The route extending over a 30 kilometre range from Merine to San Pietro in Lama is traced with old, thickly intertwining trails, branching off to the towns of Lizzanello, Cavallino, Galugnano, San Donato, San Cesario and Lequile. This route is located on the south-west of the karst area locally known as Valle della Cupa, a land blessed with the fresh air and the healthy climate to which it owes its fecund soil and rich crops.
The land’s characteristic stark landscapes, century-old olive groves and native plants serve here as minstrels, telling the stories of a deeply rooted rural tradition connecting together spirituality and nature, the aristocracy and the working class. In this way you will learn the history of the local nobles filtrating through the rural buildings in which they chose to spend the holidays. You will feel the level of commitment and talent permeated by the monumental olive trees and the unique structures of the local dry stone huts and walls, while the many chapels and churches of the area will stir up in you the land’s millennial religious sentiment.
When travelling on this main route, let the beauty of these trails divert you off the beaten track, so that you can experience the most archaic and remote aspects of the area and savour them with a slower, more fitting pace.
You will start your excursion from Cavallino, by visiting the 30-hectare-wide Museo Diffuso Castromediano, a museum celebrating the fascinating history of the Messapians. You will then visit Masseria Li Lei along with its peculiar small square-shaped temple, right by the road between Merine and Lizzanello. Before resuming your journey, treat yourself to the spicy scent and sweet flavour of the local vincotto, Lizzanello’s traditional cooked wine, made out of the locally grown Malvasia Nera and Negramaro grapes. By proceeding on to a rural compound 7 kilometres down south, between Galugnano and San Donato, you will be able to share the ancestral bond between field work and spirituality that the local people usually experience. Here, you will see firsthand a meloncella, the local fruit that the ancient local historians glorified for its size and sugary content.
You will then head just 6 kilometres to the north, to the large estate located in San Cesario, where you will be delighted by the architectural style of buildings such as Casina Invitto, Casino Maggiulli and Cappella della Lagrima. Outside the main road, you will be tempted by the delicious local mozzarella, made out of cow’s milk and prepared with the traditional stecca e martello technique.
The journey will resume in Lequile, where you will wander through the olive groves on a private area made out of a dusty path, locally known as “Le Paludi”. If you are lucky, you will have the chance to see the rana smeraldina, a protected species of frogs living in eighteen-century canals, which were originally dug for collecting rainwater. Take a break here, and enjoy the local olive oil and wine productions, before reaching the nearby town of San Pietro in Lama, which will offer you the last glimpse of the beautiful landscape of this land and the chance to choose between three scenic destinations: Lequile, Monteroni or Lecce.
You will end here your enchanting journey in which art and nature complement one another, but only after the last culinary stop of the tour. Here beauty is overtaken by the exquisiteness of the cupeta – the local almond brittle – the mustazzoli – biscuits made with almonds, cocoa and different spices, sometimes covered with chocolate frosting – and many other almond paste-based traditional cookies.
You can also visit the five Menhirs scattered along the land’s districts: Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, encompassed in the district of Merine, Curti Vecchi, along the route to Galugnano, Lete, inside Galugnano, Lequile’s Aia della Corte and Ussano, standing on Galugnano’s ancient masseria of the same name, but technically belonging to the municipality of Cavallino.