It doesn’t get much more centrale than Palazzo Luce, a historic art-filled Lecce jewel set in the heart of Puglia’s Baroque capital, right behind the duomo.
Brindisi Airport is 50 kilometres from the hotel, around a 45-minute drive. Transfers can be arranged and cost from €100 to €200.
Lecce station is a 10-minute stroll from Palazzo Luce, and is served by major hubs including Milan, Venice, Rome and Bari. A taxi transfer from the station costs around €20.
Lecce is a compact, walkable sort of place, but you’ll need your own wheels if you want to explore the wild coastal bluffs and sleepy Baroque villages that lie beyond the city walls. Cars can be rented at the airport, but note that Palazzo Luce is located in Lecce’s Limited Traffic Zone, which means restricted access to vehicles and no parking. You can park outside the old town, but rates are steep at around €20 a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
There’s enough eye candy inside Palazzo Luce to keep you entertained for hours, if not days. Saunter across Joseph Kosuth’s specially commissioned wall-to-wall carpet in the main salon, to where William Kentridge’s enormous laser-cut heads juxtapose with the more natural tones of a piece from photographer Thomas Ruff’s jpeg series. And check out the shrine to 20th-century fashion in De Secly’s Library, where a collection of limited edition Vogue magazine covers provides one eye-catching focal point, and a monumental majolica-tiled circular table topped with Audrey Large’s extraordinary sculptures, another.
Step outside this fairy-tale palazzo onto the equally dreamlike streets of old Lecce where, just round the corner, the Piazza del Duomo puts you in pole sightseeing position. The cathedral here is as fine an example of the Barocco Leccese architecture as you’re likely to find, with its wedding-cake façade – all floral garlands, wingèd cherubs and sainted statues – providing a relatively sober foil to the outrageously opulent interior, where huge columns, flamboyant red-and-gold ceilings and an art-festooned altar are the order of the day. Want more? The Basilica di Santa Croce takes Lecce’s ‘Florence of the South’ nickname and runs with it, adopting its more famous northern neighbour’s name but going for even higher stakes in its façade’s eye-popping design. You have to wonder what was in the morning espresso the day the 17th-century sculptors chipped some of these pagan monsters, gurning gargoyles and, um, vegetables into being.
Lighten the mood with a cookery class, where you’ll visit the morning markets to source fresh local ingredients then rustle up Puglian favourites like eggplant parmigiana and the region’s beloved orecchiette pasta, named on account of its cute little ear-like shape. You’ll get the chance to devour the lot with gusto once class is over; just try not to nibble your neighbour’s ear. Life’s a beach over in San Cataldo, a 20-minute drive (or slightly longer bus ride) out of town to the rugged Adriatic Coast. Or head further south to Otranto, a pretty port town around 40 minutes away with stacks of fine fish restaurants, a sandy beach and, yes, another cathedral. The long powdery beaches of Gallipoli over on the Ionian Coast are also a 40-minute drive.
A tale of two restaurants here from the sublime to… well, we’ll let you make up your own minds. First up is Tabisca, specialists in straightforward Salento and Puglian cuisine served in an unassuming location down a rustic alley just off Piazza Santa Chiara. Sit at simple wooden tables beneath vaulted ceilings inside, or take up position on the terrace where you can watch the world go by and whet your appetite nibbling crostini with white-truffle butter or spicy ricotta with Amalfi Coast anchovies, ahead of the speciality main: a whopping great pork shank cooked in beer and served with wild mushrooms.
Just around the corner on the square proper awaits the somewhat more theatrical experience that is Bros, Lecce’s premier (and currently only) Michelin-starred restaurant. Not for the faint of heart, its tasting-only menus have been known to run to as many as 25 courses. Expect the unexpected but know that your dishes – purported to feature the likes of kiwi injected with mint, olive ice cream and, um, citrus foam served in a cast of the chef’s mouth – will never be served with anything less than the high drama and mystique for which this outlandish concept restaurant has become renowned.
When in Lecce, we’d consider it essential to seek out the life-altering local specialities that are the pasticciotto and caffè leccese. Let’s begin with the pasticciotto because… well, why wouldn’t you? This crumbly, bun-shaped pastry oozes sweet, creamy lemon custard when bitten into or, if you’re not too much of a traditionalist, you can also find it in pistachio and even Nutella flavours. It’s best paired with the short sharp shock of a morning espresso.
In the afternoon, cool off with a caffè leccese, aka the rather more unwieldy sounding caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla. Whatever you want to call it, this sweet, sweet drink contains espresso poured over sugar and ice then topped with frothing almond cream. You can hunt down both of these delicacies at nearby Caffè Alvino, which overlooks the same Roman amphitheatre that’s visible from the garden of Palazzo Luce.
The clue’s in the name at Prohibition, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar that’s a reassuringly short enough stumble from Palazzo Luce to justify just one more cocktail at the end of the evening. And there’s quite a list to work through, too, with a focus on well-crafted classics like martinis, margaritas and old-fashioneds.
Lecce is a city that just begs you to seek out its best rooftop views, and the terrace on top of the historic Palazzo BN is no slouch. Far from it, in fact: this unique roof garden, complete with trees, shrubs and patio seating, gives the impression of being in an urban park, and one that just happens to have some of the best skyline views in town. Take it all in over a spiced vodka cocktail laced with lemon and – we kid you not – gorgonzola cheese, or kick back with a refreshing mango cooler.