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  • Writer's pictureAmar Dhaliwal

Lecce, Puglia - May 2023

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Mezzogiorno is the Italian term for both “midday” and also for Southern Italy and our first foray into this part of the world was to the city of Lecce


A regional Trenitalia train (#5782) took us from Napoli Centrale to Caserta where we connected with the Frecciargento service (#8303) that originated in Rome. The Frecciargento (Silver Arrow) is the middle tier of Trenitalia's high-speed inter city trains. They can reach speeds of up to 250 km/h (155 mph), which unfortunately, because of congestion on the track, we never got to hit for a sustained period. The same congestion resulted in us being 1.5 hours late arriving in Lecce.





The trip from Napoli takes you directly east across the country to the port of Bari on the Adriatic Sea and then south to Lecce. The country is beautiful and the ride down the coast of Puglia is a delight.


Puglia seems to be "the" place to visit in Italy at the moment and it's not hard to see why. Beautiful towns, amazing coastline, great food, wonderful wines, and friendly people.


Lecce is found in the heel of the Italian boot and is a city to be enjoyed on foot, so you can meander down ancient alleyways, walk into churches, piazzas, and cafes at leisure and sip on an aperitivo in the evening.


The famous Baroque architecture here is elaborate, beautiful, and unique. So much so that it has its own name in architectural textbooks, “Barocco Leccese”.



Lecce is a wonderful city, described as the "Florence of the south" no less. It also makes a great base to explore the many other sights and treasures that Puglia has to offer. Do try to visit.


In the sections below, I have only listed places personally visited.

 

Staying


Grand Hotel Lecce (map)

  • The Grand Hotel Lecce must certainly have been grand once upon a time but today it is a little shabby and run down. The guest rooms are clean and functional but, like the hotel's common areas, in need of a make over. The staff are very friendly and helpful. The hotel is a two minute walk from Lecce's station which makes it fabulously convenient for travelers arriving by train. Walking from the hotel to the centro storico of Lecce takes about 15 minutes. The walk is safe and picturesque. Expect to pay between €125 to €200 per night.

 

Eating


La Cucina di Mamma Elvira (map)

  • This is a well reviewed restaurant in the middle of the centro storico. They pride themselves on Puglian ingredients, prepared well, and coupled with an excellent wine list. The restaurant has a nice outdoor patio (not great views to be honest) which requires a reservation in the busier months. The food was delicious, the wine list good, and the service excellent. This will not be the cheapest meal you have in Lecce but does still represent good value for money.


00 Doppiozero (map)

  • Walked past this restaurant every day while in Lecce and it was always bustling inside and out. Decided to have dinner here one evening and it was delightful. The menu is varied and the service was friendly and efficient. Prices were very fair. The restaurant has a modern feel and is comfortable. I suggest you avoid the table right at the back of the restaurant because of its proximity to the toilets.


iBirrattieri Lecce (map)

  • Came across this bar as it was on the walk home from the centro storico. It has a lovely setting with tables on the street in the student area. A great wine and beer selection coupled with sandwiches, burgers, tagliere (cheese and meat boards), and really friendly staff make this a great spot for a relaxed lunch or dinner. Prices are very fair.


Antica pizzeria da Michele (map)

  • The Lecce outpost of the venerable Neapolitan Antica pizzeria da Michele is on a nice street close to the Piazza Sant'Oronzo and its Roman Amphitheatre. Decent, not great, pizza. The fried "pizza knots" could, however, be your next favourite guilty pleasure!


Bar Moro (map)

  • This is a cozy restaurant in the centro storico. The interior is simple as are the food and drinks. We didn't enjoy the food here, however, given that most reviews of the place are quite positive it was likely poor menu choices. The service was more efficient than friendly. Prices are very fair.


The 'protocol' for having a meal in Italy can still be confusing, here are some tips:

  • A typical Italian menu is divided into the following sections:

    • Antipasti or appetizer

    • Primi or first dish - these are often pasta or risotto dishes

    • Secondi or second dish - these are typically the meat, fish or vegetable main dishes

    • Contorni - these are sides or vegetables for the second dish

    • Dolci or dessert

  • You are not expected to order from each section of the menu. It is perfectly fine and expected, for example, for two people to order an antipasti to share and a plate of pasta (primi) each and call it a day.

  • We ourselves will often order one antipasti, one primi, and one secondi and share each dish. Some places might split the dishes before they bring them to the table but this should not be expected.

  • You should expect to see a sitting charge (coperto) on most bills - it's normally €2 to €3 per person.

  • In some very touristy places you might see a service (servicio) charge added to the bill. If such a charge is applied then do NOT tip anything more.

  • If a service charge is not applied, you are not expected to tip (and, in fact, the credit card machines don't have a option to add a tip). If you are inclined you can leave a few coins to round up the bill, but again, it is not expected.

 

Drinking (prices are from May 2023)


Mother Elvira Enoteca (map)

  • Our favourite wine bar in Lecce, Mother Elvira Enoteca, is a few steps from the Basilica di Santa Croce. Related to La Cucina di Mamma Elvira, the enoteca is a welcoming place with an excellent selection of Puglian wine and super friendly staff to help you navigate the options. It also has an excellent play list! Did not eat here but the food being delivered looked good. Expect to pay €7 to €10 for a nice glass of wine. Make this your first stop.

Quanto Basta (map)

  • Quanto Basta is a terrific cocktail bar in the centre of the centro storico. The drinks are made with care and the menu is creative. You are welcomed with chips, olives, taralli and water on the house. They make a nice Negroni here. Expect to pay €7 to €13 for a cocktail.

La Sapore (map)

  • Popped into La Sapore one evening by mistake - was heading to Quanto Basta around the corner but it was closed. Sat at the bar and had a glass of wine which was fine. The reviews for this place are very mixed so your experience could be entirely based on the luck of the draw. Expect to pay €7 to €10 for a glass of wine.

Drinker (map)

  • No luck required here, Drinker is a great little bar. Super welcoming and friendly staff, making great cocktails at very reasonable prices. Had a fantastic negroni and sidecar here. Expect to pay €8 to €12 for a cocktail.

Prohibition (map)

  • Just across the street from Quanto Basta, Prohibition holds its own against its more famous neighbour. Drinks are well made, service is friendly, and prices are fair. We sat outside but they have a cool underground space if that's your vibe. Expect to pay €8 to €14 for a cocktail.

Tranquillo (map)

  • Located next to the amphitheatre, this was our go to coffee spot in the morning and where I had my first, and best, Caffe Leccese - a brilliant iced coffee made with with espresso and almond syrup. Later in the day Tranquillo becomes a well reviewed wine bar and restaurant.




 

Doing


Doumo, Chiesa di San Matteo, Chiesa di Santa Clara and Basilica di Santa Croce (map)

  • Lecce is the city of Baroque and you will find countless chapels, churches, and stunning palazzi carved from the soft, local, golden limestone – pietra Leccese.

  • In my opinion the best way to explore the main monuments is with the LeccEcclesiae - which is a self-guided itinerary developed by the diocese aimed at helping visitors discover the city’s most outstanding baroque monuments all with a single ticket. The proceeds are used to ensure that the sites included in the itinerary remain open and accessible and to support the protection and promotion of the cultural heritage of the diocese.

  • The basic LeccEcclesiae ticket is €11 - there are various addons for those interested. You can buy online or at one of the monuments.

  • The itinerary starts from the majestic Piazza del Duomo, dominated by the cathedral (Duomo) and its panoramic bell tower, the route takes visitors to the palace of Antico Seminario with its magnificent cloister, the chapel of San Gregorio and the Museo d’Arte Sacra. It then continues to other baroque jewels such as the churches of San Matteo and Santa Chiara and the Basilica of Santa Croce. Beautiful.

  • You have to pay extra to take a lift to the top of the bell tower - don't bother.


The Awaiting Table Cookery School (map)

  • Silvestro Silvestori, the founder of The Awaiting Table Cookery School, is a force of nature. Chef, sommelier (of both wine and olive oil), teacher, storyteller, champion for local producers, and entrepreneur. Spending a day in his company was one of the highlights of our trip to the Mezzogiorno.

  • We met Silvestro, baskets in hand, at the Piazza Sant'Oronzo. He first took us shopping for fresh vegetables and fish, the ingredients for the meal we would be cooking together.

  • Produce in hand, we, and four other students, were invited into his enchanting home and kitchen where, with the help of Anna, we made fresh pasta, steamed mussels, and grilled fish.

  • We ate together around a lovely dining table while Silvestro poured wine, educated us about olive oil, and shared some of his amazing selection of amaro.

  • This really is an amazing experience and if you are lucky enough to visit Lecce, do spend some of your time there with Silvestro!!

Town of Alberobello (map)

  • The town of Alberobello is a 80 minute drive from Lecce and is famous for it's unique trullo buildings. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the town is overrun by tourists taking pictures of the trulli - beehive-shaped houses, white-tipped as if dusted by snow.

  • You need a maximum two hours to visit and then get out of there as quickly as you can.

Town of Locorotondo (map)

  • Locorotondo is one of Puglia's prettiest towns with a proudly conserved, easily-walkable centre and a calm, laid-back atmosphere. Various viewpoints provide stunning vistas across Puglia's beautiful country. Such a lovely contrast after the tourist tack of Alberobello.

  • We had lunch in Restaurante U Curdunn (map). This was such a perfect lunch experience. Lovely seats in their outside space, excellent selection of local food and wine, and lovely staff. Could not recommend it highly enough.

  • A trip to Locorotondo can be neatly combined with your visit to Alberobello.

Town of Matera (map)

  • The town of Matera is a two hour drive from Lecce.


  • Famously, Matera, is one of the world's longest continuously inhabited human settlements. The ancient part is called the Sassi-di-Matera, an area of cave dwellings carved into the rock of two canyons of the River Gravina.

  • The town's history combines pre-history, ingenuity, poverty, and stunning disregard from central government. I highly recommend having a guided tour to hear the stories told by a local and also to get better access to the key sights and monuments.

  • It is possible get a good overview of the town and its history in three hours or so, but you could also easily spend a couple of days here.


Town of Otranto (map)

  • The charming sea side town of Otranto is a 40 minute drive from Lecce.

  • We spent a couple of hours one morning walking around the town, visiting its famous cathedral, and enjoying a coffee at one of the many water front cafes.

  • The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata is not to be missed (and more than worth the drive from Lecce) for two amazing things : one macabre and one jaw dropping. In a glass case behind the altar are displayed the bones of 813 martyrs, massacred by the Turks in 1480. Less macabre is the cathedral’s 12th century medieval mosaic covering nearly the entire floor - truly jaw dropping.


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