We like traveling where people are encouraged to be openly in love, so we researched LGBTQ rights before going to Singapore. Like many places, it’s a mixed bag. Read on for pretty photos of Singapore and my interested, but undereducated, take on Singapore politics and laws.
Regardless of who you love, I think most tourists probably feel safe in Singapore. It’s a safe-feeling place.
As for romance, well, the world is funny about sex and love. There are rules and laws and, then, passive loopholes. In Singapore, two men can be imprisoned for same sex love, under Penal Code 337A (“Outrages on decency”), but the law is rarely enforced. You might think no harm no foul, but of course it’s harmful to announce that someone’s love is a crime. It puts a damper on romance.
Although same sex marriage isn’t legal and LGBTQ rights aren’t exactly celebrated in Singapore, the city-state has a progressive streak in their conservative society. There’s Oogachaga, a vibrant LGBTQ center with a proud presence. There’s an annual pride parade (but only for Singaporean citizens, so don’t think of making this your destination party place). There are gay bars and openly gay people. Trans people are legally recognized and permitted to marry people of the “opposite legal sex.” Public opinion is slowly shifting around LGBTQ rights (as of 1/2019, six in 10 people aged 18 and 25 believe same-sex marriage is not wrong), but that don’t make it easy.
Singapore is a wild demographic mix with four official languages: Malay, English, Mandarin, and Tamil. With the languages come four unique cultural traditions and religious beliefs. These coming out stories, (as reported to Vice) show how LGBTQ youth from Singapore’s different cultural backgrounds struggle to find their way in conservative Singapore and their conservative homes.
As two married ladies we’re safe in Singapore. There are no laws against lady + lady love (why are governments always so scared of men?) but our marriage, although legal in the U.S., isn’t legally recognized in Singapore. That means if my wife took a job in Singapore, I would have to apply for and get a work visa separately to be able to live with her. The government wouldn’t grant me a visa to live with her as her wife (as they would with a lady + man marriage). Good thing we’re not moving to Singapore.
So, although the government says no to our marriage, our local friend explained that most people either A) don’t care, or B) are too polite to react to same sex love. At the Fullerton Hotel, no one batted an eye (although they did double check, “Are you sure you don’t want two queens?”) when we checked into our king size room. On the streets, no one appeared affronted when we held hands or otherwise acted married.
Visually, Singapore is beautiful, like a dream of what Vegas might hope to be. (If Vegas had fresh water and a less slippery soul, that is. Relatedly, capital punishment—by long rope hanging—is the penalty for drug possession, so people are less likely to party so hard as Vegas. But I digress.)
Singapore’s architecture is stunning. Each building more elaborate, futuristic, green, spectacular than the last. The colonial past is also present in buildings, so a strangely harmonious mix of old and new winds through the waterside town. There’s crazy money in Singapore. It’s a tax haven for multinational companies and international business is booming.
Speaking of architecture and housing…in an intensely controlling and apparently effective social peace exercise, the Singaporean government implemented their ethnic integration policy in 1989 via the Housing & Development Board (HDB).
The government balances the number of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and ‘Other,’ people that live in each of the publicly funded, high-rise, high-density housing blocks. Larger HBDs are like mini-towns with recreation areas, clinics, markets—all contained within. The policy hopes to prevent insular communities, isolationism, and potential tension between cultural groups by essentially forcing different groups to live together. As of 2018, over 80% of Singaporeans lived in these HBD, so the government does really get to choose your neighbors.
The strategy seems to work. For such a range of religions and languages, there seems to be relative harmony. And while the government forces integration, it also celebrates each ethnic community and offers equal city space (cultural neighborhoods), event time (parades for religious holidays, etc.) and opportunity to each group. No one is favored over the other.
In that same vein, the Singaporean presidency has to be occupied by the Chinese, Malay, and Indian / “other” communities in equal balance—meaning some years there may only be eligible candidates from one ethnic group if they haven’t been elected to presidency in recent years. I don’t know how it works in real life for the inhabitants of Singapore, but on paper it all seems so fair.
To be fair, Singapore didn’t become an independent country until 1965, so there was plenty of time to learn from other countries’ mistakes. Certainly Singapore has been accused of being authoritarian, but people also seem to have a really high standard of living. Hopefully LGBTQ laws will change soon.
Takeaway? Singapore is gorgeous. It’s completely over-the-top. It’s expensive (aside from the amazing hawker center street food) and it absolutely is a great place to go. As long as you don’t want to live there with your wife.
My next post I’ll share pics from and tips for walking the cultural heritage trails, gorgeous street art, and eating street hawker food.
Cadaques tickles the northeastern tip of Catalonian Spain, curving gently with the Mediterranean Sea. Renowned for the whitewashed buildings rounding the bay, its gently weathered 19th century grandeur, and its claim to Salvador Dalí fame—this small town completely charmed us. During our stay we happened upon an international photography festival, visited the 50-year home (turned museum) of Dalí, and beached with the locals. Here’s a sweet peek into this darling town.
We had one day and night to fall in love with Cadaques. I’d booked a stay at the chill little Hostal El Ranxo right in the middle of town. I’d also booked us Dalí museum tickets for the afternoon, so we spent the first half of the morning strolling the sights, drinking coffee (my favorite pursuit), and indulging our wives (okay, just me) with cobblestone alley photoshoots.
Ermita de Sant Baldiri
The great thing about traveling is encountering the unexpected. Walking the town, we happened upon a photo exhibit inside the small stone Hermitage of Sant Baldiri—aka Saint Baudilus—a martyr from the 3rd century who was beheaded for halting a pagan ritual. As the story goes, in the three places his disembodied head bounced post-cut, water sprang from the ground, bringing fresh water and life to the people. Lesson here? The good lord giveth and the good lord taketh away. But I digress.
InCadaqués International Photo Festival
The photo exhibitions in the 3rd annual InCadques photo festival were magnificent. In particular, the large-scale, slightly muted prints by Mathieu Richer displayed inside the Church of Sant Baldiri wowed. Since the 16th century, the people of Andalusia have undergone a yearly camino (pilgrimage) in honor of the Virgen del Rocio. According to Richer, “the pilgrimage lasts a week, in a colorful and moving parade. Pilgrims in flamenco dresses, on foot, on horseback, and in decorated carriages advance the day by singing. At night they camp around a fire, sing, dance, share a meal and wine until dawn.” I especially loved the young vaquero accompanying his lilac-covered wagon.
All the exhibitions were creatively woven into the history and landscape of the town. It’s so delightful to feel like you are part of the art and an active participant in how it’s discovered and observed. These floating prints were specially anchored to rest at surface level with the sea. So dreamy.
Salvador Dalí House Portlligat
After our art-filled afternoon, we walked to Salvador Dalí’s long-time residence in Portlligat, a wee port town outside of Cadaques. From 1930-1982, the house—now a museum—was the primary residence for Dalí and his wife, Gala. The architecture grew “organically” over the five decades, with the house resembling a hive of curving rooms, staircases, and outdoor spaces built of whitewashed stucco or concrete. True to form, his home was as fantastical, whimsical, and precise as his artwork.
Be sure to book your tickets to the Salvador Dalí House in advance. They only allow eight visitors in at one time for ~30 minute slots. During busy seasons spaces can book up months out, so plan ahead.
Exploring the town
For the most part the old town is car-free, so it adds to the old-world feel and artistic tone. Our hotelier recommended Es Grec, a Greek seafood restaurant tucked in a narrow alley and flanked by art galleries. It was crazy good, rich with the olive oil we’d been craving since our recent trip to Greece, a fabulous flaky fish fresh from the sea, and a friendly Greek proprietor to whom I got to say ευχαριστώ (thank you / efcharisto) and feel quite clever for having retained one Greek word for an entire three months.
Driving to Cadaques
Driving to Cadaques from Barcelona takes 2.5 hours. You can hop a tourist bus from Barcelona, but of course I love a car so you can explore the secrets of Costa Brava—like beautiful Begur. In the last leg, you’ll climb up the tail end of the Girona Pyrenees (that have peaked along the France/Spain border and come to rest in the Mediterranean Sea) before cresting and starting the descent down to Cadaques—the so-called Pearl of Costa Brava. Of course the photo below does no justice, but the views really are mind-boggling looking out over the Mediterranean Sea.
Generally speaking, the driving in Spain is not so aggressive and (let’s be honest) frightening as in Greece or Italy. This means even if you’re new to international driving, you’ll be fine (as long as you have an international drivers license). We did great in our car that was no bigger than a roller skate and could barely hold two carry-on suitcases in the trunk. And shout out to anyone who knows my fashion habits…yes I managed a three week trip with only a carry-on. Miracles can happen!
Have you visited Cadaqués? Tell me all about it. xo
Begur! Costa Brava! The magic of the Mediterranean. Turns out Costa Brava region is yet another place I would happily live. Reading about Hotel Aiguaclara on a travel blog lured us to Begur—a town I’d never heard of—and we had the good fortune to discover its coastal path. You must visit, and when you do, please stroll these magical coastal walkways.
Thanks to Begur’s hilltop views and strategic location, everyone from the Greeks to the Romans have staked their claim and left their cultural mark. Splashes of Cuba are present, too, in the richly ornate colonial mansions and public buildings. Both the money to build and the architectural style came from Spaniards returning from Cuba in the mid-1800s with their newly colonized riches. If the cultural influence isn’t enough to tempt you, Suddenly, Last Summer (starring Liz Taylor) was filmed in Begur and the climax takes place atop the 10th century castle that looks over the town (and upon which I stood).
Although more off-the-beaten path than Barcelona, Begur still receives its share of tourists. Because of its appeal, visiting in late summer or early fall is—like in most of Europe—more relaxed. The city is refined, clean, elegant and retains that old-world, wealthy colonial feel. Hotel Aiguaclara—a colonial style mansion built in 1866—sits near the old town. This is the hotel that beckoned us with its gorgeous breakfast buffet (honestly I can’t fight a lavish spread), colorful and welcoming decor, and incredibly friendly service. Due to it being mid-week in shoulder (aka, start of the off) season we were upgraded to a two-bedroom junior suite that had us feeling quite subtle glamour rock n roll.
Cami de Ronda
The coastal paths—known as Cami de Ronda in Catalan—have been used for centuries to fight pirates, help shipwrecks, and catch smugglers. Nowadays the magical coastal paths are a gentle tourist draw but mainly just magic for the people lucky enough to live there. There are three paths linking eight coves and beaches down the steep hillside from Begur. I dream of renting a seaside abode that steps out onto the path. Some dreamy late summer month my wife and I will just write and stroll the azure sea waters.
Our first afternoon, we walked from Begur to Sa Riera, a sweet cove with a handful of restaurants, a small sandy beach with access to the northern coastal path. This sign waited for us.
Our second day we got wise and drove to Sa Tuna instead of attempting to walk. The road down the mountain is miniature, full of hairpin turns, and sharp drop-offs. Drive the 10 minutes with caution but, oh is it worth it. Once there, you can stroll the coastal paths and swim in the coves. From Sa Tuna, the Eastern Coastal Path takes you to Aiguafreda and back in ~ 45 minute walk. The weather was perfection, but the water was a bit brisk. Here are some of the views:
Our last day we ate lunch at Toc Almar, a fancy beach hut restaurant perched over the softy, sandy beach of Aiguablava. We both agreed that maybe we were meant to live on the Mediterranean Sea? Afterwards, we walked the Southern Coastal Path from Aiguablava to Platja Fonda and back. Dreamy.
I’d love to return and do a more concentrated effort to hike along Spain’s glorious coast line. Have you been?
Here are some shots of our darling Hotel Aiguaclara. I’m a big fan. There were tons of nooks and crannies and everything just so. Below are also driving logistics for visiting the beach and the coastal paths. Bye, we love ya.
Distance-wise, walking from Begur to the beaches is doable but the lack of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure makes it a no-go. Our first day we walked from Begur to Sa Riera and it was a steep, hot, and often sidewalk-less hike. I definitely don’t recommend.
There’s a free beach bus that you’d be wise to hop on, especially during summer. You might lose your mind attempting to access the beaches in summer via car due to minimal parking and minuscule roads in and out.
Late season presented no problems in driving to and parking at the beach.
Look for a hotel with parking. Especially in the old town, parking is limited and will be an added cost if your hotel doesn’t provide.
From Barcelona to Begur
After landing in Barcelona, we got our bright blue, super miniature rental car and drove to Begur. The drive was only 1.5 hours and super chill. Driving in Spain is like driving in any major U.S. city. Along the way we stopped through Petrallada (a town carved of stone) which was utterly charming and completely empty. If you want food, coffee, or souvenirs after late summer, be sure to arrive after 12pm. This town seems to thrive on tourism, and since it’s an historic stone-carved town, it’s the perfect place for a roadie (espresso, hey). As long as you don’t want a morning espresso.
Crete, birthplace of the mythological Zeus, is Greece’s largest island. Gorgeous beaches, snow-capped mountains, velvety olive oil, and hyper local honey abound. Driving across this beautiful island only takes a few hours, but you’ll experience a whole range of ecosystems.
Crete is not as touristed as islands like Santorini and Mykonos, so you can find beautiful vistas and stunning white beaches without the hordes of people. That said, it’s still a famous island in Greece and you’ll still find tourists, so read on for lodging and travel tips that will take you out of the “package tourism,” zones. My wife and I just spent a week on Crete (out of a three week adventure in Greece) and I’ve got all sorts of tips.
Are you taking a vacation on Crete?
Here are my recommendations for the best things to do on Crete.
Visit the best Crete beaches
Soak up olive oil culture and eat local honey
Tour the Palace of Knossos In Heraklion
Visit this cool coffee shop in Heraklion
Crete Travel Logistics
Visit the best Crete beaches
Want to visit the most beautiful beaches in Europe? All of Crete’s beaches boast clear water, dramatic coastlines, and mountainous backdrops…so you can’t really go wrong. During summer (especially July and August), the wild and strong Meltemi winds blow from the North. The mountain ranges running east to west on the island temper these winds, making the southern beaches less blustery. This means, if you’re looking for super chill, head south.
Personally, Balos Lagoon enraptured me. It’s on the northwestern tip of the island and holy mackerel it’s gorgeous. Visiting Balos Lagoon is a must. Please be really gentle and respectful when you go, as it’s such a glorious natural asset and it deserves love and care.
Ways to visit Balos Lagoon:
Rental car: We had a rental car for all our adventures. This means we stopped at least 14 times to take pictures of road goats on the very bumpy, wildly steep, dirt road out to Balos Lagoon that was probably intended only for 4-wheel drive vehicles (not our wee economy car)
Boat: Ferry in from Chania or Kissamos. Here are one and two companies that provide the service, although I haven’t tried either
Hired taxi: Pretty much any hotel or lodging will find you a tour guide or hired taxi. Be sure to get a van if you go in a group, otherwise you may end up walking. We saw a four-pack of ladies walking down a particularly steep and rocky section of the dirt road. Turns out the Mercedes taxi they were in was bottoming out
Bus: From Chania or Kissamos, you can take public transit. It’s roughly two hours from Chania to the car park at the top of the site. Here’s the public transit site for Crete. I think
If arriving by land, you’ll have to hike down a steep, rocky path to reach the lagoon 3/4 mile below. The path is not wheelchair accessible or stroller-friendly at all. We saw two poor dudes schlepping a stroller full of baby stuff down the hill and it looked miserable. The climb back up is steep, but totally doable for most fitness levels, just be sure to wear sneakers. This is not a flip flop-friendly path!
Bonus Road Goats!
There are so many mountain goats. I stand by the extreme cuteness of these sweet, furry beasties. They just clamber up on stuff so dang much. I especially like the goat who took up residency in the honey booth, patiently waiting for customers on the drive to Balos Lagoon.
What to do in Chania
Crete is a mixed bouquet of cultural influences. Thanks to a strategic trade position in the Mediterranean Sea and luscious natural resources, pretty much every nearby power has fought to control Crete over the years. After the decline of the ancient Minoan civilization (the oldest known civilization in Europe) the island was ruled by the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman Empires (and even pirates). Each of these groups left a distinctive architectural, religious, and social impact on the culture. In 1913 Crete became a part of independent Greece after centuries of outside rule. The small, historic city of Chania sums up these influences and is the perfect landing place for the start of your Crete adventure.
Explore the breakwater and maritime museum
Walk through the old city
Scope out the Yali Tzamisi mosque
People watch from the harbor cafes
Have dinner in the historic Jewish Quarter
Explore the Maritime Museum if you’re so inclined. We ducked into their exhibit which recreated a Minoan sea vessel and I was boated out after that.
Walk through the old city
Stroll Chania’s old town and around the historic Venetian harbor which was built between 1320-1356. Look for the domed mosque, Yali Tzamisi, built during the 17th century when the city was under Turkish rule. The historic site now houses intermittent art exhibits. Next, walk out along the breakwater to reach the Lighthouse of Chania built in 1570 and also get fab photos of the harbor and old city.
People watching in Chania
The cafes lining the harbor make for an excellent afternoon resting spot to enjoy a cappuccino freddo (the local summer fave of espresso over ice served in a rocks glass. Cold frothed super creamy whole fat milk floats on top. Dreamy.) Cafe Remezzo has a sweet view over the street scene and is perfect for sipping and people watching.
Darling boutiques line the cobblestone streets behind the harbor. You’ll find locally made goods (olive oils, honey, handicrafts) and typical tourist trinkets. It’s a lovely stroll through the pedestrian streets. You can’t really get lost in Chania, so just turn away from the water and wander. An evening meander through the cobblestone alleys is also a great way to find cute cafes to have a progressive meal.
For dinner pop into Enetikon Restaurant right next to the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in the old Jewish Quarter. It’s just off the main tourist drag, feels cozy and inviting, and we loved the live Greek folk music playing during dinner.
We stayed at Notus Hotel in Chania for one night. Our room was modern, clean, and lovely. Our work requires reliable high speed internet, so whether we’re hoteling, Airbnb-ing, or doing a home exchange that’s the first priority. Notus was great WiFi speeds. The remaining week on the island we stayed in a home exchange up in foothills outside of Stalos. Here is a view from our porch:
All in all, the city’s charm makes it a perfect place for exploring the Northwestern region of the island—including its magnificent beaches and olive oil tasting.
Soak up Crete’s Olive Oil
Oh my gosh I love Cretan olive oil. It’s buttery and smooth and everyone drinks it like water.
Olive trees grow everywhere on Crete, covering over a quarter of the island. They line the winding, mountainous roads, they’re carved into artifacts from the ancient archaeological sites, and their fruit is the foundation for every Cretan restaurant. Olives are central to all parts of Cretan society from ancient religion to culture to diet to present day economy. In fact as far back as 3,000 BC the Minoan civilization cultivated olives commercially. Needless to say, Cretan olive oil tastes fabulous. The small but mighty Koroneiki olive reigns supreme on the island.
Ancient Olive Tree
Start with a visit to the world’s oldest olive tree—purported to be approximately 3,000 years old. It’s a lovely drive up into the mountains (everything is a drive up into the mountains as Crete is essentially beaches and crazy gorges and hilltops that turn into mountains). The small, but sweet, Olive Tree Museum of Vouves provides historical and cultural context for the beautiful old beast of a tree. Go say hello.
Modern Olive Oil Production
Next, schedule a tour (7 euros) of Terra Creta. Holy moly we adored this behind-the-scenes look at modern olive oil production. Old and new ways truly mix in this most Cretan of experiences. The facilities feature modern technology customized to work with small-scale, family farming production. The individual farmers drive their individual harvests in their personal trucks (olive branches and all) for processing each season.
Olive oil really is the heartbeat of the Cretan society. It was beautiful to learn that generational olive farming families can survive and thrive in a global economy so dominated by large agricultural companies. After the (truly fascinating) tour we tasted olive oil. Warm, swirl, sniff, sip, aerate, swallow. Repeat. Cretan olive oil has a mellow, less spicy flavor than many of the Italian olive oils we tasted last year. If you want to visit Terra Creta, there are three tours a day, but you have to book ahead (even if only the day before) to participate.
Palace of Knossos
The Palace of Knossos is at the heart of Greek mythology. It’s where Icarus flew too close to the sun while escaping the labyrinth and the dreaded minotaur who guarded the entrance. The palace was also said to be the home of King Minos.
History of Knossos
The Palace of Knossos built by the ancient Minoans, and that civilization thrived between 2000-1350 BC. The area, however, had been occupied since 7,000 BC. I love visiting historic sites where great civilizations once ruled. Seeing my sweet, minute part in the grand scheme of time is humbling. It’s also fun for the imagination to envision what life at (now crumbled) ornate palaces once looked like.
The palace architecture was influenced by the Minoan’s trade with Egypt and beyond. Clean lines and open design made it a far different look than the castles that would come in later years in Europe. The Minoans had plumbing (they piped in fresh water from a nearby mountain), they dealt with sewage and sanitation, and had bathing chambers. There was art and culture and celebrations. They maintained foreign relations and they loved and revered olive oil.
Tips for Visiting Palace of Knossos
If you’re visiting the Palace of Knossos (or any archaeological site, really) here are suggestions to make your experience more fun:
Hire a guide! Whenever people approach me outside of a cultural site, I usually feel a little on guard. In this case, it’s totally legit. Licensed guides hang in front of the palace entrance and organize groups of up to 8 people who speak the same language to take part in their tour. The tour cost is separate from the palace entrance ticket (which is 15 euros). As of May 2019, a tour cost 80 euros, so they’d organize groups of 8 with each person paying 10 euros. If you dislike the GP (general public) you can pony up the 80 euros for a private guide. Without the guide, this would have been a lovely pile of rocks. With the guide, history, art, and architecture came to life.
Go in the afternoon. Yes it will be hotter, but almost all the tour buses leave by noon so you’ll have way more breathing room. If you can’t bear the heat, go very first thing when it opens
Bring a sunbrella. Don’t worry about looking like a nerd. Sunbrella makes being outdoors in the summer sun bearable. And you’re protecting yourself from sun damage, so, win-win
Bring water. Keep hydrated, sweetheart
Wear comfy shoes and sunscreen
Crop Coffee in Heraklion
After you immerse yourself in Cretan history, stop for a cappuccino freddo (iced cappuccino) or a cold microbrew at Crop in the port city of Heraklion. It’s walking distance from the center of town but feels tucked away like a little city oasis. Inside you can scope the coffee roasting and their microbrewery doo-dads. The outdoor patio made us feel like we were definitely hanging with the cool locals.
Crete Travel Logistics
From airports to rental cars to driving on Crete, here are a few tips for getting to and around the island.
Driving a rental car
Don’t be scared to drive in Greece. There is a fair amount of lane straddling, but in general having wheels allows so much more freedom to visit sites around this mountainous island that you will really be able to maximize your time and have more freedom to visit sites that are off the beaten path. My wife and I lovingly termed the Italian/Greece manner of hugging the middle or side lane as lane straddling. Also, most roads on Crete being one lane, slower cars are expected to lane straddle into (what we in California consider) the emergency shoulder. It’s normal for cars to cozy up to your backside if you’re going too slow and they can’t zip past you in the one lane. You’ll get the hang of it! Most of all, don’t let the idea of it deter you from driving.
We booked through Enterprise and it was easy as pie. We have a credit card that covers rental car insurance in (most) foreign countries so we save money on paying for coverage through the rental car company. A compact (automatic) rental in late May, with two drivers, for 8 days cost $224 usd. This was relatively steep, but so worth it for the freedom it provided.
Flying to Crete
There are 3 international airports on Crete (which is wild considering the island is roughly 160 miles across its longest point). We flew in and out of Chania from Athens on Aegean Airlines. Tickets were ~ 80 euros. Prices can increase during July and August, and will of course be lower in low season. Tickets were ~20 more to use Aegean airlines, but we were able to earn miles with our go-to airline, and safety ratings for Aegean were far better than for some of the cheaper flights such as Ryanair.
Flights are 30 minutes (ish) and will likely have turbulence so hang tight. But despite being hopper flights you can check baggage so if you, like me, adore outfit options you don’t have to worry about fitting it all in a carry-on. Heraklion and Sitia are the two other airports. Heraklion is on the Eastern side of the island so choose your airport based on your lodging and plans.
Ferries between Athens and Crete take 6-8 hours, depending on winds, currents, etc.
Like every Italian town, Lecce loves coffee. Caffe, caffe macchiato, caffe latte, you know the drill. But the real specialty in Lecce is the caffe in ghiacco or the caffe in ghiacco with latte di mandorla. These sweet, cold drinks are particular to the Salento region of Puglia and are said to have originated in this charming, baroque city.
Caffe in ghiaccio—a short espresso over ice with a healthy amount of sugar—is perfect for a hot afternoon. Caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla features that same iced espresso with a frothy sweet almond cream poured over top. Both will get you fired up real quick. In addition to beautiful coffee drinks, Lecce itself is magical.
Lecce is the perfect landing spot for exploring the northern region of Salento. For the visually-minded, Salento is best known as the heel of Italy’s boot. From Lecce’s vantage point you can quickly reach gorgeous beaches on the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, plus explore the interior of this stunning olive- and wine-producing region. Beyond strategic positioning, Lecce the city shines. The centro storico has ruins dating back to the 3rd century B.C. and the city reflects the range of cultures that have held power since then. Narrow cobblestone streets, medieval and baroque architecture, painfully cute piazzas and squares and a whole boatload of beautiful churches to rival Florence and Rome. The walled-in original old town was constructed from pietra leccese, a local soft, yellow limestone that causes the entire old town to glow as the sun sets. All in all, Lecce is the perfect place to stay awhile.
Perhaps most importantly is the really, really yummy coffee. (I never cared too much for coffee, but my very clever wife changed that when we met, thank god. Now I cannot imagine wanting to start my day without it.) Lecce’s local pastries—my newly acquired passion—will make you weep. The pasticciotto, reported to have been born here, is a small bun-shaped morning dessert (let’s call them what they are, people) filled with a creamy, oh so subtly lemon custard. Sometimes there’s a variation on the filling (nutella or pistachio cream) but lemony vanilla is the norm. The texture of the pastry is closer to a cookie than a cake. It almost reminds me of the texture of cornbread. Did I mention it’s delicious? It’s not too sweet, it’s smaller than the palm of my hand, tastes great with une caffe, and is totally legit to eat before 10am.
Where you drink coffee in Lecce (in all of Italy, really) depends on how you want to drink your coffee. If you prefer a leisurely beverage and newspaper moment, you’ll pay for ‘servizio.’ This means that in addition to the cost of your order, you’re paying the waiter to take your order and bring it to you. Sitting at a table can take a long time so if you are in a hurry don’t opt for this. Seated service is fun only if you’re not in a rush. If you want caffeine inside you, quick, or if you are in a hurry, you must order at the counter. Personally, there is nothing more satisfying than an espresso knocked back while standing at the bar and then chased with wee glass of bubbly water. Perhaps this is a holdover from my booze drinking days, but I adore the experience. It provides all the perks of taking a shot on the go (like a bar crawl!) without any of the booze-y impairment—just wonderful coffee superpowers. The counters are for standing only, so don’t get any airs about asking for a barstool. You order directly from the barista, then pay after you drink. Oh how I imagine that my limited Italian sings when I say, “une caffe macchiato, per favore!”
Here are my favorite places for drinking coffee, and the ways in which to drink them, and some hot tips on the best pastries in Lecce:
Word on the street is Caffe Alvino prescribes to the traditional pasticciotto recipe, which contains shortening. So beware if you’re a veggie. The shortening does make the dessert damn fine and super moist. The Caffe Alvino cappuccino is creamy and smooth and the patio seating in front of the cafe provides an ideal spot to overlook the ruins of the Roman amphitheater built (NBD) in the second century, B.C. Enjoy your morning respite while tourists and locals come and go on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Inside are miles of marble and chandeliers and mountains of cakes and ornately pastel pastries that will boggle your eyes. Their rustica (a mozzarella and tomato filled phyllo dough savory pastry) is a good alternative to sweet. Cost for two cappuccino, two pasticciotto and a table: 5 euros.
Despite their headline as an internet cafe, these guys don’t have a website. Searching ‘Rosso e Nero’ won’t do the trick easily, either, as Rosso e Nero is as ubiquitous as Caffe Valentina or Quattro Cafe…it’s a shout out to the type of coffee they use. In any case, follow this google maps link to this local spot. It’s only open until ~6pm. The baristas were so darling when we were there (which was almost each morning for a week) and the macchiato just right, at approximately 80 cents. Their pasticciotto had a healthy amount of cream and came in two sizes. I also loved their cornetto cioccolato (aka chocolate croissant). A few guys also ordered caffe correctos, which is morning drinking in the way that only Italians can make elegant: espresso with a shot of grappa slipped in to correct things.
Classic caffe in ghiacco with almond syrup: Bar Alvino
A short trek from the main city center but worth the experience, Caffe Alvino is famous for this sweet almond drink. It’s counter service inside the cafe, so belly up and don’t be shy. The bartender specially froths the almond cream to order and puts on a whole show of layering the ingredients, which of course makes the experience fun and playful.
Wherever you go in Lecce you’re bound to find tasty coffee and tasty pastiocciotto. We tried a pistachio one so you don’t have to. It wasn’t bad, but hot damn those vanilla ones are good. Beyond just caffeinated beverages Lecce has delightful regional cuisine (like orecchiette with parsnip green pesto), fascinating museums and a wonderful contemporary art museum called MUST. I learned the hard way while using the ladies room at MUST that what I thought was a pull for flushing the toilet was actually a 911 bathroom alarm that reverberated through the entire museum complex, so we certainly made some friends that day. I’ll write more on our September 2018 Puglia trip soon. Until then, here are some more Lecce photos.