The New York Times has listed Apulia as one of the hottest destinations to visit this year and we can’t help but agree: there’s so much to discover in this amazing region, and particularly in its southernmost sub-region of Salento. We recently organised a team building/incentive weekend for an international client in the beautiful seaside town of Otranto, leading a team of sales executives to the discovery of one of the most fascinating locations in Europe. What makes Apulia so charming? Why has its appeal as a destination for both tourists and business travellers expanded so rapidly from domestic favourite to worldwide sensation? There are several reasons, and we suspect more will emerge as the corporate travel industry discovers this spectacular region.
Otranto: endless charm in a timeless bubble
When standing on the beach in Otranto, you will be as far east as you will ever be, on Italian soil. This means you get to watch the sun rise from the sea earlier than anyone else in the Country, but that’s not all there is to it. Otranto’s identity is a heady mix of western and eastern cultures, with beautiful white beaches, crystal-clear sea and unique artistic and architectural gems, that reflect the city’s complex history. Also known as the “City of Martyrs” Otranto has at its core a fortified citadel, which is its true heart and soul, and which can’t be accessed by car. You will have to leave your vehicles in one of the area’s large parking lots and venture on foot through the cobbled alleys that combine the typically European structures of medieval Italy with strong Turkish, Greek and Arabic influences, dating back over a millennium. The city’s macabre moniker comes from the slaughter of 800 Christian martyrs during a Turkish invasion in 1480 A.D. The bones and skulls of the martyrs are currently on display in a crypt in Otranto’s magnificent cathedral, which is also famous for containing one of the largest and most ancient floor mosaics in the world, depicting the Tree of Life.
Ancient history, modern facilities
One quality that most Apulians praise about Otranto is the resilience with which the city has developed one of the most thriving tourist industries in the Country, while managing to not to give in to the worst expressions of mass-tourism. Most, if not all visitors that flock to Otranto every year, multiplying its base population of 5600 by several orders of magnitude, are responsible and both culturally and environmentally aware. This doesn’t mean, of course, that there aren’t super-modern luxury facilities for affluent tourists and corporate travellers to enjoy. For our project, we chose the Basiliani Resort & Spa, a spectacular 4-star resort with a swimming pool (which came in handy for one of our favourite team building activities) and ultra-modern event & meeting rooms, which our client had specifically requested.
Team building and team incentives
You know us: when we plan a team building session and there’s a swimming pool in sight, we can’t help but suggest a carton-boat race. We are happy to say that our client was delighted with the idea and the whole team jumped at the opportunity of getting crafty with the large cardboard boxes and duct tape we provided. The race itself was, as always, a lot of fun. The best thing about this activity is that there is no doubt that all boats will eventually sink (which allows the contestant to be goofy about it, since everyone is going to end up in the water), and it’s all about resisting just one second longer than your opponent. It is a perfect exercise in perspective and teamwork. On the second day, since we didn’t want our guests to miss out on the opportunity of visiting one of the most fascinating cities in Italy, we planned the next team building activity in order to allow them to explore Otranto in an unusual way. We organised a scavenger hunt, building up each clue to embody a different core value of the client company, and planning it so that the solution of each question required the participants to explore one particular attraction of the city and learn about it. Finally, we made sure our client’s team got to experience the local cuisine, booking an entirely fish-based dinner at a local restaurant.