I’m almost done writing about Puglia. I got a doozy I’m saving for last. But it would feel incomplete without mentioning “Florence of the South”, even though its not exactly a secret anymore. We happened to be travelling to Florence after Lecce, and that made us appreciate Lecce even more. Even with the tour groups arriving in droves, Lecce still feels like a sleepy hilltop village when compared to Florence. Lecce’s old town is not large, but its golden sandstone streets make for pleasant walks even when you pass by the same streets and cats every morning.
Lecce is one of the strongest reasons that Puglia requires some time (at least 10 days), and it’s old town splendor compliments the Puglia itinerary beautifully. Its also a solid base to explore Salento. You got Otranto and its mesmerizing coast 30 minutes to the east. Gallipoli 30 minutes the other way, along with spectacular beaches like Punta Prosciutto that was calling my name for some bizarre reason. And lesser known jewels like Galatina and its frescoed Basilica in between.
Palazzo Massari, a comfortable bed and breakfast very near the old town ticked all the boxes especially in the parking department. We found Lecce to be easy to get in and out, even with some sneaky ZTL entrances. On your first day, a good way to get oriented with the old town and its history is a food tour with Antonella through Airbnb experiences. While there wont be a food shortage with this one, much of the focus is on history and culture.
Even if you’ve seen every church in Italy, you do not want to miss the significant Lecce handful, especially the crown jewel Basilica di Santa Croce (above). Another gem, of the hidden not so hidden kind is the Jewish museum in the ancient synagogue right next to Santa Croce. A short tour of the six or so rooms and a short video gives you a good understanding of the history of Jews in Salento.
The notion that Lecce food is meh overall (as per some well known bloggers) is a misnomer from our experience. Maybe compared to the major cities of the north, its lacking, but there doesnt appear to be a shortage of good eats. You can eat well and poorly just about anywhere in Italy. Ristorante Blu Notte and 400 Gradi for pizza were the highlights. La bottega del corso is a fun cheese/salumi/bruschetta quicky. The lone miss was an expensive meat-fest at Tabisca. More here, and more to come.