City of food and friendship
It’s 10pm on a warm evening on Via Vittorio Emanuele. Restaurant tables laden with food spill out into the street, flooding the narrow road with tempting aromas. The sound of passionate debate is mixed with laughter. The light, even at night, is golden, the streetlights reflecting from ancient storefronts carved from the unique local Limestone. Turn a corner and the Duomo appears; illuminated with the same attention to detail that’s the hallmark of its astonishing baroque exterior. Is this heaven? No, it’s Lecce.
It’s easy to wax poetic about Lecce. It’s a spectacular city, its rich history blending effortlessly with a modernity that somehow manages to both buzz with energy and celebrate an easy-going dolce vita, depending on the mood you’re in.
In Piazza Sant’Oronzo the 2nd Century Roman Amphitheatre is still used regularly for music and dance recitals. The streets around the Piazza come alive every evening; cafes, bars, restaurants and stores offering a myriad of delicious options, fuel for a nightly passeggiata. The aim of the stroll is to see and be seen. Meeting friends for impromptu drinks and snacks, the atmosphere is informal, the setting, spectacular.
Lecce’s label as ‘The Florence of the South’ is misleading. The cities share a Baroque splendour, Lecce’s soft stone allowing architects like Zimbalo to create intricate, fascinating exteriors and playful interiors, but that’s where the comparison ends. Where the centre of Florence has been surrendered to tourism, the heart of Lecce still beats to the rhythm of its 100,000 residents.
Big enough to support a vibrant shopping and dining scene, but small enough to have maintained its cultural and culinary heritage, it’s easy to become drawn into the city’s sense of community.
Lecce is the biggest city in the Salento region, the southernmost third of Puglia. The Salentini are a proud bunch, celebrating a cuisine and a dialect that is separate from even the rest of Puglia. Once you try their seafood, their vegetables and their wine, it’s clear where the pride is coming from. Spectacular coastlines fight for attention with baroque masterpieces. Uncrowded golden beaches punctuate the roads between small towns, each hiding gems still undiscovered by mass tourism. The Salentini are glad you made the effort to visit. Which is why you’re guaranteed a warm welcome wherever you go.