Up first is LECCE!
Lecce was the first European city that I visited and lived in so it’s only natural that it is the topic of my first city recap.
Located in the Puglia region of Italy, Lecce was my home for 3 weeks in August 2016. Italy is divided into 20 administrative regions and Puglia is the south-easternmost region. The country is further divided into provinces and Lecce is one of such provinces in Puglia, located on the Salento Peninsula otherwise known as the “heel of Italy” (or to some the Jamaica of Italy due to the popularity of dancehall and reggae music there). Lecce is also known as the “Florence of the South” as a result of the abundance of baroque architecture and bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the east and the Ionian Sea on the west (beach!!!).
To get to Lecce, we flew into the Bari airport, from which we had 2-hour bus ride to the city centre. You can also fly into the Brindisi airport which is much closer or if travelling from within Italy, the train or bus are other options.
My first taste of Italian living related to the narrow streets lined with cobblestone. If you’ve read anything about travelling in Italy/Europe, you might have seen warnings about your suitcases and/or feet and the cobblestone and about narrow streets. This definitely applies in the case of Lecce, in particular the city centre, as our bus couldn’t take us all the way to our apartments. We had to get off the bus at one of the city gates and walk to our apartments while our luggage was transferred to smaller vans to be taken to our apartments for us. In fact, for all of our excursions out of Lecce, we had to walk 10-15 mins from our apartments to the meeting point at one of the city gates.
This, of course, is not a complaint, because every time I had to go to one of those city gates, I couldn’t help but admire the magnificent gate in all its grandeur. Besides, it was on one of those walks that my friends and I got lost and found ourselves running around Lecce to meet the group on time (a great memory) and we discovered 24-hour vending machine coffee, which was good by the way. Darn, I miss those coffees with ginseng!
As you might have guessed, I wasn’t in Lecce just for fun though I had a lot. I was there for a pre-semester intensive language programme to revise Italian and give us an introduction to life in Italian before the actual semester. Check out this timelapse video of my daily walks to class that took place at a convent. This was an amazing experience and the approximately 20-minute walk provided a great chance to see the city daily and occasionally stop at a cafe in the mornings for espresso.
Another word of warning: Lecce is very hot in the summer. We were fortunate to have air conditioning in our palazzo so I definitely recommend trying to book accommodations with some form of air conditioning or at least a fan provided. If you can get a building with a rooftop terrace, that is even better. Of course, also remember to HYDRATE. Besides the heat, August is a great time to visit Puglia’s southernmost province. During this time, a lot of Italians are on vacation so you might meet people from all around the country. In addition, it is a great time for festivities as the celebration of their patron saint Sant’Oronzo takes place in August.
Sant’Oronzo is said to have saved the city from a plague in the 1600s. Every August the city is decorated with elaborate lights, especially the Piazza Sant’Oronzo, and there are usually events and food markets in the square as part of Festa di Sant’Oronzo (Festival of Sant’Oronzo). Trust me when I say it’s a lot of fun to dance in the square to live music or listen to the procession through the city that marks the start of the festivities.
Another popular festival that occurs in August is La Notte della Taranta (the Night of Tarantula) which is a music festival dedicated to the Pizzica dance, which by the way is soooo fun to do! Lecce does not have the best nightlife but it should be sufficient for the occasional partier.
Overall, Lecce was a great 3-weeks of my life. It was a nice introduction to Italy and Italian culture and I glad that my programme took me there because otherwise, I might not have visited. Obviously, Lecce isn’t one of the first places that you think of when you think Italy but it is well worth a visit! If you do make that visit, here are some suggestions.