Castello di Ugento, Puglia, Italy

Castello di Ugento, Puglia, Italy

Away from Italy’s tourist hotspots of Bari, Ostuni and Alberobello, this revamped 17th-century castle (and family home) immerses guests in southern Italian culture with its world-class cookery school, Puglian tasting menus, artistic flair and surprisingly green eco-credentials.

in the south of Puglia, an hour or two’s drive beyond the
popular tourist hotspots of Bari, Brindisi, Ostuni and Alberobello,
this renovated 17th-century castle offers a sophisticated yet
convivial stay that immerses guests in southern Italian culture –
and we don’t just mean through your stomach, though the
world-famous cookery school and stellar restaurant are sure to see
to that.

The castle is a labour of love in every sense. Owners Diana and
Massimo (a former CEO at Pepsi and whose family has owned the
castle since 1643) have masterminded a thoughtful restoration that
has resulted in this honey-stone darling, where a chic clientele
can spend hazy days drifting between secret gardens and cobbled
courtyards, beneath tall arches and lovers’ balconies.

Just nine suites stretch out within these ancient walls and,
while there may be frescoes, turrets and antiques galore, this is
still very much a family home. Expect to see Diana and Massimo
breathing life and laughter into the property as they chat to
guests, who often find themselves so enchanted that they return
time and time again, with many becoming great friends. You’ll want
to be in this camp, so bring your most charming travel


No one pulls the short straw here. Ground-floor rooms open onto
a courtyard that’s just a stone’s throw from the 18th-century
kitchen garden, while first-floor suites have a private terrace and
rooftop views.

Whichever you choose, expect a light and airy affair, with
gorgeous original stone throughout (we’re boasting, but our room
had star-vaulted ceilings above the mammoth bed – as good as an
excuse for not leaving ours as any) which lends itself to a
grotto-esque effect akin to the coves of the Adriatic in the

Juxtaposed with zany mid-century furniture, striking art and
splashes of colour, it’s an interior-design dream – but
unfortunately one that’s hard to mimic at home, unless you’ve got
an ancient castle at your disposal.

What’s for breakfast?

A continental spread is bolstered by ample local fare –
traditional pastries, cured ham, nutty cheeses and so on.
Everything is made from scratch in the sparkling stainless-steel
kitchens – brownie points if you manage to time your breakfast
entry with the arrival of just-baked croissants. Eggs, and so on,
are made to order.

How about lunch and dinner?

We didn’t have lunch at the Castello – following breakfast we
made tracks straight to the Maldives-esque beaches of the Ionian
coast – but dinner at Il Tempo Nuovo (“new time, new life”) is as
surprising as it is brilliant.

You don’t need us to bang on about Italian food, nor Puglian
food in particular, but the set tasting menu here is something
special, combining the best local produce in imaginative ways –
yellowtail ceviche with ‘nduja; ricotta gnocchi with sea urchin;
guinea fowl with fig. The softly lit courtyard setting isn’t bad

Is there a bar?

Yes. It’s not of the thumping-beats and flashing-lights variety,
but cheerful staff will happily mix a mean version of whatever your
poison is, at whatever time of day you might require it. Join other
guests and the owners for an aperitif in the courtyard each


Yes the castle has WiFi (though we rather wish it didn’t) but no
it doesn’t have a swimming pool, thank you very much. Guests are
welcome to use the one at sister property, Le
, just a 10-minute drive away.

The cookery school at Castello di Ugento is a big draw,
attracting international students from around the world for
residential courses (accommodation is separate to the hotel) while
guests are invited to book a lesson during their stay.

Don’t leave before you’ve wandered the corridors and rooms on
the first floor where impressive artwork and eclectic furniture are
a nod to Diana’s eye for design. At the risk of sounding a little
lofty, the combination of history, gastronomy and art (there are
plans for an artist-in-residence) here means that the Castello is
almost a microcosm of southern Italy and an ever-evolving cultural
hub. No wonder those guests keep coming back.

What about its green credentials?

The hotel has an extensive sustainability manifesto, spanning
everything from food waste to renewable energy, water-resource
management and the reduction of greenhouse gases. Hats off to them;
it’s no mean feat in a historic property such as this. Call us
picky but they do, however, have those plastic mini shampoo (etc.)
bottles, that seem to crop up at even the most “eco-conscious”
hotels and drive us nuts.

Things I should know…

“Off-season” is “in” and we’ve got our sights set on returning
to Puglia in winter – we just hope the crowds that flock to
Polignano a Mare et al. don’t catch on. Christmas at the Castello?
Yes please.

We can’t explain exactly why, but the bathrobe was one of the
best we’ve ever paraded around the room in. In fact, we loved it so
much we bought it for 60 euros (we never thought we’d be one of
those people) and haven’t taken it off since.

Within a short walk, I can find…

Potter out to the pretty piazza and cathedral just beyond the
castle gates for a relaxed pre-dinner stroll (you’ll find an
aperitivo pit-stop in the corner of the square). We also recommend
hopping in the car and heading about 30 minutes south to Santa
Maria di Leuca, where the Ionian and Adriatic seas meet at the most
southerly point of mainland Italy.

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