My initial introduction to Puglia was the shining star Lecce, which is nestled in the middle of the Salentine Peninsula, surrounded by the brilliant sapphire blue Ionian and Adriatic Seas. Lecce is the perfect springboard to reach the picturesque hill towns and cliff clinging villages of all that is Puglia. Intricate Baroque architecture dates back to the early Roman Empire, the entire city is composed from one distinctive material Lecce stone or la Pietra Leccese. Soft porous sandstone that casts a slightly golden glow to the treasured intricately carved buildings in the historic center. Lecce is often referred to as the Florence of the South.
Narrow cobblestone streets limit cars to the locals which adds charming allure to this very walkable city center. Imagine carriage wide streets flanked by brightly colored flower filled balconies, enormous wooden doors fitted with massive bronze lion head rappers. This is Lecce, you can explore for hours steps from your hotel. The hotel we recommend is the outstanding recently restored villa known as La Fiermontina Urban Resort.
They must have read my blog posts on my love of: The Arrival – the moment we sauntered upstairs to the art filled lobby, helmed by a woman in a gorgeous pink linen outfit – we were handed a frothy lemonade concoction, an instant heat soother! Later, not only did the owner meet us and make dinner reservations for us, she gave us a map with directions to the Atelier which designs the very chic employee linen outfits.
Essential to Lecce is at least a three-night stay at the architecturally stunning La Fiermontina. The 17th Century Palace is partially surrounded by ancient city walls, the modern rooms built of the beautiful local stone are restful and tastefully decorated with pieces from the owners amazing art collection. Parisian born brother and sister Giacomo Fiermonte and his sister Antonia, came upon the land and the original house while visiting Old Lecce. Originally Giacomo intended the site for a personal residence, the major restoration was accomplished with the Italian architect Antonio Annicchiarico to envision the restoration incorporating a portion of the 17th century villa into the new project.
The slightly buffed arched star pinnacle ceilings in my Suite 7 reminded me of a cathedral. The high ceilings are found in almost all of the rooms and public spaces, wooden beams and vaulted stone is in abundance providing texture and a seamless elegant simplicity.
My beautiful terrace abutting an original Roman town wall overlooked the sculpture garden and provided a mesmerizing platform for stargazing. Antiques and family treasures are shared in the rooms and public spaces; this property is truly a labor of love and a nostalgic homage to their Pugliese heritage. The owners are frequently in residence, greeting guests, providing dining suggestions and in my case, the delightful Antonia joined us in the garden for an aperitivo. Personal and professional, truly a significant measure of familial pride in this endeavor.
An intimate setting with only 16 rooms and suites, La Fiermontina also offers a spa, garden setting dining and a very impressive modern art collection enhancing the public and private spaces. The collection is a tribute to the grandmother of the Fiermonte family, who was wooed and pursued by two artists. Antonia married a French sculptor and eventually left him for another artist, his best friend. The muse is in residence, inhabiting each and every corner of this gorgeous chic Palace.
The urban resort offers the only and most essential hotel pool in the ages old olive tree studded garden. Loungers are strategically placed beneath the canopy of the enormous twisted trees, truly a peaceful sanctuary on a typically sizzling summer afternoon; at night, the massive cubist Fernand Léger sculptures are punctuation points to the gnarled olive trees, natures sculptures.
The historic center of Lecce is dotted with small artisan shops, traditional trattorias and ristorante’s serving Salento meals and local wine. Corner cafes dot the narrow streets, gelato shops tempt; opera season fills the winter months and the Roman amphitheater hosts concerts and recitals. Lecce is oozing with historic architecture and artistic charm; delicious dining with cuisine from the sea and the farm, the foodie movement is a natural occurrence in the area encompassing Puglia.
Highly recommend La Fiermontina and an adventure in Lecce.
I’m pining to return and walk the narrow winding streets again and again and sit below the whispering olive trees at La Fiermontina.