Gallipoli presents a rich swag of history, architecture and cuisine, evident as soon as you cross into the walled centro storico. The old town is on an island over a small stretch of Ionian water from its modern appendage, which sprawls inland. Its atmosphere is relaxed, welcoming and completely unique. Baroque churches, a perfect, golden curve of beach and the gentle jangle of fishing boats give a warm seaside charm quite unlike anywhere else.
Cattedrale di Sant’Agata is the crown jewel of Gallipoli and was our first point of call. Rivalling those of Lecce, the cathedral is a perfect example of Salentine baroque with its an impressive façade and a number of important 17th and 18th century paintings inside. Mid-morning and espresso trickled slowly into its small receptacle at Caffe’ Duomo to fuel our walk around the circumference of the 14th century walls.
Hungry for lunch, we dived into the maze of tiny streets, barely wide enough for a Piaggio Ape, to Osteria Briganti. We resolved en route that we’d share one antipasti between two, but meditatively flicked through the menu pages anyway: tagliata di tonne e rucola, linguine alla vongole, gnocchi gamberi. Not before long, plate after plate of delicately presented fare began to land on our table: a trio of the day’s catches, each prepared differently, then octopus with fava puree, baccala with potato and a plate of lightly fried seafood. Satisfied from this bountiful feast, we faltered, wide-eyed, as the waiter asked: “Pasta? Secondi?”. Feeling slightly embarrassed of our €12 expenditure and no first or second courses, we paid and scuttled off, leaving the waiter bewildered at the eating habits of Brits. As we had previously learned, “a small lunch” does not easily translate.
Still on the wrong side of Passeggiata, the town was quiet as lunch was savoured and naps proceeding. Such are the foibles of “a small lunch”. We walked down to the golden beach, sheltered from April winds by the tall ramparts of the town behind. It wasn’t the first time we’d enjoyed a whole beach to ourselves: one of the joys of these pockets of Puglia just short of the Summer season, as we were.
Back up the ramparts and a little past Chiesa di San Francesco, we found Buena Vista. Buena Vista is a seafront bar with the most gorgeous view. It’s pricy, but worth it to watch the sunset over a Spritz, picking at vinegary black olives and crisps from small bowls. A few doors down from Buena Visa is restaurant Il Bastione. The family run restaurant has a sophisticated seafood menu and another romantic view; the perfect end to a perfect day in Gallipoli.