About the Author: Anna Kay is an avid traveler and photographer, editor and social media manager at MedCruiseGuide.com. She loves exploring and island-hopping across the Mediterranean, and can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.
Lecce is Southern Italy’s most charming destination, a historic city that solo travelers and families alike earmark for a weekend getaway, and for good reason. It is the 2,000 year old capital city of Salento Peninsula, flanked by the Ionian and Adriatic coasts.
While there are enough reasons to plan a trip to Lecce, these three are the most compelling ones.
- Its Stunning Baroque Architecture
Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square), Lecce, Italy (Photo by Giuseppe Milo, CC BY 2.0)
Instances of Baroque architecture are evident on most of Lecce’s churches, cathedrals and homes. It was back in the 17th century that the style disseminated to the south of Italy, influencing Lecce in particular. The stone – a type of limestone – used for local buildings is one of city’s chief, long-term export products.
In contrast to the extravagant motifs associated with Baroque era architecture, the styles in Lecce are refined and compact. You will be able to recognize floral patterns, mythological creatures and a few dramatic motifs, all worth spending some time admiring on your tour of the city.
The Basilica di Santa Croce is a notable example. Its ornate facade has six columns, a rose window and sculptures of fantastical beasts. The basilica’s interior is beautiful, well-preserved and has a serene atmosphere.
Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce, Italy (Photo by Laibniz, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The principal entrance of the Duomo di Lecce (Lecce Cathedral) is the other distinctive and famous example of Baroque art. The cathedral has a total of twelve chapels, visually striking images by top artists, and a main altar crafted from marble and gold-plated bronze.
The communal buildings around the cathedral also display Baroque style and are constructed entirely from the local limestone. The main Sant’Oronzo square displays the full diversity of Lecce’s architecture, and it even extends into the unavoidable Roman amphitheatre that could house up to 20,000 spectators in its heyday.
Lecce’s transformation into an architecturally significant city can be attributed to respected architects of the period, such as Giuseppe Zimbalo and Cesare Penna, under the encouragement of bishop Luigi Pappacoda, whose remains are housed in the altar of Lecce Cathedral.
Tip: The most beautiful time to tour Lecce’s buildings is at sunset, when the stone takes on a lovely golden yellow color.
- Its mouth-watering food
A plate full of sweets in Lecce, Italy (Photo by David Orban, CC BY 2.0)
When in Lecce, you have an option to dig into traditional fare or local fast food. If you want to sample different dishes, mini platters called apertivi, are ideal.
Southern Italian cuisine is different from its northern cousin in many ways, such as the use of olive oil instead of butter, the generous use of vegetables as opposed to meat in dishes, and a great fondness for dessert.
Walk into any small cafe in the city, and you’re sure to find homemade pastries and sweets. The most famous is pasticciotti, shortcrust pastry filled with cream and served warm. Also make time for homemade gelato at the top-rated Natale on Via Salvatore Trinchese (your kids will love you for it!).
Should you crave for something savory, try rustico, which can be best described as a sandwich made of chopped tomatoes, bechamel sauce, melted mozzarella cheese and covered by puff pastry.
If you want to grab a quick bite on your day tour, puccia, a sandwich with vegetables, mushrooms and cheeses, is thoroughly delectable. Though you may not find puccia on bar, pub and restaurant menus, pizzerias and fast food chains definitely offer this lunch item. Tantalizing smells of pasta and eggplant parmesan fill the evening air as restaurants and homes get ready for dinner.
Lecce promises a satisfying gastronomic experience – unique and inimitable. The treats you find here are difficult to find at Italian restaurants elsewhere in the world.
- The beaches of Salento Peninsula
Purità beach (Spiaggia della Purità), Gallipoli, Italy (Photo by rgbspringett0, CC 1.0)
The Salento Peninsula is surrounded by sea on three sides. Its waters are gentle, and the sands soft and white, which you would typically find on much more exotic beaches. You cannot come to Lecce and not visit its beaches, at least those in Gallipoli and Otranto.
Gallipoli is located on the Ionian Sea flowing to the east of the peninsula. Its beaches are some of the best in the country.
Lido Conchiglie beach is about 7 km (4.4 miles) away from Galiipoli, with long stretches of sand, low cliffs and a diving spot. Padula Bianca has a distinctly Mediterranean feel with its turquoise waters and sand dunes.
In Gallipoli’s historic town centre lies the Purità beach dedicated to Saint Maria of Purity. After a dip in the water, you can have lunch at one of the several restaurants just a stone’s throw away, all boasting scenic seaside views.
In and around the commune of Otranto, you will find picturesque beaches that you can enjoy at no charge. Enclosed with a bay, Baia dei Turchi or Bay of the Turks is a tranquil beach with pristine white sands and tall pine trees. Around 8 km (5 miles) north of Otranto is the Laghi Alimini beach, which is part of a protected area. Popular among joggers and swimmers, the beach is scattered with lidos where you can rent a bed and umbrella.
Lecce is one of those gems that you must experience on your Italian adventure. It is just as accessible to solo travelers as it is for couples and families with kids. If you have a chance to visit this Baroque gem, go for it without hesitation!