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Italy

Italian city-break alternative Beautiful Lecce

Famed for some of Italy’s loveliest beaches, Puglia is also home to the Baroque city of Lecce.

Located deep in Puglia’s southern Salento region – the Italian boot’s spindly heel – beautiful Lecce hides an architectural surprise around almost every corner.

Having remained relatively undiscovered by tourists until recently, it is now emerging as a superb Italian city-break alternative.

Sometimes hailed as the ‘Florence of the south’, Lecce boasts a colourful history including Roman, Byzantine and Norman occupiers. However, this charismatic city is best known for its 17th century Baroque monuments, each decorated in a uniquely flamboyant style called barocco leccese. One of the most striking aspects is the use of soft, honeyed limestone, Lecce’s main export, to construct these ornate buildings.

And it’s so very strollable. In fact, nothing beats a passeggiata around the historical centre’s spiderweb of streets and alleyways, squares and churches.

The lowdown

  • Getting There

    Brindisi is the nearest airport, served by regular flights from the UK.

  • Ideal For

    Short breaks both in winter and summer. Anyone with an interest in Baroque architecture.

  • Combine With

    Lecce works well as a stop on longer fly-drive itineraries that take in the north of the region and also inland to Basilicata.

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.

STAY

La Fiermontina

La Fiermontina is a 17th century villa inside Lecce’s ancient walls. While its 16 unique suites boast contemporary design, they still show off the building’s original features; elsewhere, antiques accompany pieces from the owner’s impressive modern-art collection, including chairs by Le Corbusier and a bronze by Léger. The tranquil garden plunge pool is a real old-town rarity, and perfect for relaxing dips after a day’s exploring. Modern Puglian meals – using locally-sourced ingredients – can be devoured within the fine-dining restaurant, or al-fresco among olive and orange trees.

Mantatelure

A romantic and charming boutique hotel, Mantatelure occupies an elegantly-restored 16th century residence hidden along of the city-centre’s narrow, cobbled streets. Its six bedrooms are all elegantly decorated in pale, soothing colours, as are the pair of spacious one-bedroom apartments ideal for lengthier stays. Long and leisurely breakfasts are served within a sunny, terraced garden, which also makes a wonderful spot for aperitifs. As for dinner itself, the hotel staff can tip you off to a variety of superb local restaurants.

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