Located on the heel of Italy’s boot, Lecce is a real gem that shouldn’t be missed on a trip to the Puglia region. Its picturesque streets and famous Baroque architecture are this city’s defining features, so much so that there's a name for its distinctive style - Barocco Leccese (Lecce Baroque). This means highly detailed, yet slightly more reserved styles than traditional Baroque, with a mix of mythical creatures, motifs, and floral patterns adorning Lecce’s historic buildings.
Far from just being a trail of Baroque landmarks, this city is also a capital of southern Italian cooking, and has loads of great beaches nearby to soak up the sun, making this a well-rounded destination to enjoy the best of what Italy has to offer.
To get a feel for the Lecce Baroque, visit the Basilica di Santa Croce, one of the most beautiful churches in the city. The Baroque facade on the front of the building is the real star of the show, with an astonishing number of decorative sculptures and a large rose window. If you can tear your eyes away from the outside, the inside is also worth a visit, containing 17 alters and Baroque artwork. Lecce Cathedral offers another example of this design.
For more history, head to the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Not only is this a beautiful, open square, but it is also the site of a 15,000 seat Roman amphitheatre, unearthed from the ground in the 1930s. Take a tour of the well-preserved remains, or simply admire them from the square.
Although historical landmarks are everywhere you look in Lecce, they’re not the only indicators of this city’s heritage; food is equally as important to life here, and synonymous with Puglia more generally. Traditional cuisine is known locally as cucina povera (food of the poor), where simple, widely-available, and cheap ingredients are used to make hearty dishes.
To get the authentic experience, try a traditional caffè Leccese, an iced coffee made with almond milk, a rustico Leccese, a pastry stuffed with mozzarella and tomato, or sagne ‘ncannulate, a kind of long, twisted pasta usually served with tomato sauce and local cacioricotta cheese. These are just a few of the dishes you’ll find in trattorias (classic Italian restaurants) around the city; we’d recommend sampling as many different things as you can squeeze into your trip.
Being on the heel of the boot, the province of Lecce is surrounded by coastline on three sides, giving you ample opportunity to relax on the beach. Although some are a little way out of the city, it’s worth a quick drive to get to them.
Some easily accessible (and beautiful) beaches to visit include Frigole Beach, Gallipoli Beach and Torre Mozza Beach. Or, if you’re up for a longer drive, head down the coast to Le Maldive del Salento, meaning ‘the Maldives of Salento.' This beach’s blue water and white sand certainly live up to its reputation.