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The heel of Italy, Puglia is resplendent with charming villages, baroque churches and peaceful beaches, perfumed by the heady scent of citrus and olive groves. A favourite among Italian holidaymakers, be prepared to gain a few pounds as the region is as renowned for its cuisine (arguably been better than the rest of the country) as its conical trullis.
Hire a car and set off for Ostuni, nicknamed the “whitewashed city”, thanks to flat-topped houses clinging to the hillside. From there, head to the town of Lecce where no fewer than 40 churches have earned it the moniker the “Florence of the baroque”. Finally, make your way to virtually unknown Matera, where formerly derelict cave dwellings have been repurposed into boutique hotels, restaurants and bars.
These are our favourite places to stay for the perfect Puglian escape.
Suspended between sky and sea at the peak of Ostuni, La Sommità is a boutique bolthole occupying a 16th-century palazzo. The stylish retreat has just 15 rooms and suites, each hewn from Apulia stone and decorated in neutral tones. Aromatic lavender plants and potted citrus trees litter a sun-drenched terrace equipped with lounging day beds. Set under a canopy of stars, Michelin-starred restaurant Ceilo overlooks the winding alleys and whitewashed houses as one of the highest points of Ostuni. With a nod to local cuisine, chef Lombardi whips up a selection of hearty pasta dishes inspired by his childhood, alongside succulent lamb paired with a daring sea-urchin sauce. All offset by a palate-cleansing Aperol-spritz sorbet. Finish off the evening with a crisp glass of white wine, taken straight from one of three on-site ancient cisterns that now house an impressive wine collection.
The family-run farm with trulli (typical Apulian rural houses) is set on the outskirts of Ostuni, deep in the Puglian countryside. Owner Teo and his wife are diligent recyclers – you’ll soon spot farm doors that have been transformed and remodelled as headboards or plant pots that are now stylish toiletry holders. They also generate their own solar power. Brush up on you bruschetta-making skills at one of Masseria Cervarolo’s cooking classes or master the art of olive-soap making for a novel souvenir that certainly beats a fridge magnet. Breakfast and dinner are served al fresco from the open kitchen and although the property offers an extensive local wine list; ditch your usual tipple in favour of the home-grown wild-fennel liqueur.
Part of Don Totu’s allure is that behind its unassuming, honey-coloured exterior is an immaculate, stylish six-bedroom haven. The intimacy of the 18th-century palazzo, named after the legendary landowner Don Totu, is helped by the hidden internal courtyards filled with gnarled ancient olive trees and herbaceous orchards. The rustic rooms are decorated in neutral hues with dreamy, canopy beds draped in voile while the spacious bathrooms can quite happily accommodate an Olympic swimming team. Seek solace in the underground hammam, lounge by the twinkling infinity pool framed by a Matisse-inspired mural or borrow a hotel Vespa to explore the small Salento town of San Cassiano.
An art-filled tribute in Puglia’s most-desirable town Lecce, La Fiermontina has a propensity for Parisian interiors (La Fiwemontina’s owners roots are footed in both Paris and Puglia). While all rooms are furnished impeccably in almond-coloured Leccese stone, the small collection of suites are definite head-turners offering rose gardens, circular bathtubs with terrace views and private dipping pools. Laze away days by the orange-tree lined pool or venture into storied Lecce for a scoop of pistachio gelato. If that doesn’t satisfy sweet-tooth cravings then the vanilla and chocolate cream-filled pasticciotto’s from Natale Pasticceria certainly will.
Built into the fortified walls of Monopoli, this fortress on the reef is made up of whitewashed, stone-hewn rooms, pretty patios and a rooftop terrace that provides sparkling Adriatic Coast views. The hotel’s main draw is undoubtedly the split-level rooftop, where guests can take a dip in the infinity pool framed by towering cacti or indulge in a freshly caught feast of octopus and homemade orecchiette (a type of Apulian pasta). Not to be missed is the old towns Basilica of the Madonna della Madia which is, alongside the floor-to-ceiling marble mosaic tiling, shrouded in myth and legend after a miraculous sea-washed raft carrying an icon of Madonna helped finish the construction. Sightseeing aside, the in-the-know staff will direct you to untouched, private sandy coves that are perfect for picnics and gentle sea swimming.
The rustic, 19th-century farmhouse is topped with trullis and put an emphasis on serenity. Trullis were once the basis of local architecture, but the dry-stone huts with conical roofs now serve as sleek hideaways for relaxation. Domed ceilings conceal skylights, some boast a secluded hot tub and all are incredibly spacious, opening up onto their own private piece of tumbling countryside. Tranquil dinners can be spent on your patio or alternatively guests can follow the maze of oak tree-lined paths to the relaxed dining room. Masseria Fumarola is a slice of Italian rural life that is as tempting as its ricotta cheesecake.
Family-run for several generations, this former salt warehouse is nestled among sprawling lemon trees and ancient olive groves. The recently renovated rooms are housed in old farm shelters with simple, yet aesthetically pleasing interiors consisting of exposed beams, limestone brickwork and antique family furniture. Masseria Salinol’s restaurant dishes up a mouth-watering feast of southern Italian cuisine, including regional delicacies such as rabbit with mashed broad beans cooked in a pignatta (terracotta pot) . Wash down your dinner with a glass of rosali (a rose-petal liqueur) made of herbs, fruit and berries picked from the picturesque grounds. The Italian hospitality extends to the bicycles that are available to peddle off those extra Puglian pounds in an exploration through the olive groves.
Immersed among ancient olive groves of the Itra valley, Borgo Egnanzia is a place of nonpareil beauty. Where nature is powerful, architecture is archaic and the water is blissfully calm, Borgo Egnanzia eludes the rural romance of Puglian charm. With four options for bathing, an on-site golf course, two beach clubs with private beaches and a killer spa, this is the perfect option for families wanting serenity and activity. The hotel is pretty much self-sufficient, so anything that isn’t picked on site is locally sourced and delivered to your dining table. If you like a rustic room, Borgo Cassetta Bella is our favourite. For those who like a generous terrace, private garden and outdoor plunge pool (who wouldn’t), The Egnazia Suite part of the La Courte series is perfect for privacy seekers.
Masseria San Domenico is a stunning 14th-century fortified farmhouse composed of stark white stone buildings, lush tropical gardens and vista points of both the ocean and the mountains to the north. Previously used by the Knights of Malta as a watchtower, today it is a five-star hotel comprising of 40 rooms, each with a unique character. Located amidst mature olive groves, the hotel is only 500 meters from the Adriatic coast, offering guests access to a private beach via an avenue of olive trees. Dinner is served beneath the vaulted ceilings of Ristorante San Domenico, with a selection of Puglian cuisine and fresh seafood. What’s more, the hotel is conveniently located nearby the fascinating village of Alberobello, famous for its domed Trulli houses.
With just 13 rooms, La Peschiera is an exclusive thalassic hotel amidst the hypnotic Adriatic oceans. A former fish hatchery turned boutique hotel, La Peschiera promises a slice of beachside paradise. Positioned equidistance between Bari and Brindisi, and close to the ancient archaeological ruins at Egnazia, personalised tours allow guests a chance to discover the true soul of Puglian life. Each room boasts minimalist decor, sea views and a shady veranda. The rooms are naturally light, draped with white linens and decorated antique furnishings.; the Panorama Room is our top choice complete with tranquil hideaway and access to a private pool via a little ladder.
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