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Trip Report - Lecce, Puglia

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.

You can also read this report in my blog : https://www.handofdough.com/post/lecce-puglia-may-2023

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Trip Report - Lecce, Puglia - Part 2

Staying

Grand Hotel Lecce

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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Trip Report - Lecce, Puglia - Part 3

Drinking (prices are from May 2023)

Mother Elvira Enoteca

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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Trip Report - Lecce, Puglia - Part 4

Doing

Doumo, Chiesa di San Matteo, Chiesa di Santa Clara and Basilica di Santa Croce

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

The Awaiting Table Cookery School

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

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

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. 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

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 or so, but you could also easily spend a couple of days here.

Town of Otranto

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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I am truly enjoying your trip report. We visited Puglia for 2 weeks last February-March and loved the area. I heartily agree with your opinions of each place—-especially Alberobello!

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A very timely report! I will be there within six months. Hopefully without the delayed train - ugh!

I’ve contacted The Awaiting Tables site, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your day there! I’m surprised your class size was so small. Also, planning to stay at Locorotondo, Lecce and others including an overnight at Alberobello. The evening dusk and early morning light can make beautiful photos without the hoard of tourists. Also, I wanted to stay in a few trulli in Puglia, and I have a nice one reserved there.

A question - how much time did you spend at the locations that are on the Lecce LeccEcclesiae? Did you feel they were all a good use of your time? (I’ll be in Lecce three nights - no day trips, and one day will be busy with the cooking class.)

I appreciate your restaurant reviews very much! I’m bookmarking your trip report. Thank you!

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@Jean - thank you for your kind words.

For the LeccEcclesiae itinerary, I would say 4 hours is plenty and definitely a good use of time. Such wonderful churches to visit.

One of our favourite TV programs for travel in Italy has been Italy Unpacked by the BBC. This episode of their travels in Puglia (which includes Lecce) informed out visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6HL79F2a30

I hope you enjoy your trip.. I am sure you will.

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Thank you for a great TR - I hope to make this area a top priority in a couple of years and I have bookmarked your report.

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”Puglia seems to be "the" place to visit in Italy at the moment…”

I’m really hoping Puglia will still be full of its authentic feel and not a tourist haven. I picked it last year because it was a portion of Italy I haven’t stayed, and lately I keep hearing about it becoming a spot now to go.

Thanks so much for the link to the video! Excellent! I watched more of theirs afterwards of Sicily, too. I will be watching more of theirs of other areas to see how they’ve enjoyed familiar portions of Italy.

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Excellent report on a region I know pretty well, especially your details on how to take the trains from Naples (we've only driven Puglia to Naples, train from Rome to Puglia, and flying in and out of Bari or Brindisi) --- people are sure to find that really helpful. You are inspiring me to write my very first trip report about the Italy trip we got back from last night....

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Is a car necessary for this itinerary, or can you get to these towns from Lecce via public transportation?
Thank you