A Local Guide to Lecce, Italy: Baroque Beauty and Rural Cuisine | Holidays in Italy

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Food

Lecce is renowned for its kitchen poor – it literally means “poor cuisine”, but refers to the tasty home cooking of rural families who favor local seasonal products. We are blessed with wonderful fresh vegetables – so dining out can be a vegetarian’s paradise – as well as seafood straight from the Ionian Sea. For an honest trattoria experience you can’t beat Alle due Cortiwhere Signora Rosalba cooks unforgettable dishes such as ciceri and tria‘, crispy fried tagliatelle with chickpeas, melanzane polpettefried aubergine balls with mint and basil, a hearty chicory bean soup and the local favourite, orecchiette con cime di rapa – “ear” pasta with turnip greens and anchovies.

For a contemporary take on traditional recipes, try Arte dei Sapori – imagine a whole sea bass baked in clay – while The ScarpetteThe romantic garden of the is the perfect place to enjoy spaghetti topped with creamy sea urchins. Stock up on local specialties at the Porta Rudiae covered market: ideal for caciocavallo cheese, spicy salsiccia and taralli biscuits.

Inspiration

Everyone talks about To have toour new center for avant-garde art, but I find the old Sigismondo Castromediano Museum inspiring. It is dedicated to the archeology of Lecce, which dates back to the Magna Graecia (Greek colonial) period, from the 8th to 5th centuries BC. It’s still quiet and peaceful, rarely visited by tourists.

I like Cafe Alvino, where I often meet other winegrowers. It is opposite the old Bar della Borsa, the “wine exchange” bar (now unfortunately replaced by a McDonald’s), so called because every week the winegrowers met there to decide the price of wine in bulk that Puglia exported throughout Europe. My father used to take me. These days, the region produces quality bottled wine rather than bulk, so discussions are now more about climate change and organic vineyards.

Piece

The historic center is not really divided into districts, and to really discover the city, this is where you have to concentrate. Explore the small area surrounded by our city gates on foot, starting at the 500-year-old Porta Napoli. You travel through time, from the ruined Roman amphitheater, along narrow streets lined with palaces and Baroque mansions, and come out facing the Basilica of Santa Croce, whose facade took a century to carve. Then there’s the breathtaking Piazza Duomo, dominated by its 17th-century cathedral, or the seemingly quiet Piazza Sant’Oronzo, honoring Lecce’s patron saint. This is the real downtown. It comes alive from August 24 to 26, when we celebrate Sant’Oronzo with a festival of lights, music and street food that no local ever misses.

Sant'Oronzo Square.
Sant’Oronzo Square. Photography: Salvator Barki/Getty Images

Green area

Between its tight mass of Baroque buildings, Lecce has three key central green spaces: the lush gardens and tropical yuccas, cacti and palm trees of Villa Reale; the sprawling Parco Belloluogo, recently refurbished and perfect for outdoor sports; and the formal Giuseppe Garibaldi Gardens, with their ancient sculptures and fountains. Don’t miss Natal Pastryjust outside the Garibaldi Gardens – this is the perfect place to try a pasticciotto leccesea small pastry pie filled with ricotta or egg cream, with salentina coffee, an iced espresso with almond milk. For a nice bike ride out of town, head east towards San Cataldo on the Adriatic. The route takes you past splendid 18th century villas that were once summer residences for the nobility of Lecce.

Night life

Lecce looks peaceful during the day but comes alive at night, with tiny squares and courtyards filled with restaurant terraces and bars. Between Piazzetta Santa Chiara and Piazzetta Sigismondo Castromediano there’s street food, craft beer and cocktails, while 250 local wines are on the menu at Mama Elvira: from sparkling and rosé to more complex negroamaro and primitivo reds.

Stay

Rollo Palace (doubles from €110 B&B) is in a baroque mansion with a roof garden, right next to the cathedral.

Massimiliano Apollonio is a fifth generation winemaker at 150-Age Apollonio vineyard. His family give one award in Lecce every year to artists who promote the culture of Puglia

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