In the heart of Salento lies Lecce, a charming town that encompasses the splendid beaches of Porto Cesareo and Punta Prosciutto from the Ionian side and San Foca and Torre dell’Orso from the Adriatic Side. Known throughout the world for its sumptuous baroque architecture and opulent decorations that embellish the façade of Basilica di Santa Croce and the Cathedral dedicated to Maria S.S. Assunta. Yet a visit to Lecce is worth not only for the beautiful architecture and pristine beaches but also for the exceptionally rich and diverse territory that produces high quality produce.
The Negroamaro Salento and Primitivo Salento San Marzano are two of the most renowned reds of the territory alongside the rosé Salento rosato.
Olives are a large part of the Apuglian gastronomic scene with many renowned recipes such as ‘Auui’ sfritt’ orfried black olives, your typical antipasto and also used to fill the ‘Puccia Salentina’. To be tried at da Cosimino e figli dal 1960, a restaurant in the suburbs led by Luigi and Granfranco, Cosimino’s sons, with many traditional dishes. The specialty? Sandwich with horsemeat stew.
From tradition to innovation, from the suburbs to the historic centre: you’ll find the most famous restaurant in the city: Bros’. The intention is to enhance local products with modern techniques acquired from around with world with fermentations and unexpected combinations. As well as putting the vegetable at the center of the cuisine. Osteria degli Spiriti, also in the historic center area, offers authentic gourmet cuisine with the possibility of staying overnight in its splendid suites. Nearby there is also Enoteca Carlo V for chocolates, jams, good wines, spirits and wines.
Not far from the Roman Amphitheater, in Piazza Sant’Oronzo, check out Dall’Antiquario, a restaurant with a convivial atmosphere and traditional ‘casareccia’ cooking. Try the n’fucate turnips and orecchiette with veal stew. Nearby you will find Alex Ristorante, where Chef Alessandra Civilla offers a fish based menu featuring local catch of the day whereas at Primo Ristorante, Chef Solaika Marrocco has curated two tasting menus as well as the possibility of ordering à la carte.
At Enogastronomia Povero, as the name suggests, you’ll encounter a simple, casual space where you can try an array of local flavours from the bruschetta with various olive oils and cold cuts and cheese platters. They also make some traditional recipes such as orecchiette and tajeddha (rice, mussels and vegetables).
Fugu Restaurantis a high quality restaurant that, although differs from local cuisine, is worth the experience. Expect a fusion of well-prepared Japanese and Thai dishes. For pizza lovers you must try 400 Gradi, which, through it’s innovation in the art of pizza making, has received numerous awards.
An interesting spot is Tabisca, a store that sells all of the local delicacies as well as the possibility to taste their own cheeses (don’t miss the aged capocollo!). You can even sleep in one of the two simple but elegantly designed rooms.
For the veggies head to the corner of Via Matteotti for every kind of vegetarian puccia: aubergines, courgettes, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, chicory and many more. A special mention must however go to the uliata, a “mini” version of the puccia in which olive oil, black olives and chilli is incorporated in the dough. Only a few euros and you get yourself a quick and excellent meal.
Craft beer enthusiasts listen up, you’ll love the Officine Birrai. A modern hangout, almost technological for the visual impact of the copper pipes that cross it, and for the spectacular window that separates the pizza laboratory from the room. Beers fill the shelves on the walls with their coloured labels and you will find another twenty on tap. But it’s not just beer, here you’ll also find excellent bread and pizza, with a series of doughs with different flours and some dishes (especially meat) to complement it. Cult dish? The Birrarbonata, a carbonara made with agricultural beer.
One of the most renowned spots in the city is Trattoria Le Zie. In Lecce, every restaurant, like every family, has its own special tajeddha and here, try the one with rice, mussels and potatoes au gratin. Another specialty is the sweet pittule: fried balls of leavened dough, typical of the Apulian culinary tradition.
Speaking of desserts, the most famous and characteristic dessert of all of Salento is the pasticciotto, an oval pastry pie filled with custard. The most renowned pastry shops to taste this exquisite specialty are without a doubt Pasticceria Natale and CaffèAlvino. Taste the classic, warm, crema pasticciera oozing out from the centre or perhaps try dark cherry or chocolate flavoured – and, for that true Leccese touch, side your pastry with a Caffè Leccese (espresso on ice and almond milk)
For chocolate lovers, the leccese Showroom Maglio, of the famous Cioccolato Maglio di Maglie workshop, is where you’ll find all things chocolate made with only sustainable cocoa. Try the chocolate covered fruit, the almond paste pralines and the bars. Furthermore, the Pasticceria di Luca Capilungois an artisanal research laboratory for sweet flavours such as those of the Leccese quince jelly, which you can enjoy with the traditional coffee.
For some of the best cocktails in the city head to 300mila Lounge Bar opened by mixologist Davide De Matteis who, after travelling the whole world, came back here to create a truly extraordinary venue. Hundreds of distillates are displayed on the walls, divided by genre, classic and innovative cocktails as well as a very intriguing food proposal that ranges from small bites to sushi plates.
Just outside the ancient city walls is Il Chiostro dei Domenicani, a beautifully restored former convent from 1442 with 18 luxurious suites; a hotel “diffuso”, on the other hand, is Le Dimore di Lecce withvarious “independent” historic houses from the 16th century and finally Palazzo De Nohais a contemporary reinterpretation of Apulian architectural elements, which best expresses the art of hospitality.