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Nature and Landscape
Porto Selvaggio and Palude del Capitano regional nature reserve
A dive into beauty
Archeological and paleontological treasures, rare plants and beautiful coastal towers, but, above all, breathtaking panoramas make the Porto Selvaggio regional park one of the most fascinating places in Puglia by Emanuela Rossi, Salvatore Inguscio
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Porto Selvaggio (Nardò, Lecce). Photo Archivio Avanguardie

One could talk of Porto Selvaggio by describing the physical area that bears this name, an area dominated by a rocky coastline that sometimes towers over the sea and sometimes descends into rocky coves where the natural vegetation, the garrigue, the shrub and the botanic endemisms alternate with the pine forest, introduced around the middle of last century.

One could also place the emphasis on the precious archeological finds and discoveries that have taken place, like the passage from pre-historic figurative art to abstract art (documented by finds dating back to 12.000 years ago), the presence of an original paleolithic culture, called Uluzziana (distinguished by its use of small calcareous tools in the shape of a half-moon and necklaces of pierced shells) and the bringing forward of the period, from 35.000 to 45.000 years ago, when Homo sapiens sapiens fossilis is said to have lived in Puglia.

One could point to the precious paleontological witness borne by fossils of fish and mammal bones and their importance on the Italian panorama, where very few other areas have conserved similarly significant “treasures”.

But apart from mentioning all these treasures, we want to tell you how thrilling, gripping and intriguing it is to let yourself be enveloped by the shade and coolth of Porto Selvaggio, let yourself be seduced by the warm rays of the sun that wink through the pines and color the sea in this corner of Salento in such a special way. Its beauty lies in the wealth it is host to, in a variety of nooks and crannies, in the changing light that dances amidst towers and masserie, furnieddhri and specchie, Macedonian oaks and cypresses, inundating the open spaces and brightening the areas below the branches of the Aleppo pines.

You can get to Porto Selvaggio by way of Santa Caterina, taking a road which ends up facing the sea, in a little square called “la rotonda” (even though there is no sign that honors it with this name). There is a hill that heads in the direction of Torre di Santa Maria dell’Alto (“Torre dell’Alto” is the more frequently used appellative) or you can climb up the flight of steps in stone that will lead you to the first belvedere, that overlooks the bay of Porto Selvaggio, taking in the Gulf of Taranto and offering, on a good day with a north wind, fantastic views of the mountains over in Calabria.

To get straight to the sea, made cooler by the coastal springs that flow through it, you can park on the Cucchiara road, that goes from the highest part of Santa Caterina towards Sant’Isidoro, and then descend along the wide, fire obstructing, avenue that opens up a few yards after the “Villa Tafuri” entrance to the park. Towards the bottom of this slope you have to turn left, going into the wood, and follow a parallel direction to the dry bed of an old river that has cut into the rock and created the bay that we so admire today.

But Porto Selvaggio is also accessible by means of a lovely trekking trail that starts from Uluzzo, a cove that opens onto the Ionian, a bit further north. Following the profile of the coast and the obvious tracks that millions of ramblers have already trodden, you first reach the Lea plain, a wide space which is undergoing naturalization after an agricultural past, and then the bay, dominated by the Santa Maria dell’Alto tower.

If you enjoy cycling, particularly with a mountain bike, you can venture as far as the sea by going downhill through the gate of Torre Uluzzo. Without needing to take any turnings, you’ll find yourself facing the sea in the blink of an eye. For the uphill return keep calm and lower the gear!

But Porto Selvaggio is also a park that goes beyond the little fiord used in the past as a sort of ladder, beyond Lea, beyond Uluzzo. The park continues, and has contained, since 2006, the area that, inspired by Tolkien, we have named “Middle Earth”, between Torre Uluzzo and Torre Inserraglio, which is particularly lovely in spring because of the abundance of beautiful wild orchids in bloom. Torre Inserraglio used to be the start of the Protected Marine Area of Porto Cesareo, but the magnificent stretch of coast between the two areas was about to be turned into a tourist marina. The danger was fortunately avoided by making the area an integral part of the nature park.

The area called the Palude del Capitano is also distinguished by the presence of orchids. Behind the larger of the two small beaches in the park, “il Frascone”, there are numerous doline, grottoes that, over time, because of the Karst phenomenon, have seen their ceilings cave in and have become open-air ponds. These collapses have exposed the water-bearing layers and water can be seen flowing copiously in the Salento underground strata and has become a place where migratory birds make a stop for refreshment on their way south.

The spundurate – the dialect name for the doline caused by collapse at Nardò – are the final surprise that the park offers the visitor who has done the whole trip, going up through the area from south to north. Surrounded by a vast prairie of samphire, which is crowned by low shrub and a beautiful stretch of rocks, stun the spectator with their exceptionality. In a land which is famous for its aridity, where the Karst is fully-developed in the surface layers and under them, where the fresh water is the cold water that flows out of the springs along the coast and the rest is sea, to be able to gaze on your reflection in a little pool of fresh water is almost a luxury. Let us add that here, like all over the Porto Selvaggio park, beauty reigns supreme. And beauty is the best gift we can offer to ourselves.

WHERE: Nardò (LE)

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