Travels in the Heel of Italy – Lecce and Gallipolli

Roman theatre, Lecce

It turned out that there was no room at the inn in Lecce. Upon arrival I was told that my prebooked room had been cancelled by the booking site and given to another guest. I could have it on Saturday and Sunday though. I agreed – what if the town was fully booked for the weekend? Bets needed to be hedged.

Checking the app I noticed that it said that my reservation had been cancelled by the property itself and not the site. Who knows what the truth was. Either way I was without shelter that night.

The receptionist replied, ‘If you pay for Saturday and Sunday now, I can help you find a room for tonight’.

I responded – ‘Oh no, I don’t think so, room for tonight first please’.

As she was searching, so was I. I found a last minute prepay deal at a luxury hotel for three nights for cheaper than the original place, in whose dowdy reception I was now standing.

Checking to make sure I had not been charged for the original room, I swirled out of reception to my lovely new hotel declaring that I had sorted myself out.

After checking in I walked to a self-service laundromat to wash my smalls (I had not been home in over a week). I may have been staying in a plush hotel but I wasn’t paying those hotel laundry prices. I am a budget traveller with fine taste.

Lecce is sometimes called the ‘Florence of the South’ because of its Baroque architecture. It is a remarkably lovely town with a population of almost 100,000. Tourists -while definitely present – are refreshingly low in number. It was pleasant walking around on Saturday, stumbling upon an ancient Roman theatre in the main square; to the fabulously ornate churches for which Italy is renowned; to the Faggiano Museum – an unprepossessing house that contains 2000 years of history within its walls. The Basilica di Santa Croce is one of the most absurdly gaudy churches I have ever seen. I loved it. For an atheist, I confess to having a deep interest in religious buildings. The weather was a balmy 23 degrees. I had the sensation that I was in a hidden gem of Italy – a stunningly beautiful town without the overwhelming crowds that other Italian cities attract. Supper that evening was beer and a burger from a food truck parked outside my building. The food was delicious, costing a mere six euros.

Dinner in Lecce

On Sunday I went to the train station. Research had indicated that Gallipolli on the west of the heel was a seaside town worth visiting. Trains were cancelled however, so a replacement bus service was operating. The stench of BO from the man who sat next to me on the bus was repugnant. He was from London and retired to this part of the world. He suggested I walk the circumference of the island before venturing into the centre to have lunch. Having been in Capri the previous weekend, I had thought that was the pinnacle of loveliness. The beauty of Gallipolli was breath taking. Stopping for lunch in a laneway restaurant in the middle of the island, I had a seafood pasta dish followed by a main course of salmon. I was a little alarmed by the ten-euro cost of a glass of wine. I decided to splurge. It turns out that the tenner was the cost per bottle. It would have been rude to return it however, so bravely I consumed it. At the terrace table beside me I witnessed a 2-year-old grabbing the almost empty bottle of her Daddy’s beer and polish it off. When he realised, he looked shocked but laughed. She followed this up by chasing a seagull. Tipsy toddlers have no control.

View from Gallipolli

Monday was my last full day in Italy. I took the train from Lecce to Brindisi airport at 8.15am.


A two-hour flight delay meant arrival at my Bergamo hotel at 4pm. The Indian receptionist looked thrilled when he saw my passport.

‘Irish? Cricket?’ he asked.

I pursed my lips in vinegary disapproval.

I was glad I hadn’t booked a ticket into Milan. Time would have been too tight. I decided to take the funicular up to Bergamo old town. The climb to the tram station was steep and long. I was sweating like frying bacon by the time I eventually boarded the carriage. Imagine my horror when the tram started descending. I had climbed to the old town by the power of my own legs by mistake. Naturally I took the tram back up – having zero intention of repeating the climb – to see this Old Town. It was a lovely place. Then again stick a pin anywhere in the map of Italy and you’ll find beauty. It’s one of the most beautiful countries on earth.

The Venetian Walls of Old Bergamo

Tuesday saw my return to Ireland. My flight to Dublin from Bergamo to Dublin was delayed by half an hour, meaning I missed the big, green bus to Limerick by five minutes. As I stood at the Limerick bus-stop, trying to decipher how to get home without waiting another two hours for the next bus, a young Spanish couple approached me and asked did I know how to get to Limerick.

I advised them to take the number 16 to town with me and get the next Green Bus from the quays. En route town, I realised it would be quicker to tram it to the train station and take that route. I told the woman of the couple that they’d also be faster taking the train. They werefrom Gran Canaria. She is a student in UL and he will be looking for work.

I took them to the tram and cautioned them not to show ANY mercy when loading their suitcases onto the Luas Red Line. At the train station I took them to the ticket desk where they bought their seats.

I felt like I had done a good deed to finish my Autumn trip to Italy.

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