While beautiful, Lecce is known wrongly as ‘Florence of the South’. It boasts stunning Baroque palazzi and churches, but it is no competition to the grandeur of Florence. Having said that, it certainly has its own charm, which makes it one of Puglia’s most famous towns, and one of my favourite towns we visited.
Architects Giuseppe and Francesco Zimbalo are big names in Lecce, having designed a number of Lecce’s main sights in the 17th Century. Sante Croce’s intricate and slightly crazy facade is unforgettable, while the Duomo has a more gentle beauty. I loved drifting through its labyrinth of honey-coloured sandstone streets. Around every turn we’d find a pretty archway, a frescoed stairway or an enviable rooftop terrace.
Lecce is a student town, so during the summer it is so peaceful often you’ll find yourself completely alone. Once you’ve seen the main sights and to cool off, head to Frigole beach (a short bus ride away), or to Galipoli or Otranto if you’re happy to travel a little further. I can imagine that come September, the town really comes to life though, as it cools down a bit and all young flood back in.
You can’t go to Lecce and not try a Pasticciotti – like what Pasteis de Nata is to Lisbon (or Belem to be exact) – a pastry filled with custard, which is usually still warm when they serve it. Melt in the mouth, but unbelievably heavy – the place to have them for breakfast at Caffe Alvino, on the main square. This 1930s-esque cafe, where locals still do shots of espresso (1EUR) by the bar and where you can sit on their terrace and watch Lecce wake up (slowly), is a nice introduction to the town. Go for the original pasticciotti (there’s a big choice).
For brunch or lunch move to Doppiozero, behind the Duomo, my favourite place in Lecce. A Deli and breakfast/lunch hangout (though they do dinner too) where every detail is thought through, with quirky interiors, an excellent selection of wines (including the ‘super Tuscans’), fantastic cold-pressed juices and the most mouth-watering sandwich counter. Italy tends to do bread badly, with the exception of Doppiozero.
If you’re in search of something more authentic, Trattoria Le Zie is as local as it gets, where they serve ‘peasant food’ to the highest standard, with big, welcoming smiles. It’s great for lunch or dinner, but I would most certainly book as it fills up with locals and tourists a like. Especially their starters were sublime (we just asked for a mixture).
As this was just a day trip we didn’t do much drinking. But as Lecce is a student town, there are plenty of bars which looked appealing. Mad Lounge Bar looked good (in a modern kind of way), with a lovely view from its terrace of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and the Chiasa di Santa Chiara. If I were you I’d just walk around the town, pick a little vinoteca and drink some Puglian wine. Or head back to Doppiozero.
While walking down Via Giuseppe Libertini, we stumbled across Cartoleria Pantheon, the cutest shop selling everything from beautiful leather bound books, prints, stationary, maps and bric a brac. I love it’s views of the Duomo.