Falling in love with Lecce: Travels through Italy’s most southern region
Happy Easter! Although not quite as lengthy as Warwick’s 5 week Easter extravaganza, I’ve got two weeks of no classes here in Italy, meaning time to get my life together ready for the second half of the semester, and of course, travel! Having been invited by one of my oldest friends to join her family’s holiday to Puglia, I decided to take the bus down the entirety of Italy, to spend a couple of days in Lecce, one of the region’s most beautiful towns, and then to stay with her family for a week in practically the bottom of the country…
Let me just start this blog by saying Italy, although a relatively small country, is very, very long.
As I live in Siena, as shown by the heart, and I had to travel via Rome, to Lecce, which is at literally the bottom of the heal of Italy, my bus was a dreamy 13 hours… the glamorous life of an Erasmus student!
Yes, as a poor student, I chose to take the 13 hour bus to Lecce, with an hour wait at Rome Tiburtina- quite possibly the worst place in the world, as it’s close enough to Rome to feel like you should do something with an hour break, but too far from anything to be able to visit. *Problems one doesn’t encounter living in Siena, where I can walk the entirety of the city top to bottom in 35 minutes.*
However, with only 1 breakdown and a change of bus, and a brief sprint back to my house at the beginning of my journey to get my forgotten passport, I made it, almost, eager to explore.
Lecce, despite being an important, ancient Greek and then Roman settlement, is famous for its baroque architecture produced by Lecce stone, a very soft limestone that is easy to carve, meaning it’s often described as “the Florence of the South.” And isn’t it pretty?
Also: if you’ve ever watched the film Walking on Sunshine, which quite possibly is the worst film ever made, the one with all the songs and Leona Lewis, you will recognise Lecce as the location for most of the film. Although I must add, the tomato festival scene was not filmed here… if you know, you know…
However, with two days of sunshine and nothing planned, I spent my days ambling through the old streets…
… drinking Caffe Leccese, which is an espresso served with ice and very sugary almond syrup, enough to give me a headache after two in a row (not my wisest decision) ….
…. and eating all the food in the world. Oh Italy… Puglia, although very beautiful, was historically one of the poorest regions in Italy, meaning food, particularly meat, was very scarce, and as a result, their local cuisine centres around cucina povera, essentially poor cooking. Obviously, there is plenty of pasta and pizza here, with the local pasta shape being orecchiette, the little ears, however, other famous dishes include ciceri e tria, which is pasta and chickpeas, but where some of the pasta is fried to give it a more meaty texture. Other highlights include horse meatballs, which I tried on my second day, and can’t say I was convinced.
Letting orecchiette heaven restore me after the 13 hours of Italian autostrada on my first night…
Lecce is also famous for having a Roman amphitheatre from the second century, which is still half standing in one of the main squares of the town and is still used for religious events.
I also managed to squeeze in a visit to the Jewish Museum, which documents the journey of the Jews in the Salento region from the Roman times, to their first explusion from Lecce in the 15th century, to how the Second World War and the Nazi regime managed to reach the very bottom of Italy. It is in the location of the old synagogue in the former Jewish quarter of the town and still features 6 mikvehs, which are baths used for ritual immersion of the religion. Incredibly interesting, and very moving- I totally recommend a visit!
After two days, my best friend arrived and fetched my at Lecce’s wonderful bus station, and there began a week of catching up, eating too much burrata and artichokes, and trips to the beach.
Life’s a beach
I had never been south of Naples before, and so I am really glad I got to spend part of my Easter vacation here in Puglia, seeing the South of Italy, and getting to know one of the most beautiful towns in the country (if I do say so myself). However, despite not fully wanting to, it was soon time to leave to spend the second part of the holiday a bit more north…