At precisely 1:20 pm the regional train – near-empty and spanking clean – pulled out of Lecce train station and made its way through scrub countryside to the coastal town of Polignano a Mare. Perched dramatically on a clifftop overlooking the Adriatic Sea, this dazzling città will instantly seduce you.
If I had only one word to describe this utterly charming town, it would have to be clean. Clean and sparkling white. It was a joy to walk through the maze of narrow lanes in the old town, past the small shops and private homes. At one point I even removed my sandals just to feel the smooth, velvety stone under my feet. The wind that blows in from the sea is also clean – constant, cleansing and calming. Lecce and Polignano a Mare are, in my opinion, two feel-good, regenerating places.
Below is the view from my hotel. As I peered over the ledge, I was horrified to see groups of teenagers clustered on the rocks below, some diving into the water. It looked awfully dangerous and I thought to myself – How can their parents let them do this? They probably did the same when they were young!
The hotel has this lovely rooftop terrace where breakfast is served. I recommend this family-run establishment for its location, its super comfortable beds and its fresh, clean décor.I meandered into the old town and came across this beautiful old church (look at that gorgeous stonework). It’s called the Purgatory Church.
I pushed open the door and, as is my wont, walked around its cool, dim interior. It was only when my eyes became accustomed to the dark did I realize I was not alone. In the nave of the small church was a casket – an open one – and I saw an elderly man lying inside, his hands folded across his chest. I froze. There was no-one else in the church, just him and me. A shiver passed through my body and I suddenly felt cold. And then the heavy door creaked open and a group of women came in, swathed in black. I muttered “Scusi”, and slid discreetly past them. Stepping out of the church, I stood blinking in the strong sunlight. I felt sad. Sad for their loss…and for loss in general.
MORE TO COME….
Hotel – Malù Bed & Breakfast
My hotel was perfectly located in the modern part of town but within 5 minutes’ walking distance to the old part of town.
I bought these (inexpensive) pieces which are composed of an alloy of four metals: zinc, aluminium, magnesium and copper covered in silver and nickel.
Craving coffee, I headed into the old town and entered a café. Here’s what I ordered: the speciality coffee that the good people of Lecce drink in hot weather. Called caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla, it’s a mixture of almond milk, almond syrup and espresso poured over ice cubes and then frothed with the espresso machine. It costs two euros. Delizioso! I could drink this all day long.
“Why not add a dollop of mocha gelati?” said one of the laughing baristas, heading for the gelati counter. Why not indeed?Everywhere I went, I encountered smiling faces, generous spirits and joviality. Such a refreshing change from the peevish Parisians. I envisaged myself living here, at least part time. Who can resist their kindness, their divine gelati and their pastries? I can’t!Here’s one of the more popular ice cream and pastry shops situated at the entrance of the old town.
Towards evening, I came across this casual deli-wine bar while wandering the narrow back streets. The Enogastronomia Povero serves up delicious, local dishes. One word of warning however: I chose to eat vegetarian because the origin of meat can be questionable in the south of Italy. That lasagna you’re eating? It could be filled with horse or donkey meat. Vegetable-based dishes – along with fava beans, chick peas, etc. – are in abundance, so non-meat eaters need not feel deprived in any way. Au contraire! I could hardly finish my samplings of aubergine parmigiana, artichoke frittata, ricotta lasagna, potato-rice-courgette-mussel dish and aubergine-mint fritters. Corn bread studded with olives and sun-dried tomatoes was offered in a small basket and the wine was outstanding, a local Negroamaro from the outlying Salento region.
Leaving Povero, I turned right down a narrow backstreet and came across a vintage clothing shop. Walking inside, my eye fell on an attractive leather handbag. “Quanto costa?” I said to the man at the back of the shop. 35 euros was his reply. I handed over 35 euros and he gave me 5 euros back. I’m not quite sure why, but I didn’t argue with him. I was really pleased with my purchase.
Via 47 Reggimento Fanteria, 26
Via 47 Reggimento Fanteria, 12
GASTRONOMIA ENOTECA POVERO
Via Rubichi, 4
Below, click on “onwards to Polignano a Mare” to visit the small, glittering coastal town on the Adriatic coast.
With great reluctance I left the south of Italy this morning. I wasn’t ready to return to Paris. All I can say is: now that I’ve found a little corner of the world to dream about and return to when I’m able, I’ll definitely be going back.
My 8 days there were made memorable thanks to the people of Puglia – generous, exuberant and hospitable. Here’s Luigi who, on my third day at the countryside hotel where I was staying, picked me up and drove me to nearby Otranto.
Half a day will suffice in this windswept small town. Just time enough for a brisk walk along the seafront (if you peer across the Adriatic Sea, you can see Albania on the other side), a seafood lunch and a visit to the old church to gaze at the spectacular and beautifully preserved mosaic floor depicting the Tree of Life. Crafted between 1163 and 1165, it’s the largest in Europe and almost intact (two photos below).
On Day 4, I took a taxi from my countryside hotel to the capital city of Lecce, pronounced Lechay (the “ch” pronounced like “church”). Someone has coined the phrase “Florence of the south” for this city and I wonder why. Lecce is a Baroque city whereas Florence is a Renaissance city with a wealth of Renaissance art and architecture. (Lecce has few art galleries and museums.) The word that came to my mind, in French, to describe this place was “le bijou baroque du sud” (Baroque jewel of the south).
As soon as I arrived, I had a good feeling about this sun-baked, southern city despite it being 2 pm and everything shut up tight for siesta. Even the big fountain in the town square had been turned off. Even the animals were napping! My hotel also being closed (because I didn’t inform them of my arrival time), I wandered the deserted streets, wheeling my suitcase along the soft, porous cobblestones. Lecce stone is remarkable – white, smooth and composed of limestone and granite.