Gallipoli was on top of our itinerary for Southern Italy last year, because of its seaside location, the beautiful old town and the city beach, which makes it possible to get the best of both worlds. Of course, it is also known for its abundance of outstanding, unpretentious restaurants with lots of seafood on the menu…which was definitely something that drew us there as well.
It is located on the westside of Italy’s “heel” by the Ionian Sea within the Province of Lecce and only a short drive from Lecce itself. We traveled by car from Lecce and it took about 45 minutes to get to Gallipoli.
The city is divided in to two – the modern and the old town. The old town is a picturesque little town located on a limestone island which is connected to the mainland by a bridge built in the 16th century.
It is worth knowing, that only residents are allowed to drive their cars in the old town. You risk getting heavily fined if you venture across the bridge in a car. There is a parking lot by the harbor, where you can park for free (pay attention, there is also a paid parking zone in the same place) and walk into the old city.
There is a quite large golden shored beach called Spiaggia delle Purita next to the local harbor, which we used every day. The water is clear and the beach is very clean for a city beach and it was only 5 minutes walk from the hotel.
Where to stay
Palazzo Presta, Via Garibaldi 29, 73014 Gallipoli, Lecce, Italy.
Palazzo Presta lies in the heart of the historic center of the old town down a couple of narrow streets. You might easily miss the door, so keep your eyes peeled for the brass sign saying “Palazzo Presta”.
The Palazzo is a quirky mix of different styles, giving the impression that the owner has travelled to many different parts of the world and decorated the rooms accordingly. It seemed a little odd at first, but it is done in a very stylish way and somehow the entire mix of globetrotter styles works out really well. There are 10 suites in the palazzo. Each room has been decorated in a different style – ours was named “souk”.
The real gem is the roof terrace. It has panoramic views over the city and is a lovely place to relax during the day. In the morning they serve breakfast on the terrace; fruit, vegetables, cereals, eggs cooked as you like them and really good coffee. In the evening you can order a drink by the bar and enjoy the sunset and play cards.
They also have a small library next door, which turns into a little speak easy at night, if you need a little nightcap on the way home.
Where to eat
The friendly concierge at the hotel recommended a very good fish reataurant and kindly called in advance to make a reservation for us.
L’Angolo Blu, Via Muzio 45, 73014 Gallipoli, Phone: 0833 261500
L’Angolo Blu did not disappoint. The service was warm and welcoming even though they did not speak much English. The fish was fresh and the waiter talked us out of our safe choices (tuna and sword fish) and persuaded us to try a special catch, they were serving that particular day. I have never seen the fish or heard the name before, but it was absolutely delicious. The meat firm, but buttery and cooked to perfaction. We actually came back the second evening to try the swordfish and the boys had the fritto mixta which was fresh and light and very tasty.
The town was celebrating their local Madonna and when the procession walked by, the waiter kindly asked us, if we wanted to go see it – which we did, of course. The parade was lead by a man with two large ostrich feathers on a pole! Then came the procession carrying a statue of the virgin Mary. It seemed like the entire city was out celebrating and every possible authority dressed up in their galla uniform and partaking in the parade.
Pescheria La Lampara, Via Incrociata 10/12,73014 Gallipoli (LE),+39 0833 261939
We only tried La Lampara for lunch, but it was a very small lovely fish restaurant, with lots of fresh fish to choose from and a very Greek vibe. They also have a fish shop in the local fishmarket, where you can order light meals and white wine.
What to do
Just wandering the narrow streets past the old people, who are chatting outside their homes, to baroque courtyards and small squares is an experience in itself. Everything is within walking distance, so take your time.
The Spiaggia della Purita is the lovely city beach. In the afternoon it fills up with local families. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, the part towards the harbour is more sandy and also more popular. Come early if you want to get a spot there. In the other end the sand is a bit more coarse and there are not that many people.
Gallipoli was also one of the ports from which the Italians shipped their olive oil in the old days. And for that purpose they have dug old olive mills deep in the sandstone below the city – you can visit some of them for a small fee. The pits made for storing oil in the old days were deep and illuminated by red light. It felt a bit like descending in to Dantes inferno.
Gallipoli also has a small fortress dating back from the 13th century and a beautiful 17th century cathedral, “Cattedrale di Sant’Agata”. You can sit in the small square and enjoy an icecream from the nearby gelateria, while watching one of the men weaving something we guessed were nets or cages to catch lobsters.
Next to the harbor is the local fish market, where the fishermen sell the catch of the day. There are also a few places selling cooked food, but you have to get there early.