Lecce Travel Guide

Lecce Cathedral Duomo and Piazza
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Lecce Cathedral Duomo and Piazza

A historic city in Italy’s Puglia region, Lecce is often referred to as the “Florence of the South” or “Baroque Florence” because of its surfeit of beautiful architecture within a compact, walkable city. Known for its whitewashed Baroque churches and monuments, Lecce is one of the cultural hubs of the Mezzogiorno and the Salento Peninsula.

Best Time to Visit and Weather

Lecce is a destination that can be enjoyed year-round, but the best times to visit are typically in the spring (April to June) and fall (September and October) when the weather is mild and the crowds are fewer. The summer months (July and August) can be quite hot, with average high temperatures reaching up to 100°F (38°C). But it’s this heat, and the Salento Peninsula’s stunning beaches and cliffside swimming holes, that make Lecce a popular summer base for both domestic and international visitors.

The winters in Lecce are mild and wet, with temperatures rarely dropping below 40°F (4°C). This can be a great time to visit if you prefer cooler weather and want to experience the city without the tourist crowds.

History

a woman standing in front of a stone structure
Lecce Roman amphitheater Photo by Freysteinn G. Jonsson on Unsplash

Lecce’s roots date back to the Trojan War. According to the legend, Lecce is named after Lycia, the native land of Idomeneo (today: southern Turkey). It was later conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BC and renamed Lupiae. During Roman times, Lecce became an important center for trade due to its location near the coast. The remnants of the Roman amphitheater in the city center stand as a testament to its historical significance during this era.

Lecce is renowned for its unique Baroque architecture, a style that flourished in the city from the late 16th to the 18th centuries. This period, known as the “Lecce Baroque,” marked a time of significant cultural and architectural development in the city.

The Baroque style in Lecce is characterized by intricate detailing, extravagant designs, and the extensive use of local limestone, known as “Lecce stone.” This soft and malleable stone was ideal for the elaborate carvings and ornate decorations that define Baroque architecture.

Many of Lecce’s most iconic buildings were constructed during this period, including the Basilica di Santa Croce and the Lecce Cathedral. These structures are adorned with intricate facades featuring a mix of fantastical creatures, cherubs, and floral motifs, all characteristic of the Baroque style.

The city’s transformation during the Baroque period was largely due to the efforts of local architects like Giuseppe Zimbalo, who designed the Lecce Duomo and its dramatic 5-storey bell tower. Today, the city’s Baroque architecture—awash in white and gold and bisected by streets of smoothed marble paving stones—is one of its main attractions, drawing visitors from around the world who come to admire its unique and ornate buildings.

Nearby Attractions

In terms of nearby attractions, Lecce is a great base for exploring the Salento Peninsula, known for its beautiful beaches, charming small towns, and excellent wine. The historic city of Otranto, with its impressive castle and beautiful sea views, is just a short drive away. Also within reach is the town of Gallipoli, known for its beautiful old town and stunning beaches.

Cuisine

Learn more about Friselle Pugliesi on Gambero Rosso | Photo: Gambero Rosso

Lecce’s culinary scene is known for its “cucina povera” (peasant cooking), with dishes that make the most of local, seasonal ingredients.

One of the most iconic dishes from Lecce is indeed “frise” or “friselle.” This is a type of twice-baked bread, similar to a dry, hard biscuit. The bread is typically soaked in water and then topped with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and sometimes oregano or basil. It’s a bit like bruschetta and is a common appetizer or snack in the region.

Another popular dish is “orecchiette con le cime di rapa,” a pasta dish made with ear-shaped pasta and turnip tops. The region is also known for its use of legumes in dishes like “fave e cicoria,” a fava bean puree served with chicory.

When it comes to sweets, Lecce is famous for “pasticciotto,” a small pastry filled with custard and often enjoyed with a coffee for breakfast.

If you drink, a visit to Lecce wouldn’t be complete without a glass of local wine. The Salento area of Puglia, where Lecce is located, is known for its robust, full-bodied red wines, such as Salice Salentino, made from a blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera grapes.

Accommodation

When it comes to accommodation, Lecce offers a range of options that cater to different tastes and budgets. Here are three top-rated places to stay in the city:

  1. Patria Palace Hotel Lecce: This 5-star luxury hotel is conveniently located in Lecce’s Historic Center. Just steps away from the Holy Cross Cathedral and the Church of the Gesu, the hotel offers a restaurant, a bar, and a rooftop terrace.
  2. Mantatelurè – Dimora Esclusiva: This charming bed & breakfast is within a 5-minute walk of the Church of San Niccolò dei Greci and Paisiello Theatre. With a rooftop terrace and a conference center, it’s perfect for both leisure and business travelers.
  3. Risorgimento Resort: Another luxury option, this 5-star hotel is steps away from the Church of Santa Chiara and Piazza Sant’Oronzo. It offers a full-service spa, a health club, and a restaurant, ensuring a relaxing and indulgent stay.