City Guide to Lecce, Italy
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When one thinks of Puglia, the southern region in the heel of Italy, small country towns coupled with seaside villages come to mind. Vast farmland and the Adriatic coast make up much of this beautiful area that is still rather under the radar. But there is also the cosmopolitan city of Lecce, which has earned the nickname “the Florence of the South” for its baroque architecture and general sophistication amongst its smaller town neighbors.
I visited Lecce on a day trip when I was staying in the Ostuni countryside, and it made for the perfect day trip to the “big city”, however I would also say it is worth a weekend trip as well. Apart from site-seeing, there are excellent restaurants and lots of shopping to be had – in fact that’s what I would say is first and foremost to do; stroll its streets, eat good food, dip into stores, and enjoy drinks in one of its outdoor cafes. Relish the city life in an area that is otherwise low-key and rather quiet.
Lecce is a beautiful city to walk around – its stunning baroque architecture can be seen everywhere, from its narrow European streets to its many churches that dot the city. Its golden limestone shines in the southern sun, giving the city its own unique look. It is said that the limestone here is particularly malleable and that’s why the style of the city is baroque – the stone could be turned into all the ornate and heavy detail that baroque is so known for.
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Things to do in Lecce
I was told to make my first stop in the Piazza Sant’Oronzo, where the visitors center is. This was a great call, as the center is well managed with helpful staff, and contains maps of the city. Lecce is made up of many rambling, criss-crossy streets, and having a map was absolutely necessary. It’s a lively piazza full of cafes and shops, and the center of Lecce life. It’s a good starting point.
Also located in the piazza is an ancient Roman Amphitheatre, built at the end of the 2ndCentury B.C. Life’s events buried the amphitheater until it was discovered after the Second World War, and historians estimate it once held 25,000 spectators. It’s front and center in the square and impossible to miss.
Another wonderful piazza to see is the Piazza del Duomo, where the Lecce Cathedral is located. This is an entirely different kind of piazza – not big and bustling, but smaller and less crowded. It’s a bit tucked away, with beautiful grand buildings surrounding the square. I have to admit I never made it inside the Cathedral – just as I was exploring the square I realized it was time to go meet up with some people. However, I did make it inside the Santa Croce, which is by all accounts more of a must-see cathedral.
The Basilica di Santa Croce often comes up as the #1 thing to do in Lecce, due to its complete baroque over-the-topness. The level of detail is incredible, one of the finest in Italy. Think gargoyles, beasts, animals, all with the most intricate of detail. Its façade is famous in Puglia, however when I visited there were so many people in front, that I found the interior much more captivating.
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For a fascinating archeological trip through Lecce’s history, visit the Museo Faggiano. What once was someone’s home is now a museum, after the owner discovered archeological remains when digging beneath the home to deal with a sewage problem. There he discovered medieval walls, crypts and remains, even things dating back to the 5thcentury B.C.
Finally, one of the best things to do, as I mention above, is simply to walk around and enjoy Lecce culture. Via Umberto I connects Piazza Sant’Oronzo and the Basilica Santa Croce and is bustling with restaurants, cafes and shops. This is one of the city’s main streets and is great for people-watching and taking in the city vibe.
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You had me at baroque and gargoyles – the Basilica di Santa Croce sounds stupefacente! #farawayfiles
It was very impressive indeed!
It looks amazing. I want to visit that region of Italy but not sure when I can fit it in. It just smacks of relaxation and long wine fuelled lunches. Magnifico! #farawayfiles
Completely! The Italians know how to do it right!
I am impressed by the overall look and feel of the town. All the stonework and paving makes me feel that the builders tended to every detail to make the town beautiful. The amphitheatre right in the middle of Piazza Sant’Oronzo is an interesting coincidence.
There was a lot of love and care built into this city. The amphitheater story is incredible!
I visited Lecce in a bit of a hurry a few years ago when I was on a hotel research trip to Puglia. I really wish I’d spent more tine there as it sounds so lovely. #FarawayFiles
Hotel research trip sounds pretty nice!
How utterly gorgeous!! I recently visited Verona (and loved it) and came to the conclusion: Must.See.More.Of.Italy!! 😉
You can never see enough of Italy! I’ve been to many places in Italy and yet still have a long, never-ending list!
I’d love to stroll those streets. Living in Asia, I really miss seeing those beautiful old historical buildings in European cities
I can imagine. Having said that, I’m dying to see Asia!
So many reasons here why I love Italy so much. Beautiful pictures. Oh to wander those little streets and sip cool drinks in street cafes! #farawayfiles
I know, Italy is simply the best!
Lecce looks beautiful, I love the architecture. I can’t believe the amphitheatre was only discovered after the Second World War, that’s incredible. #farawayfiles
I know, it’s an incredible story!
Pugglia is my favourite region in Italy. They serve amazing food everywhere and I love those tiny places full of history? #Farawayfiles
The food was amazing! But then again anywhere in Italy it is..I loved Puglia and glad I got to see it when I did.
I’ve been to a few places in Italy but sadly Lecce was not one of them. You have shown me lots of reasons why I need to include it on my itinerary for my next trip to Italy.
Thanks Lyn – there’s so much to discover in Italy it’s impossible to do it all. My favorite country!
I do love a walkable and beautiful European town or city! That’s incredible that ancient artifacts and structures are still being discovered there, too. Have added your post to my Italy Pinterest board for future reference, hope to go back someday soon! Thanks for sharing. #FarawayFiles
Thanks Beth! I know, I love the story of the museum and how recent the discoveries were..how incredible!
I love Italy and it was one of the countries we considered when looking to move abroad (but ended up in France). I’ve not been for ages and looking at your pictures has got me wanting to go back! #Farawayfiles
France sounds very nice! I’ve been to Paris a few times and Normandy when I was a kid, but apart from that haven’t explored too much of France, so it’s really been on the top of my list. Hopefully some day soon!
I was in Lecce on a day trip 2 years ago. So beautiful. At night, centro lights up and comes alive like most squares in Italy. Puglia is the most pristine and beautiful places to visit. Do not hesitate to go to the stiletto of the boot on your next visit. Excellent olive oil in lecce as well. Brava!
Thanks for the tips! I loved Puglia and how crowd-free it seemed to be. Looking forward to returning some day!