Italy, again and again, from a different angle every time, makes me fall in love. With its food, its lights, colours and a sense of timeless aestheticism that oozes lightness and freedom, there are oh-so-many ways to indulge in la dolce fa niente.
This time I went to smell some Apulian air and taste its seemingly endless flavours. A region that is awash with olive, orange and lemon trees, sandy beaches and picturesque towns squattered along the Ionian and Adriatic coast and its strong wine culture, it’s worth more of your time than a weekend escape to explore fully. With summer season winding down, the decision was made to focus on the beautiful city of Lecce, with day trips to Ostuni, beautiful Otranto and many other places like Polignano A Mare.
Tasty, Tastier, Volo
Via Guglielmo Paladini 9
+39 0832 667355
Looking like a well-established, classy restaurant, this place has surprised and mesmerized me from starters to desserts. My absolute highlights were the carpaccio of lemon marinated swordfish with red salt and the risotto gamberetti, but also the burrata, the chocolate fondant, the selection of wines.. You get the picture; you can’t go wrong, you can only go Volo.
Trattoria Nonna Tetti
Piazzetta Regina Maria, 17
+39 0832 246036
I have such an indescribable and endlessly irrational love for burratas, so of course I tried the burrata here as well, and you better share it with someone, as it might easily weigh over half a kilogram. The pasta dishes here are exceptionally good, in the sense that they do taste as if my imaginary Italian grandma (that is Nonna translated into English) had cooked it up for me. Try the Fantasia Nonna Tetti, a yummy pasta dish cooked with seafood, tomatoes and a variety of herbs.
Feeling antipasti tonight?
Locanda Arcu Te Pratu
Piazzetta Arco di Prato
+39 328 747 2110
Yes, you reach a point where you feel like you cannot eat another pasta dish (which of course you will do, as they are just so good), so if you feel like sharing antipasti you should definitely try the incredible platter they serve you up at Arcu Te Pratu. Also no need to go for fancy name wines, just go for the house wine. The friendly waiter did not disappoint when he promised it to be tickling our palates.
Dubbed the “Florence of the South” with its baroque facades and dazzling detailed carvings on its countless churches, Lecce is the cultural capital of the Apulian region. With a buzzing bar scene, its winding streets and soft-yellowish lighting by night are the perfect setting to do what Italians, old and young in this town love to do- take a drink and then walk around to people watch, chat and be seen.
Perfect place for an Apéro
Via Guglielmo Paladini, 2
Tip: ask for the Moscow Mule, which is not on the menu, but their interpretation with thin slices of cucumber tastes spicy yet fresh. This place is the perfect place to start your bar tour through the city and to people watch as most people are strolling around Via Libertini and then take one of the more winding streets to Piazza Sant’Oronzo where you can see ruins of an amphitheatre dating back to the second century AD.
Best spot for a nightcap
Vico dei Sotteranei
Vicolo Sotteranei, 3
Tip: the cocktails here are fantastic, however I am only mentioning this for when you are looking for alternatives to the wide array of wines you can try. Apulian red wine made from the Primitivo grape is one of the exceptional wines that you never cease to love. Here, try the Ginger Mojito.
The cultivation of late nights is balanced out by the siesta that is taking over most of the town from roughly 2-5 pm. Wake up in the morning and take a stroll through the historic part of town to look at the beautiful churches, especially the Duomo of Lecce with its wide piazza in front and the stunning smaller Basilica Santa Croce. Have a pasticciotto and a caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla, two sweet specialties of the region in one of the many cafés scattered around town. After your little tour it’s the ideal time to change locations, as most of the town is idling. Only 30 minutes away from Lecce there is Porto Cesareo, a beach, which happens to be one of those sandy white ones, with knee-deep turquoise water glistening calmly under the sun for as far as a hundred metres. Tan the Italian way, standing in the water to stay cool, while working on the hue you’re aiming at.
Although I still have a long list of places I want to share with you, I will focus on only one restaurant outside of Lecce as it was so outstanding in terms of food, service and vibe, that it deserves special attention.
Mint Cucina Fresca
Polignano A Mare
Via S. Benedetto, 32
+39 080 424 1373
Located in Polignano A Mare, a little fishermen’s village situated on the rocky coast adorning the Adriatic Sea. The town itself is so vibey, offering panoramic views of the houses on the steep shore they are built on. We dropped by the restaurant very spontaneously as we were strolling around early through its historic centre and the menu offering mouth-watering vegetarian choices convinced us immediately to stay and ask whether there was a table available. With six tables in total, we were lucky that Liu the beautiful hostess of the restaurant was able to offer us seats and we felt even more grateful once the food was travelling from plate to mouth. We all had no words for this taste voyage we went on, once were done with our meals. It is hard to recommend one plate as all of them are extremely tasty, but there is one thing you cannot not try there: the desserts. Fabrizio who is the pastry chef and the mastermind of these mouth wonders created a cheescake with passion fruit sauce that you will not forget and a brownie with vanilla ice cream, that seemed almost like alchemic art to me in the blurry bliss it put me in. Book in advance.