Some 40km south from Brindisi, Baroque Lecce is a place to linger, with a few diverting Roman remains and a wealth of fine architecture scattered about an appealing old town. The exuberant building styles on display in Lecce are the legacy of religious orders (Jesuits, the Teatini and Franciscans) who came to the region at the end of the sixteenth century, bringing an influx of wealth which paid for the opulent churches and palazzi that still pervade today’s city. The flowery style of “Leccese Baroque” owed as much to the materials to hand as to the skills of the architects: the soft local sandstone could be intricately carved and then became hard with age.
It’s also a good starting-point for excursions around Salento, the name given to the very tip of Italy’s heel extending from just south of Ostuni to Santa Maria di Leuca. Here the landscape begins to take on a distinctive Greek flavour, a mildly undulating region planted with carob, prickly pear and tobacco. The Adriatic coast is pitted with cliffs topped with ruined watchtowers, and rugged coves and caves trail right the way down to the southern cape. The hinterland, by comparison, is more barren, although again there’s a Greek feel to it, with tiny, sun-blasted villages growing out of the dry, stony, red earth and flat-roofed houses painted in bright pastel colours.