Borgo Egnazia, Puglia, Italy
01 May, 2019
Sprawled among olive trees and citrus groves near Fasano, Borgo Egnazia is one of the best hotels in Puglia, acting as an ideal launch pad for exploring the nearby towns of Ostuni and Alberobello, as well as the region's many idyllic beaches.
We never thought we'd get emotional about a hotel - it's a hotel, after all, and that would be a bit silly unless you had some sort of personal connection to it.
But there's something about Borgo Egnazia - a bleached limestone labyrinth of winding passageways, cerulean pools, citrus trees, cascading bougainvillea and shady enclaves - that really tugged at our heart strings.
Borgo means "village" and the sprawling property, set a little way back from the Adriatic Coast, is modelled on a traditional Puglian settlement. Climb to one of the many terraces and rooftops and you'll see pretty chimneys with an almost Moorish feel before your eye is drawn to the turquoise ribbon of ocean in the distance.
Despite Egnazia's large proportions, this is the antithesis of a resort. Expert architecture instils the hotel with a storied charm that makes it feel like a longstanding Italian relic, while familiar staff who toe the line between attentive and overbearing imbue your utterly luxurious surroundings with a real sense of homeliness and intimacy.
We despise mawkish PR slogans, but Borgo's adage "it's nowhere else" really does seem to ring true. It's no wonder Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake chose to have their wedding here.
Choose to stay in one of three different areas. La Corte is the main building of the hotel, where romantic rooms are all pale stone, fluttering linen curtains and canopied beds.
With a central piazza that hosts various fiestas come summer, Il Borgo is reminiscent of an Apulian village. Multi-storey whitewashed rooms positioned along pathways are filled with homely items including local ceramics, overflowing fruit bowls and wooden kitchen utensils strung from the ceiling.
Expansive villas are entirely private and more classically furnished, each complete with a patio, rooftop, several bedrooms and pool. The best bit? They come with your very own Italian "nonna", a local lady who will ensure your home-away-from-home is always full of the most delicious smells of something on the stove, and will remember your whimsical idiosyncrasies after day one.
What's for breakfast?
A bright, airy dining room strung with chandeliers made from aquamarine-blue glass bottles is laid out with pristine-white tiered tables groaning under the weight of local produce: meats, cheese, bread, honey, pastries, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, nuts - you name it. Order hot breakfast as you like it, and don't forego the juice bar.
How about lunch and dinner?
Head to the beach club for a lunch of crudo and ice-cold rosé at Cala Masciola, a salty sea breeze caressing your hair, soft sand between your toes.
For dinner make tracks to La Frasca, a traditional Apulian trattoria showcasing the very best local ingredients in a family-style farmhouse setting. Leave with glowing cheeks, a full belly and an all-encompassing feeling of contentment.
Alternatively, head to Michelin-starred Due Camini, where you'll be wowed with one of those "remember forever" meals: a gastronomic soiree that begins with five varieties of olive oil and proceeds with the prettiest plates of octopus, wild clams, pigeon, black truffle, all eaten in the softly flickering light of hundreds of candles.
Staff are simply divine, as is the wine. Despite it being an undeniably extravagant affair, dining feels relaxed and wholly unpretentious. We're still not quite sure how they do it.
Is there a bar?
Oh, yes. Weave through limestone arches into one of many clandestine corners to sip ruby-red negronis late into the night, or pull up a pew for a front row seat at a mixology show featuring homemade distillations and insignia-stamped ice cubes.
The gorgeous Vair Spa has all the works, including an outdoor and indoor pool, treatment rooms and fitness centre. You'll also find a separate children's swimming pool (and restaurant), as well as plenty of adult enclaves including a smoking room and various sitting rooms stocked with books and beckoning armchairs.
Activities on offer include cooking classes, watersports, golf and tennis, as well as various excursions into the local area. We recommend a trip to the trulli in Alberobello - your guide, Mimmo, is a real character who knows everyone in town. Expect a hilariously brilliant tour before he seduces you with wine and burrata in his cavernous subterranean bar.
Things I should know…
They have a laughter therapist. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.
Within a short walk I can find…
You could while away days wandering through snaking passageways, chancing upon hidden terraces, market carts overflowing with fresh produce, an old-fashioned bicycle propped against a wall or another swimming pool. But if you leave Borgo for one thing, make it for a languorous lunch at Il Cortiletto, a 10-minute drive away. At this tiny, local restaurant with curtained windows, you'll eat what you're given - creamy pasta, fresh asparagus, nutty local cheese, charcuterie, frittata - and go back to see what's on offer the following day.