Winter in Salento
The winter sea here in Leuca is full of life, of boats and, when the wind allows, surfers, too. It’s the scirocco that’s the surfers’ best friend. It makes big waves that crash onto the shore and look althogether wonderful like something out of 17th-century paintings, complete with the Leuca lighthouse just visible among the surge and the foam. The melancholy winter seascape is actually also full of life, too, life that’s unaffected by the change of the seasons, but remains true to itself, eternally unchanging. Leuca’s winter sea is incredibly dynamic and alive, playing host to so many different activities. Surfing, sailing, fishing – adventure!
Winter here is like the waves rising and falling, but it’s also about the starry sky with Orion reigning in its majesty, high above crackling bonfires amid happy voices singing love songs.
We light bonfires everywhere, bringing so much brightness and warmth to our Salento winter. Since time immemorial, going right back to Greek and Roman times, bonfires have been seen as a source of light and purification, a way to welcome the cold weather but at the same time, exorcise it. Work in the fields stops in winter and people stay at home with their family and loved-ones. The bonfire is about sharing, community. From the feast of Saint Lucia on December 13th until the middle of March, in various Salento villages the festivals of light multiply, with all the ‘focare’, the bonfires. They are either very large and impressive like the focara of Novoli which at 25 m high is the tallest in the Mediterranean; or there are lots of small ones like those lit everywhere on St Joseph’s. Since the times of the Roman Saturnalia festival fire has been regarded as sacred, and here in Salento fire is still linked to numerous winter religious festivals: St Lucy, St Joseph, St Gregory, St George and many others. Every town has its own patron saint.
During this time of year, a holiday is Salento is really a must. Whole festivals centre around bonfires. Try all sorts of typical foods, such as ‘pucce’, ‘pittule’ and ‘zeppole’ cakes or a plate of ciceri and tria – a delicious local pasta dish. But above all everyone dances and sings to keep out the cold. The tambourines beat to a continuous rhythm, which seems like the pulsing veins of the whole world. No-one can resist dancing round the bonfire, all holding hands and singing old songs together. So, while the sea reflects the sparkling bonfires and seems like torches lighting up the night, the stars pale in comparison; the cold is somehow less cold, in fact it almost goes away altogether and you end up sensing a warm hug from the people amid sweet thoughts of love past and present.
Salento, with all the drama of its sea and its bonfires, looks forward to whispering its sweet stories in your ear, up close and personal.