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. 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 timewarp. 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. There’s also La Fiermontina (pictured below), a lovely, art-filled boutique hotel which opened recently.
Nor is Lecce the only local gem. Other interesting nearby towns include seafront Otranto and its summer Jazz Festival, and the fortified island port of Gallipoli, a charmer on the Ionian coast.
Lecce makes an ideal short city break or can be featured as part of an Puglia fly drive holiday. Call 0207 359 3938 and ask for Sarah for further information.