Feel like getting off the beaten path in Italy? Earlier this month, the lovely Dannielle headed to Puglia on my behalf to discover a lesser-known region of Italy, the magical salt flats of Margherita Di Savoia. Dannielle is the girl behind While I’m Young, a UK based travel and lifestyle blog that encourages people to fit adventure into their lives…
The quiet town of Margherita Di Savoia in Puglia, Southern Italy has a beautiful secret. The town sits between the Adriatic Sea and a stunning pink salt flat – yet hardly anyone seems to know about it.
Margherita Di Savoia lays claim to the biggest salt basins in Europe, second only worldwide to Bolivia. These aren’t the dry, crusted white deserts of South America – these are 45,000 hectares of fruitful wetlands that take on a beautiful pink hue as the day comes to a close. This natural oasis in the Italian landscape is not to be missed, and just because Margherita Di Savoia doesn’t have a professional tourist offering yet, doesn’t mean you should write it off.
We took a tour of the wetlands, which have an other-worldly aura any time of day, but are particularly pink at sunset.
Through our hugely knowledgable Italian guide, we learned about the various stages of the slow production of salt, from evaporation through to harvesting. The basin is divided into shallow pools to aid salt production, all of varying depths, degrees of salinity and shades of colour. An impressive hydraulic system makes the salt flat functional: the water is let into the large basins and then begins its slow journey from one pool into another until it reaches the salting pools, where the mineral precipitates into the water and can be collected and stored.
These magnificent basins yield 5-6 million cubic metres of salt a year.
It’s amazing to see how nature and human ingenuity collaborate to make the stuff we all sprinkle on our dinner, and the local guides are hugely passionate about the land. In fact, Margherita Di Savoia itself was built because of the salt pans, which were once just a dried-up lake. The coastal town was constructed ensuring the buildings didn’t block the briny water’s route from the seashore to the basins further inland, and now it’s a popular holiday spot for Italians.
We even got to apply mineral mud masks, straight from the wetlands! The water here has natural therapeutic properties, and it’s used in the thermal spa in Margherita Di Savoia town.
The marshes are also home to various fauna and, most famously, flocks of camera-shy but elegant flamingos. The salt flats are something of a wildlife park because they’re a popular landing pad for various migrating birds, so bring your binoculars.
We learned that the pink pigment of the water in the basins comes from the algae, which sustains the shrimp that live there. That’s also why flamingos are so pink – because they eat the shrimp!
The hush and stillness on the wetlands make it a perfect place for meditation – or, if you’re so inclined, a bit of yoga!
We practised at sunset with a local instructor as the water around us began to form into crystals in the last rays of the day.
Across the water, between us and the Adriatic, we could just make out our hotel. Hotel Belvedere is painted pink, perhaps to complement the salt flats that stretch out in front of it.
We also got a chance to clamber to the top of the mountains of harvested salt, or ‘white gold’ as its known.
Visiting Margherita Di Savoia without visiting the salt flats would be like going anywhere in Italy and not eating pizza. If you find yourself in Puglia, make sure you schedule some time in Margherita Di Savoia – you won’t be disappointed.