Lecce is known for its kitchen Poverty – literally means “poor kitchen” but refers to the tasty home cooking of rural families who make the best of seasonal, local produce. We are fortunate to have wonderful fresh vegetables – so dining out can be a vegetarian’s paradise – along with seafood straight from the Ionian Sea. For an honest trattoria experience, you can’t beat Alle due Corti, where Signora Rosalba cooks up unforgettable dishes such as: ciceri e tria‘, crispy fried tagliatelle with chickpeas, polpette di melanzanefried aubergine balls with mint and basil, a hearty broad bean soup with chicory and the local favourite, orecchiette con cimand rapa – Pasta “ears” with kohlrabi and anchovies.
For a contemporary take on traditional recipes, try Arte dei Sapori – imagine a whole sea bass cooked in clay – while La Scarpetta’s romantic garden is the perfect place to sample spaghetti with creamy sea urchin. Stock up on local specialties at the covered market of Porta Rudiae: it’s great for caciocavallo cheese, spicy Salsiccia and Taralli Cookies.
Everyone is talking about Must, our new avant-garde art center, but I find the old-fashioned Museo Sigismondo Castromediano inspiring. It is dedicated to the archeology of Lecce, dating back to the Magna Graecia period (Greek colonial period) from the 8th to the 5th centuries BC. BC. It’s always quiet and peaceful, rarely visited by tourists.
I love Caffè Alvino, where I often meet other winemakers. It is opposite the old Bar della Borsa, the ‘Wine Exchange’ (now sadly replaced by a McDonald’s), so called because winemakers met there every week to set the price of the cask wine that Puglia exported to all of Europe. my father took me with him. Today, the region produces quality wines in bottles rather than bulk, so discussions are now more about climate change and organic vineyards.
The historic center isn’t really divided into neighborhoods, and to really experience the city, that’s what you need to focus on. Explore the small area surrounded by our city gates on foot, starting at the 500-year-old Porta Napoli. Step through time from the ruined Roman amphitheater, along alleyways lined with Baroque palaces and mansions, and emerge opposite the Basilica di Santa Croce, whose facade took a century to sculpt. Then there’s the stunning Piazza Duomo, dominated by its 17th-century cathedral, or the seemingly serene Piazza Sant’Oronzo, which honors Lecce’s patron saint. This is the actual city center. It comes alive from August 24th to 26th as we celebrate Sant’Oronzo with a festival of lights, music and street food that no local ever misses.
Between its dense mass of Baroque buildings, Lecce has three important central green spaces: the lush grounds and tropical yuccas, cacti, and palm trees of the Villa Reale; the vast Parco Belloluogo, recently renovated and perfect for outdoor sports; and the formal gardens designed by Giuseppe Garibaldi, with their ancient sculptures and fountains. Don’t miss Pasticceria Natale, just outside the Garibaldi Gardens – it’s the perfect place to try one pasticciotto leccesea small pastry cake filled with ricotta or egg custard, with Café alla Salentina, an ice-cold espresso with almond milk. For a great bike ride out of town, head east toward San Cataldo on the Adriatic Sea. The route takes you past magnificent 18th-century villas that were once summer residences for Lecce’s nobility.
Lecce looks peaceful during the day but comes alive at night, with tiny squares and courtyards full of restaurants and bar terraces. Between Piazzetta Santa Chiara and Piazzetta Sigismondo Castromediano there is street food, craft beer and cocktails, while Mamma Elvira features 250 local wines on the menu: from sparkling and rosé to more complex Negroamaro and Primitivo reds.
Palazzo Rollo (double room from €110 B&B) is set in a baroque mansion with a roof garden, right next to the Cathedral.
Massimiliano Apollonio is a fifth-generation winemaker at 150-year-old winery Apollonio. His family enter Award in Lecce every year to artists who promote Apulian culture