right next to the castle, but cheaper options can be found elsewhere. Besides, the castle is pretty close to the entrance stairs from the parking lot, so it makes sense to cross it off the list first thing!
We made our way to some of the churches as well, mainly because I have a thing for church interiors but also because in Italy (and many other places) churches offer a great glimpse into the history of the place. You can tell a lot by the type of art that adorns the walls, whether frescoes or oil paintings or mosaics or stained glass windows, the materials used, from gold to marble and wood, and so on. Gallipoli has several churches. I recommend the cathedral of Sant'Agata, which was built in the baroque style that is so common in the southern Salento region of Italy. Also, the church of Saint Francis of Assisi has a stone nativity scene from the 16th century. Finally, the church of Santa Maria della Purita from the 1600s showcases a great marble altar and a famous canvas.
If you're interest in seeing how olive oil production used to take place, there is a museum dedicated to it down a small side street. The oil presses used to be underground, where the olives and the oil could be stored and pressed away from the heat and the light. Tours are available for reasonable prices. What I found most interesting was that olive oil wasn't always used for food purposes, but was also used to light the streetlamps in Italy and abroad, such was the abundance and inexpensiveness of the oil. How times have changed! If staying above ground is more appealing, check out the ancient Greco-Roman fountain or the old Pharmacy, Farmacia Provenzano. decorated in the old style with bottles lining the walls. For our part, we enjoyed ogling the various balconies overflowing with flowers and darting into small stores selling souvenirs and local products.
Eateries line the streets around the main piazzas, but there are also small cafes and restaurants located overlooking the water. Most are pizzerias, but there are some cafes and seafood restaurants as well. We stopped for lunch at the Buena Vista cafe, that has a terace overlooking the sea. The antipasto platter and a few salads were gluten free, as well as some of the fish dishes, but they focused heavily on pizzas during the lunch hour. Prices were low considering the view, with a simple pizza costing five euros. My son was able to eat there safely, as we explained he was gluten free and the staff took care to avoid cross-contamination.
Later we stopped for gelato at the Caffe Duomo, centrally located across from the large cathedral. This cafe has a binder that lists the ingredients in all their gelato flavours, and they also offer gluten free cones. It was the perfect end to our day trip.
While the main sights of Galipolli can be done in a day, the town really is one that you could get lost in for a few days or more. There are several beaches in the area, and it is known for its beach nightlife. The newer part of the town has movie theatres, clubs, bars, and restaurants, and offers a nice contrast to the historical centre. It is a place we would certainly consider revisiting again in the future.