Among the treasures are an impressive, marble-paved Piazza del Duomo originally built in 1144, the Basilica of Santa Croce and its extravagant facades, and Saint Nicolo & Cataldo, a handsome Norman church close to the city gate. Not to mention the well-preserved Roman amphitheatre, which now regularly hosts concerts.
Aside from the impressive buildings, Lecce is a quintessentially southern-Italian town, its many piazzas and palazzos flanked by an army of cafés, bars and restaurants. Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the main plaza, is a perfect spot in which to base yourself and watch the world – and locals – go by over an early-evening gelato. The relaxed atmosphere is worlds apart from Rome’s frenetic bustle.
But that’s not to say Lecce’s stuck in a time warp. Quite the opposite is true, judging by all the exciting recent arrivals – attractive bars like La Strada del Vino, where cheese and wine pairings seduce, and lots of chic stores complementing an already-impressive centro storico shopping scene.
Nor is Lecce the only local gem. Other interesting nearby towns include seafront Otranto with its summer Jazz Festival, and the fortified island port of Gallipoli, a charmer on the Ionian coast.