A Tour of Lecce – The Baroque Beauty of Puglia

Basilica Santa Croce in Lecce

 

On seeing the facade of Lecce’s Basilica Santa Croce, the Marchese Grimaldi said it made him think that a lunatic was having a nightmare. It’s too whimsical and merry to make me think of nightmares. Instead the extravagence and frivolity of it had me wondering what kind of happy hallucinogenics those artists were taking, and hey, could I get some. I think the facade has every kind of flower, leaf, garland, fruit, vegetable, cherub and animal known to man.

 

Facade of Basilica Santa Croce in Lecce
Rose window and column of the Basilica Santa Croce facade

Inside the Basilica Santa Croce in Lecce
Leccese Baroque inside the Basilica

This elaborate ornamentaion also adorns other churches, building facades, courtyards, terraces and windows throughout Lecce’s historic center. The style is the city’s own, called barocco Leccese (Baroque Leccese) and carved from the local stone, pietra Leccese. The stone begins as a soft mass and hardens with time, making it easy to carve into intricate decorations.

 

Balcony in Lecce

 

Barocco Leccese

Lecce Courtyard
One of the many Baroque courtyards in the city

Lecce Window

 

 

During my visit, I spent most of my mornings wandering and wondering through the streets and piazze of this outdoor Baroque museum. I’d imagine the stories and fantasies behind each whimsical carving. Lecce, the capital of its province commonly called Salento, was my base from which I explored this most southern region in Puglia, and the bottom point of Italy’s heel. The mornings were relatively quiet in the historic center, but at Noon it’s a different story. Opera music rings out in Piazza Sant’ Oronzo, alerting everyone to get out in the piazza and drink; it’s aperitivo time! The cafes that line the piazza and its side streets fill up with those meeting for a before-lunch drink.

Roman Amphitheatre in Lecce
Piazza Sant’ Oronzo


 

As it is a great meeting place and the social center for many of Lecce’s festivals and festivities, the piazza is bustling at night. Calling back to Lecce’s Roman era and the first century, are the remains of the city’s Roman Amphitheater. A little less than half of the theater has been uncovered. The rest remains hidden underneath the piazza. The column in the center of the piazza is one of two from Brindisi, which marked the end of the Appian Way. There’s still some dispute as to whether Brindisi gave the column to Lecce or whether Lecce took it. Atop the column is a statue of Lecce’s patron saint, Sant’ Oronzo, who is credited for saving the city from the plague in 1656. Every August, the city holds a celebration in his honor.

One can easily stroll through the entire historic center in a day. The other Baroque beauty not to be missed on your walk through Lecce is the Piazza Duomo, and the Duomo itself and its bell tower. Also spectacular is the Church of Santa Chiara with another ornate facade and a famous ceiling made of papier mache.

Other things to see beyond the Baroque is the Villa Comunale. The lush gardens are a perfect place to have a picnic or sit and rest your feet. You can visit the cartapesta museum and the many cartapesta shops that dot the historic center’s streets. Some even offer lessons in this centuries-old tradition. Wine bars and pubs fill both the historic center and newer city center (it encircles the historic center). Lecce has a vibrant and nightlife, yet one with a very casual feel. Definitely a city, but a small one with a population of around 100,000 people. All the locals seem to be friends with each other.

Cartapesta
Cartapesta from Lecce

 

 

Lecce and the entire Salento region are still very much one of Italy’s best kept secrets. In July and August, Italians, and some Europeans, flock to Salento’s long and curving coastline to bask on the sun-drenched sand beaches. The other months are ideal for a less crowded visit to the area. Even warmer and more welcoming than its climate, and as playful and festive as the barocco Leccese, are the people of the Salento region. Every person I met proudly and enthusiastically showed me a little bit of his or her land. And, how can you not love a city that announces Noon-time happy hour with arias in the piazza?

 

Pugliese Food

 

Some places to eat:

Locanda Rivoli – Via Augusto Imperatore 13 – phone: +39 0832 1830128: In the historic center, just around the corner from Piazza Sant’ Oronzo, this trattoria serves up traditional Salento cuisine and homemade desserts.

Joyce PubVia Matteo da Lecce 5 – phone: +39 0832 279443: Part Irish pub part vineria, they serve up classic Salento cuisine. Also, it is possibly the only restaurant open in the historic center on Mondays. You’ll find it a short walk from both the Basilica Santa Croce and Piazza Sant’ Oronzo.

Bar Sette di Sette – Galleria Piazza Mazzini, Via Oberdan 13 A/B: Located in the newer city center, Chef Paola puts a creative twist on traditional Salento cuisine. They offer a “Happy Hour” buffet where you can nibble on traditional dishes in finger food portions. The buffet is included with a cocktail purchase. Cocktails range from 6 to 8 euros. Lunch is also served daily.

Le Zie – Via Colonnello Archimede Costadura 19 – phone: +39 0832 245178: The “aunts” serve up traditonal fare with a home-cooking feel.

Pizzeria La Perla – Via Giovanni Antonio Orsini De Balzo 15 – phone: +39 0832 246380: If pizza is what you’re craving, this is the place to go. The pizza is thin and crispy and toppings are generous.

 

Pastacciotto
Pasticciotto

To satisfy a sweet tooth:

Pasticceria Luca Capilungo – via Bari 7: For the ultimate in Leccese pastries, especially the pasticciotto, and other sweet specialties from Lecce’s top pastry chef.

 

Bar Cin Cin – Piazza Sant’ Oronzo: The second pastry shop of Luca Capilungo, this pasticceria is in the historic center, serving chef Luca’s pastries and gelato.

Caffe Alvino – Piazza Sant’ Oronzo: Another pastry shop in the historic center’s piazza to find pastries and gelato

Where to Stay:

Chiesa Greca Bed & Breakfast – Piazzetta Chiesa Greca 11 – phone; +39 0832 302330. This B&B was once part of the Greek Church, which is still there beside the B&B, and dates back to the 1300s. They have 5 charming and spacious suites, where you sleep under ancient Leccese walls with all the modern comforts. My room, “La Chiesetta,” still had the remains of one of the church’s frescoes. I stayed at the Chiesa Greca Bed & Breakfast as a guest of YL Tours Congressi.

 

 

Chiesa Greca
Chiesa Greca in Lecce (the B&B Chiesa Greca is behind it)

Chiesetta Suite at Chiesa Greca in Lecce
Remains of a fresco and the living room in the Chiesetta Suite

 

 

 

 

Getting there and around:

By train: You can reach Lecce easily by Rome, Naples and Bari on Italy’s high-speed Frecce trains.

By plane: From many Italian and European cities, you can find low fares with the low-cost airlines (i.e. EasyJet and Ryan Air) flying into the Brindisi Airport or Bari Airport. From there, you would drive or take a train into Lecce.

Getting around in Salento: It is best to have a car. The roads are tranquil and easy to drive. Trains in the Salento region aren’t a feasible way of getting from one town to another. During the summer months, SalentoinBus provides quicker bus transportation from Lecce to many of the region’s coastal cities, like Otranto, Gallipoli, and Santa Maria Leuca and more.

 

 

Baroque Archway in Lecce

Alleyway in Lecce

Join
me in Puglia in 2013! For this food lover’s culinary tour, we’ll be
cooking with our beautiful Italian mamme
and professional chefs. We’ll also be eating and exploring our way through
the region.  There are four tour dates available from which
to choose! For tour details, check out this page: Culinary Tours in Puglia 2013! 

***Early booking discount: Book and pay by check by January 31, 2013 and receive a $200 discount off the tour price.****

Related Posts:

The Art of Making Pasta by Hand: A Lesson in Pugliese Pasta from Nonna Vata

Cheese of Puglia: Making and Eating Fresh Cheese in Salento

Lunch Salento Style at Cantine Menhir

The Pastries of Lecce with Chef Luca Capilungo

Classic Salentino Cuisine Reinvented – Sette di Sette in Lecce

Pugliese Pasta: Sagne Ncannulate with Schiattariciati Tomato Sauce

The Dish from Lecce: Rustico Leccese

The Dish from Puglia: Ricci di Mare in Porto Badisco

The Dish from Puglia: Friselle with Tomatoes


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Comments

  1. Krista
    June 10th

    Such frivolity and opulence makes me smile. :-) SO much work has gone into that detail. I wish I could interview the folks who did such things, find out what sort of people would spend their lives laboring over such intricate and outrageous art. :-)

  2. janie
    June 10th

    I am dying to visit Lecce. Thank you for all the great tips and beautiful photos.

  3. Frank
    June 13th

    You know, I’m part pugliese yet I never made it down there during my years in Rome. Shame on me!

  4. Paula
    June 13th

    Lecce now added to my “to visit” list.

  5. Kathy
    June 15th

    Krista – It made me smile, too. An interview with those artists would be priceless.
    Janie – You’re welcome. I’m sure you’ll LOVE Lecce and the Salento region.
    Frank – Yes, shame on you!! You can still go back. Do you still have relatives that live in Puglia?
    Paula – Good! And, you see that the cocktails at Sette di Sette are really quite reasonable :-)

  6. roy macdonald
    November 27th

    Lecce in autumn is simply fantastic…it celebrates
    itself with a kind of happiness that is rarely found….you WILL enjoy yourself!

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