Lecce is located in the province of Salento, which as you may, belongs to the region of Puglia. But the inhabitants prefer to call themselves 'salentini' instead of 'pugliesi'. Probably because Lecce, while the capital of Salento, and actually the entire surrounding area, can be considered quite unique for this region in southern Italy.
Art, Culture & Creativity in Lecce
This uniqueness is partly thanks to the large concentration of artists who have settled here. The city and the region is brimming with painters, writers, and designers. Culture, creativity, baroque churches, grand palaces, polished marble streets, and beautiful beaches on both sides. The coasts of the Gulf of Taranto and the Adriatic Sea are each less than a 20-minute drive away, all surrounded by vast vineyards and olive groves.
Lecce is an ideal place to visit year-round since even in winter, the temperature rarely drops below 20 degrees Celsius. Brindisi airport is 38 km from Lecce, and there's a Sitabus from the airport to the city center for €6 per person. Don't be discouraged to visit this southernmost point of Italy; you can easily get by with English everywhere.
I recommend staying in the old city center in one of the recommended hotels or B&B. A car is not necessary for a visit because the entire city within the walls is car-free. With a population of around 100,000, Lecce is large enough to have everything a city should offer and yet small enough to remain manageable and cozy. The weather is delightful even in winter, and the streets are filled with people shopping, chatting, or sipping coffee at the numerous cafés.
Sights in Lecce
I visited several churches, most in the Baroque style, including my favorite, Santa Croce Basilica. Like a wild chaos of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, the facade of Santa Croce becomes a sculpted representation of a fanciful mind, almost unimaginable, with hundreds of finely detailed forms. Lions, dragons, angels, sea creatures, Muslims with turbans, topless women, urns, inscriptions, shells, birds, horses, noblemen on horseback, flowers and plants fill the facade of Lecce's iconic church, built in 1695 and it took three generations of architects and craftsmen to finish it.
On the central square, Piazza S. Oronzo, the Roman amphitheater that the city is famous for, takes center stage and there's always something going on: a concert, a market, or both. When I was there the city's television crew was filming a pastry shop that had created a new kind of muffin for some charity . In Roman times, around 20,000 spectators filled the seats of stone of the amphitheater.
The locals like to gather on the lively terrace of Caffè Alvino (Agrodolce), located next to partially excavated ruins, another historical sight of Lecce. Order an 'iced espresso with almond milk' and take in this majestic structure. There's more to see from this sunny spot, there's also the former town hall and arsenal from the 16th century, as well as the stone pillar with a statue of the city's patron saint, S. Oronzo, dated in the Baroque period.
Shopping in Lecce
Shopping in the historic center of Lecce is truly a pleasure. In addition to being well represented by Italian fashion brands, there are numerous shops offering local products like wine and olive oil, silversmith workshops and hand-embroidered linens, still popular in Lecce. Typical 'salentino' products include paper maché handicrafts, available in several stores.
- In Hotel Risorgimento I found a boutique showcasing beautiful jewelry by the renowned silversmith Federico Primiceri.
- One of the smaller but not-to-be-missed fashion shops is IJO design by Annalisa Surace at Via G. Palmieri 47-49. She also has a store in Ostuni (and sells online). She creates clothing and accessories, as well as interior furnishings with local materials in beautiful natural colors.
- Artefatto L’Idea in Terracotta is a pretty pottery workshop designed by Angelo. It's definitely worth a visit if you want to bring back a unique and original terracotta or majolica souvenir. You can find it at Via Arcivescovo Petronelli 8 in Lecce, and he also has a store in Castro on Piazza del Vescovado.
- Re di Quadri is another shop where you can get hundreds of ideas for nice souvenirs. They sell those cute 'pumo portafortuna' in various colors, originally from Grottaglie. They are located on Via Vittorio Emanuele.
- Maria Paola Barrotta designs and creates jewelry and bijoux. Goldsmithing runs in the family because Paola is already the third generation. She previously worked in Rome, NY, Bologna, and now Lecce for major brands but has had her own studio at Via Arcivescovo Petronelli 12 since 2004.
- Not far from Lecce, in Melendugno, you should visit the Punto Verde Vivai nursery. You'll find everything from fig trees to beautiful terracotta pots, and they also have a lot of homemade jams, marmalades, pasta, and Apulian delicacies for sale. Address: Prov. le Melendugno-Borgagne km. 1, Melendugno.
- Antonio Franco makes genuine silk dresses in a very small workshop called Atika at Via Francesco Rubiche 13 - Atika - Sartoria Artigianale di Antonio Franco.
- At Cartigiano on Via Giuseppe Libertini 54, you can find Italian vintage clothing and accessories, including Gucci bags.
- Valentina at Via Petronelli 3 is a pastry shop you shouldn't miss as they sell the most delicious almond-filled figs or crispy taralli cookies with chili pepper. (GOLOSITÀ DEL SALENTO since 1942)
- For those interested in contemporary art and artists must visit the Primo Piano Living Gallery, an internationally renowned art dealership with an exceptionally fine collection on display.
The Cuisine of Lecce
Last but not least, we have to talk about the cuisine of Lecce: there are too many restaurants to mention, but I'll give it a try. If you stroll through the labyrinth of small alleys and streets, you'll naturally discover several restaurants offering delicious dishes. At 'I Latini', I had yummy crostini made from Puglian bread. There are plenty of enoteca's (wine shops), especially on Via Umberto I; I even found some being part of bookstores like Libreria Liberrima and Vineria Santa Cruz. Try the local Primitivo wine, if you can't decide. Keep in mind that Southern Italy primarily produces red wine. If you insist on white wine, I can recommend Falanghina. If you're more adventurous and if you are staying in one of the B&Bs or apartments, they usually provide you with a small kitchen so you can prepare your own Puglian pasta (which is different from anywhere else in Italy). The staff at the many gourmet shops will be happy to explain what else you need to make an original regional recipe.
The Salento is known for its cucina povera. At 'I Latini', they like to keep everything simple, from the kitchen to the restaurant decor, which consists of stone, tiles, and wood. With local (so-called 0 km) ingredients, they prepare the most delicious dishes. Try a fava bean puree or ciceri e tria, pasta and chickpeas. You'll be surprised by how delicious it is!
Another restaurant I can recommend is Alle due Corti (0039 0832 242223), where Signora Rosalba prepares a whole range of delicious dishes. Or the Trattoria Cucina Casareccia, locally known as 'Li Zie,' where you have to ring the bell to enter, giving you a feeling of dining with the family. You should make a reservation in advance (0039 0832 245178).
What to do in Lecce?
- Daily guided tours in Italian and foreign languages in the historical center of Lecce;
- Guided tours in the Carlo V castle, in the paper-maché museum, and in the exhibitions held in the castle.
- Guided tours in Salento
- Bike rental
Where to stay in Lecce
Lecce is not without reason a city of creative people, and this is reflected in the hotels I have chosen. Each one of them has been recently opened or renovated with unusually beautiful interiors and artworks that you don't often see in hotels. If you're not into modern design decor, then just enjoy the pool or the exceptionally comfortable beds.
Dimora Storico Torre del Parco 1419
Torre Del Parco 1419 is a medieval fortress in the center of Lecce. It offers spacious air-conditioned rooms with free internet.Dimora Storico Torre del Parco 1419,
Palazzo de Noha
Palazzo de Noha is located in Lecce, within 500 meters of Piazza Sant'Oronzo and 900 meters of Piazza Mazzini, offering accommodation with a terrace and free WiFi. Popular attractions in the area include the Cathedral of Lecce and Duomo Square.Palazzo de Noha, 47 Via Guglielmo Paladini, 73100 Lecce
Pollicastro Boutique Hotel
Newly opened in July 2020, Pollicastro Boutique Hotel offers a bar, a shared lounge, and city views. It is located in Lecce, just 300 meters from Sant'Oronzo Square. This property features family rooms and a terrace for guests.Pollicastro Boutique Hotel, 14 Via dei Perroni, 73100 Lecce
La Fiermontina Urban Resort
If we could summarize the guest reviews of La Fiermontina Urban Resort, it would be this: "Everything here is superb. Words fall short." The hotel is superbly located and has a delightful pool. We stayed here earlier and wrote about La Fiermontina , read about it here.La Fiermontina, Piazzetta Scipione De Summa, 4, 73100 Lecce