Leaving Cinzia and Michele was like leaving old friends in the sure knowledge that we would never see them again. They had been the perfect hosts for our stay in Lecce. Their stylish B&B below their apartment in the suburbs oozed Italian style and passion. Books lined their walls from floor to ceiling – interior design and the great Italian painters, photos of Apulia adorned their walls and tasty pastries and cakes greeted us each morning for breakfast: their hospitality was second to none.
It takes about 35 minutes to travel, on the SS101, from Lecce to Gallipoli on the shores of the Ionian Sea. It sounds so romantic, but the journey is anything but romantic. This is what it’s like in Apulia – wonderful, fairy-tale cities of secret cobbled streets, passionate people and profound history with unattractive, repetitious countryside in between. It’s a blessing in disguise – maybe we needed some time to recover as we travel from one gratification to the next. But it’s not to say that the gaps in between lack meaning: on the contrary, field after field is packed with olive groves for oil, and vines producing Primitivo and Negroamaro – the soils of Apulia provide abundant local produce – something of great value to the local economy, not to mention the region’s identity.
We parked a little way outside the centre as usual and walked in beside the sea.
On our approach to the old town, we passed a small harbour filled with colourful boats and saw fishermen mending their nets.
We crossed the 16th century bridge into the main centro storico – the old town, which rests on an island jutting out into the sea and we could see parts of the city’s fortifications looking in remarkably good condition, considering how old they are.
Being beside the sea again was like balm for the soul and the warm, salty breeze brought on a healthy appetite. We settled on a little restaurant, the Cafe Del Mar, right on the edge of the water, with views of silvery and glistening blue and enjoyed Bruschetta: toasted bread, topped with tomato, zucchini and garlic, drenched in olive oil. A glass of Vino Bianco was essential. There was a space and quietness that allowed time to just be: to exist in the moment, with nothing to afflict the mind but the feel of the breeze, the saltiness of the air and the taste of Italy on our tongues.
After resting for some time, we strolled around Gallipoli’s streets. It was all so quiet and there were very few people about. It was a lazy, sunny day and all we could do was linger in street after street, taking in the atmosphere and eat ice cream.
After lunch we headed for our second destination of the day – Otranto, on the Adriatic coast.