10 Fabulous Things You Must Do In Lecce

This week I was supposed to be in Lecce.

I had a Glam Italia Tour booked for 10 days in Puglia and was really looking forward to finally getting back to the heel of Italy’s fabulous boot and showing my group just how completely incredible this region is.

Lecce (pronounced Lech-eh) is a beautiful city down low in the heel of the boot. In the 16th century under Charles V it was an economic powerhouse, the second city of the south after Naples.

Saturday afternoon in Lecce

Built from distinctive Lecce stone it is often referred to as the Florence of the South due to its concentration of beautiful historic buildings. In some ways I can see the comparison. Centuries old golden sandstone buildings and narrow streets that lead into pretty piazzas, but when you look a little closer they really are quite different. The renaissance facades of Florence are replaced with the baroque of southern Italy. Lecce doesn’t get a fraction of the tourism Florence does, so by contrast feels deliciously empty, almost as though you have stumbled upon a secret. Wandering around Lecce I am always stunned that I get to be here in the middle of this visual banquet and have it mostly to myself, with very few tourists around.

An overcast afternoon in Lecce in the late fall

Which brings me to me next point. Lecce is not a city to race around checking items off a list. Although this is a 10 Things You Must Do In Lecce post, I prefer to look at it as things to try and not miss. Lecce is a town to wander and experience at a slow southern Italian pace. You need to breathe it in and savor it. There are museums and plenty of churches but this is a place to take a stroll to burn off a long lazy lunch with an incredible view, before finding a hidden piazza to stop for an early evening aperitivo.

RELATED POST: 10 Reasons You Need To Visit Puglia

10 Things You MUST Do In Lecce

Here are 10 things not to be missed in Lecce. Jut do them all at a leisurely pace.

1. Take Part In Caffe Life

Pasticciotto

The delicious traditional Pasticciotto pastry from Lecce, Puglia, Italy
image via buonissimo.it

Start your day with the most Leccese of pastries, the pasticciotto. This is a custard-like cream filled short crust pastry. Ridiculously delicious (and be warned, very filling) the crust is traditionally made with lard instead of butter, so is both moister and softer than you expect.

Ideally you eat pasticciotto piping hot, fresh out of the oven.

Lecce Coffee

Caffe in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla

Along with your pasticciotto you need to order a coffee specific to Lecce, caffe’ in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla. This is espresso over ice with almond milk. I’m not sure if it’s the Leccese water that makes it so different, but try as you might to replicate it at home it is impossible to capture the exact same taste.

The ideal place to enjoy your pasticciotto and iced coffee is Caffe Alvino in the town’s main square, Piazza Sant’ Oronzo. This piazza is huge and even without its main attraction is a fabulous spot to experience the heart of Lecce. Sit outside and take in the view.

2. The Roman Amphitheater

The Roman amphitheater in piazza Sant’ Oronzo, Lecce

Piazza Sant’ Oronzo’s main attraction is an extremely well preserved Roman amphitheater. For centuries it was buried under buildings here in the heart of the city, only discovered at the beginning of the 1900’s when construction began on a new bank.

Only the lowest floor of the amphitheater remains.
It would have been a multi level construction.

The amphitheater is below current ground level. It was built in the 2nd century A.D during the reign of one of my favorite emperors, Hadrian.

Tunnels below the amphitheater seating

You can wander through the passages below the stadium seating, where the amphitheater is still partially buried.

Below the amphitheater in Lecce

Ancient images on the walls tell us this was a place for gladiator fights with bulls, lions, bears and people. It is estimated the amphitheater could hold between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators.

Concerts are still held in the amphitheater. If you are ever lucky enough to be here when the evening light turns everything golden and the orchestra strikes up in the amphitheater, I promise you the memory will be burned into your brain forever.

The Roman Amphitheater in Lecce, ready for a later summer evening concert.

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3. The Sedile

Next to the Amphitheater is the Sedile, a majestic stone building that was once Lecce’s town hall. Built in 1592 this beautiful cuboid structure is softened with both lower level and upper level arches.

The Sedile in Lecce

At one time the town’s armory was kept on the upper floor and the mayor would hold hearings on the lower floor. The square was called Piazza dei Mecanti at that time and was the heart of Lecce life.

The Sedile by night

Not only the seat of the town hall it was also the hub of local trade, the main stage for the town’s religious processions and the site of riots and military battles, with no one knowing there was an amphitheater hidden below their feet.

Mosaics in piazza Sant’ Oronzo, Lecce

Nearby on top of a 30 foot column Lecce’s patron saint, Sant’ Oronzo (St Orontius) watches over the piazza that was renamed in his honor. Also look for the huge mosaics of Lecce’s coat of arms.

4. Museo Faggiano

I’ve added this one because it is like one of those crazy Italian dreams where you discover ancient ruins under your house. Which is exactly what happened here.

Museo Faggiano, Lecce
image via Atlas Obscura

This was a private home until 2001 when a plumbing problem forced the owner had to dig through the floor. Low and behold they discovered ruins dating back 2500 years!

Museo Faggiano
image via pugliamusei.it

You can do a self guided tour and see underground cisterns, secret passageways, tombs and escape routes. It all dates back to pre-Roman times. Between 1000 and 1200 it was a Knights Templar house, then became a convent for Franciscan nuns until the 1600’s

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5. Buy Cartapesta

Cartapesta, the art of papier mache is a specialty of Lecce that dates back to the 17th century. The city built all these amazing churches that needed decorating, but there wasn’t the time or the money to make things in marble. So they had to use the products they had access to and came up with this incredible art form.

One of the most famous cartapesta workshops in Lecce is Cartapesta Claudio Riso


This was during a time known as the counter-reformation when Catholicism was under attack by the protestant church. The churches in Lecce needed to keep the congregation faithful by pulling at their heart strings. The artisans were able to create emotion in the faces of their figurines, and then paint them to look as if they were alive.

Cartapesta at Claudio Riso in Lecce


The craft has been passed down through the centuries and today you can still buy handmade cartapesta in Lecce. It really is quite sensational, so you should definitely wander into some of the stores and find yourself a treasure to bring home.

Cartapesta in the Claudio Riso store in Lecce

You can read more about Cartapesta here.

6. The Roman Theater

I discovered this one on my first trip to Lecce while just wandering the narrow streets weaving their way up from the Porta Rudiae. I turned a corner into one of the baroque alleys surrounded by 18th century palazzos and there it was. It was actually quite a shock because I didn’t know it existed. An almost perfectly intact 1st century Roman theater.

the Roman theater in Lecce

This theater is quite small, approximately 40 meters in diameter, but in its time is thought to have held up to 4000 spectators. Fragments of clay decoration dating back to the Augustan period have been found (27 B.C – 14 A.D.) along with marble statues from the Antonine era (96 A.D – 192 A.D) which are now kept in the Roman Theater Museum.

The theater was only discovered in 1929 and really is in remarkable condition. You can view it from the street or go inside from the entrance on via degli Ammirati. I suggest going in the morning due to everything closing for hours each afternoon for siesta, or pisolino as it is known in  southern Italy.

Concerts are still held in the Roman Theater.

7. Take A Cooking Class

Silvestro at The Awaiting Table

Lecce is a fabulous place to take a cooking class, especially if you will be here more than one day. My friend Silvestro Silvestori runs an incredible cooking school in Lecce. The Awaiting Table has been written up in major publications all over the world and they have taught classes to guests from 59 countries.

My June Puglia tour was going to be coming here for a half day class and I am so disappointed to have missed it.

The Awaiting Table cooking school in Lecce

The Awaiting Table cooking classes are very unique. You can do a half day class at their place in Lecce or you can do a week long cooking school at their castle. Can you even imagine?

Cooking classes at The Awaiting Table in Lecce

Whichever type of class you choose to take the experience is just magnificent. Pugliese cuisine is divine. Everything you eat grows nearby and for olive oil lovers this is one of the most prolific olive growing regions in all of Italy. The Awaiting Table even make their own olive oil which you can buy at the school or order online, they ship it worldwide.

For a list of their classes, to order olive oil and to look at their gorgeous photo gallery you can check out their website here: The Awaiting Table

If you belong to my newsletter you will be receiving a fabulous recipe from The Awaiting Table later this month. If you are reading this post after June 2020 and missed it just bounce me back an email from any newsletter and I will forward it to you. You can sign up for my free Private Members Newsletter here

Visit The City Gates

Lecce was once a walled city with huge city gates at its entrance points. Three of these gates still exist and are well worth seeing. The historic center of Lecce is inside the city gates, the newer more modern city is outside of them.

Porta Napoli gate on a gorgeous, sunny Lecce afternoon

Porta Napoli is the main gate. It was built in 1548 to celebrate a state visit from Charles V. Just beyond the gate there is an obelisk and then the university.

Porta Rudiae, Lecce

My favorite is the Porta Rudiae, a little further south from Porta Napoli. This is the oldest of the three gates and leads you right in to the historic center of town. In my opinion this is the best gate to arrive through.

Porta San Biagio, Lecce

On the other side of the center is Porta San Biagio, probably the least visited gate but it’s still impressive.

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9. Take A Walking Tour

I love taking walking tours with professional, licensed guides. I do them everywhere I go in Italy, even in cities and towns I know really well. No matter how much you think you know about a place, a licensed guide will teach you more. They know all the fascinating stories behind everywhere you go and add so much depth and texture to your entire experience.

On my Glam Italia tours I hire the same guides over and over and even though most of them have been working with me for years, I still learn something new every time. Just be sure to either book a private guide or a small group tour rather than a big group tour.

10. Go For Baroque

Lecce is famous for its spectacular baroque architecture, especially that of its churches. Everything was carved from local Lecce stone, a yellow stone so soft you can carve it with a butter knife. It is also very porous, so in order to harden it they would soak it in a solution of milk and water, which penetrated the pores and created a waterproof layer that has kept the stone preserved for centuries. The milk also hardened the stone and turned it into the gorgeous golden hue it still has today.

There are 22 churches just in the historic center of Lecce. This post tells you about 14 of them, but I just want to draw your attention to 3. Largely because one of the joys of Lecce is turning a corner into a tiny hidden piazza and finding yet another exceptional church. The following 3 churches are in the order I first saw them.

image via wikicommons

San Giovanni Battista

This one is just inside the Rudiae gate and was the first Lecce baroque architecture I saw, so it is the first I show my travelers.

The original church on this site was built for the Dominicans in 1388, replaced by this one in 1691. Designed by Giuseppe Zimbalo it was completed and consecrated in 1728.

I always think this type of baroque architecture, similar to that which you see in the southern Sicilian towns of Noto and Modica, looks like the dreams of a madman, on acid.

It is so busy, your eye flits from place to place and doesn’t know where to land. But in the middle of the madness it is all really quite beautiful.

The Duomo

Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunta is the cathedral of Lecce. It is fascinating on many levels. If you think of the cathedrals in most major Italian cities such as Florence, Rome and Milan, the cathedral dominates the heart of the city, and the city radiates out from it. The cathedral is a shining beacon, calling you into its center. Here in Lecce if you didn’t know where to find it you would miss it.

Piazza Duomo, Lecce

On my first trip to Lecce I had been wandering via Vittorio Emanuele looking at cartapesta, turned down a little side street and the piazza Duomo exploded out in front of me. If you make this walk you will see what I mean, the arteries leading into it are quite small and narrow and piazza is enormous, so the effect is fantastic.

The Duomo, Lecce

Another oddity here is that the cathedral isn’t centered with the piazza emanating from its core, instead the cathedral feels like an after-thought, tucked into the corner.

The original structure was built in 1144 but the current facelift happened in 1659, again helmed by Giuseppe Zimbalo. The Duomo is in the southeast corner of the piazza with the main entrance facing (north) out into the piazza. This north facing façade is considered a masterpiece in baroque architecture.

Basilica Santa Croce

I love bringing people here toward the end of the day. Of course it is beautiful at any time but there is pure magic in the apricot light that bathes the building and everything that surrounds it in the late afternoon. From piazza Sant’ Oronzo you walk along via Templari just a few meters and then the church explodes out in front of you. I love the way Lecce does this to you over and over. Even when you’ve been here before and know exactly what you are about to see it still shocks your senses.

Basilica Santa Croce in Lecce.
image is not my own

My first time here is indelibly printed in my mind. An old man had biked up with a piano attached to his bike, he parked it in the piazza opposite that church, put a black vest on over his white shirt, planted a fedora on his head, and sat down and played gorgeous music. The entire episode was mesmerizing, from this fantastic church to the light to the music – I don’t think I moved for an hour.

The façade of the church is Lecce’s piece de resistance, baroque architecture teeming with detail. Lecce baroque is deeply counter reformation – a celebration of the Roman Catholic Church against its protestant enemies. It is also defiantly exuberant.

Detail of Basilica Santa Croce in Lecce
image via Italia Turismo

The first Italian writer to come here, Marquise Grimaldi wrote that the façade of Santa Croce is like the nightmare of a lunatic, realized in stone. Another writer compared it to the frenzied crowdedness of a Hieronymus Bosch painting with the intensity of a fever dream.

Detail of Basilica Santa Croce facade
image via Chiese Lecce

It is just fantastic, you really don’t know quite where to look first. Construction began in 1549 and wasn’t completed until 1646. When you step back to look at it it’s is hard to imagine they could complete all of this in 100 years!

Another blog with some fabulous photos of Lecce is Two Days In Italy. The link to the Lecce post is here

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Colleen Rothschild Beauty

What To Do In Lecce
What To Eat Drink And Do In Lecce Italt

How To Get The Best Shine In Your Hair

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Quench and Shine Restorative Hair Mask

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Colleen Rothschild Quench and Shine Restorative Mask

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Colleen Rothschild Smooth and Shine Serum

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RELATED POST: Colleen Rothschild Award Winning Skincare

The Quench and Shine Hair Travel Set

The Quench and Shine Travel Kit

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Photography: all images courtesy of Keith Pitts KeithMelissa.com

Colleen Rothschild Beauty

Why You Need To See Beautiful Orsanmichele In Florence

Today I want to tell you about a beautiful building in Florence that you will walk past multiple times, no doubt wondering what it is. Like pretty much everything in Florence it has a good story behind it too!

Orsanmichele, Florence

Orsanmichele

Diagonally opposite the Porcellino Market (Mercato Nuovo) and just up the street from Piazza della Repubblica, in between via Calimala and via Calzaiuoli you will see a square building with statues inside niches the entire way around it. It is beautiful and it is remarkable, but at first glance it is hard to tell exactly what it is.

This is the church of Orsanmichele.

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It Wasn’t Always A Church

In 895 A.D this was an oratory in the garden of the monastery of St Michele. The word for garden was orto, so over the years Orto-San-Michele became shortened to Or-San-Michele.

This first structure burned down in 1239 and was rebuilt as a wooden loggia. The loggia had a column with the Madonna on it, accredited with several miracles. Once again, this structure also burned down. In 1336 the Silk Guild decided to rebuild it as a grain market. This is why the church has the odd shape – it is square because it originally was a grain market with a grain storage space above it.

At the time it made sense to keep a granary inside the city walls. During times of siege and wars you couldn’t always safely go out to the countryside to get the grain needed for the city.

It was still an open loggia and the city flowed through it. Bernardo Daddi painted a replacement Madonna, the Madonna delle Grazie, to replace the one lost in the fire. Once again she had miracles attributed to her, especially during the plague of 1348. With miracles come pilgrims, and they showed up in such numbers to pray at her feet that it became impossible to keep the space functioning as a market. A new market was built across the street, the Mercato Nuovo (Porcellino Market), and this space was walled in and converted into a church.

RELATED POST: YOU NEED TO SEE THE MEDICI PALACES IN FLORENCE

The Tabernacles

St Peter by Donatello

Each of the city’s guilds (artisan unions) was given a tabernacle on the exterior of the building and had to provide a statue or sculpture to put in it. These are the niches you see around the outside of the building.

St John the Baptist by Lorenzo Ghiberti

The project wasn’t completed until the mid 15th century, so many of the guilds benefitted from the expertise of the greatest Renaissance sculptors, including Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Four Crowned Saints by Nanno di Banco

The grain storage space above the old grain market has since been converted into a museum and all of the original sculptures are safely kept there. The sculptures you see outside are replicas. (It is well worth a trip upstairs to the museum)

For a breakdown of the art in each tabernacle, who sculpted it and which guild it was built for check this link

St Matthew by Lorenzo Ghiberti

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The Madonna

The Maddona delle Grazie by Bernardo Daddi

Inside the church the miracle giving Madonna delle Grazie by Bernardo Daddi is housed inside an incredible tabernacle created by the artist Orcagna in 1348-59. It is quite something!

Cool Things To Look For

There are some other really cool features to look for inside the church. If you sit back for a moment and watch you will see most of the travelers in here miss them. I say travelers rather than tourists because even though there are hordes of tourists swarming down the street outside, very few bother to come inside and have a look.

The grain chute inside one of the columns in Orsanmichele

Two of the columns on the left side of the church have open grain chutes. The grain stored above would be dispensed down these chutes into the market. It’s a quirky little detail but I love it.

Orsanmichele

Being that this is Florence of course the artwork inside this church is gorgeous. But as you look up at the paintings on the ceiling, look a little closer and you will see metal rings embedded in them.

Metal rings embedded into the ceiling

These are not part of some creepy inquisition torture devices but actually date back to the days when this was a granary. The metal rings were used to work the pullies, hoisting huge blocks of grain.

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Unless you go upstairs to the museum (recommended) your entrance to the church is free. You won’t need an enormous amount of time here so it is a great place to whip into on your way to the Piazza della Signoria, the Porcellina Market or  Ponte Vecchio.

You may need to loop around it a couple of times to find the entrance – head up, it’s at the back. Be sure to walk around the building exterior at least once to see all the tabernacles and identify each of the guilds. The magnificence of buildings like Orsanmichele are part of what makes Florence so totally incredible.

Are you planning a trip to Florence? My free downloadable Secret Florence PDF gives you a list of my favorites in the Renaissance city. From my favorite restaurants and bars to my favorite secret jewelry shop these are places you will want to know about and add to your itinerary. Get your Secret Florence pdf  HERE

Do you belong to my Private Members Newsletter? Twice each month it tells you about special foods to try, festivals happening in Italy and under the radar places to visit, both within the big cities as well as villages around the country. You can get on the list and become a member (for free) here.

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