If you’ve followed my travels before, you know that I love Italy. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this country blessed with a fascinating history, stunning vistas, warm people and of course delicious food. I first visited in 1991 when I visited with my mom and did the pre-requisite first trip to Venice, Florence and Rome. Later, when living in Switzerland, we often hopped over by car to northern Italy, and over the last 20 years when heading back to Switzerland in the summer to see family, we have introduced our kids to the wonder of this amazing country.
So, when Italy opened to US travelers this summer, we jumped at the chance to head over and meet up with my in-laws who were on the Amalfi Coast. And, being the intrepid traveler that I am, with all kids occupied and taken care of and my husband as driver in tow, we happily added on another week in Puglia. Often discussed as the new Tuscany, Puglia offers an authentic slice of Italy tucked away in the “heel of the boot”.
Once I started planning out this trip, I realized that I had been here once before. At the end of that trip to Italy 30 years ago, I hopped a train and headed to Brindisi to board the overnight ferry to Greece. I clearly had missed out on an opportunity to explore this region before it was discovered by us outsiders. Today, while not nearly as visited as other regions in Italy, there is no lack of high-end hospitality, culture and the best part – beaches.
After saying goodbye to my in-laws, we hopped in our car and headed east towards Matera, not technically in Puglia, but a great stop along the way if arriving by car. Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – you can really see the layers of the city and how they were built one on top of the other, starting with primitive caves. As such, you can’t drive into the old city, so we parked in the parking garage in the modern city center, and had the hotel come pick us up for the ride into the old city.
We stayed at the lovely Sant’Angelo luxury resort, one of the many Albergo Diffusos that we saw in this region. This is an innovative concept in Italian hospitality, which is a way of reviving small, historic villages. A number of separate buildings with a common lobby area can make up one hotel, meaning that your room could have a totally separate and private entrance. It adds to the charm and privacy of the location. We also had an amazing dinner at the Radino Wine Bar – I couldn’t believe the complex dishes that were coming out of the sliver of a kitchen that was open to the restaurant. Add to that the pairings with their own wine, and it was a truly unique experience.
What I loved about Sant’Angelo: separate entrance and private terrace, historic outside, modern and spacious inside. Beautiful terrace for dining above the rooms. Fabulous shower pressure!
Other hotels visited
Palazzo Gattini – traditional hotel by the Duomo on top of the old city, traditional limestone walls, suites with private pools
Sextantio – another typical Albergo Diffuso, but created in much older caves in the center of the city. Walls are original, furnishings are a mix of modern and antique. A one of a kind experience.
From Matera, we continued our trek west to Polignano a Mare in Puglia. Instead of the quicker route towards Bari and then south, we took the scenic route through the olive groves. The landscape became noticeably drier, dotted with windmills and charming farmhouses. We arrived at the gates of Masseria le Torri just before lunch and it is quite possibly one of the most romantic places I have ever stayed – nine unique rooms in a 17th century farmhouse set among the olive trees. I love the Puglian farmhouse style – think linen, white-washed stone walls, light blue and sage accents. Our room wasn’t ready, so armed with personalized recommendations from the staff, we headed into Polignano a Mare for lunch at Bella ‘Mbriana out on the terrace. It would be one of the first of many delicious seafood meals – the taglione alla cozze – pasta with mussels – was absolutely delicious.
With our bellies full, we headed back to Masseria le Torri to discover our spacious and beautifully appointed Junior Suite. We quickly changed into bathing suits and took our first opportunity to relax by the pool. We took advantage of the WhatsApp number provided to us at check-in and requested two glasses of rosé by the pool, which arrived promptly and with a smile.
This proved to be the perfect base from which to explore the area, including day trips to Alberobello with its famous Trulli houses, Ostuni – the white city, Polignano a Mare and Monopoli.
What I loved about Masseria le Torri: high touch, unobtrusive service at its finest. Great food with a menu that changed daily. Relaxing and romantic setting – great base to explore the area
Other hotels visited
Borgo Egnazia – large resort with a very robust offering of amenities. Areas for adults only and families. Traditional hotel rooms and standalone villas.
Masseria Torre Coccaro – great resort for families at a lower price point. Large swimming pool with lovely grassy area to relax beside it. Excellent full-service beach club, Le Palme.
Masseria San Domenico – large and very well-maintained grounds that reminded me of a private club. Beautiful facilities, with a very well-appointed spa and indoor pool.
Masseria Torre Maizza – beautifully restored traditional masseria with a golf course dotted with mature olive trees. Tranquil setting with a small footprint. Felt exclusive and richly upscale.
Don Ferrante – on the water in the old town of Monopoli. Great location to explore the town on foot with dining options close by. Rooftop terraces overlooking the water.
For our last three days we headed down to the small town of Matino and a stay in the Palais Gentile guest house. Really off the beaten path, this is intended for people that want an authentic stay in Salento, the southern part of Puglia. We arrived just in time to settle into our suite and head up to the rooftop to enjoy the sunset over the Ionian Sea. As hot as it is during the day, when the sun goes down, the breeze picks up and temperatures drop to the low 70’s making it easy to linger over a glass of prosecco and a plate of charcuterie. Our hosts, Matteo and Katty, made sure our every need was met – from dinner reservations to beach club access. They told us where to park, how to drive and whom to ask for everywhere we went – they made sure that the doors to Salento were opened to us.
From here we visited the charming city of Lecce, spent an afternoon cooking with a local chef and spent some time relaxing on the beach on the Ionian Sea. We spent a day at the Lido Elite at the famous Maldives del Salento, where the water is crystal clear as far as you can see, and we ate at the delicious Sottovento on the beach near. At night we headed to the seaside town of Gallipoli, where we had one of our best meals of the trip at La Lampara Fish Lab. Tucked away on one of the many cobblestone streets, we took our turn selecting the fresh fish and seafood right from the counter to be prepared to order. We started with fresh flash fried calamari, which is the best I have ever eaten, so lightly battered and fried that it provided just a hint of crunchiness to the freshness of the squid, and we finished with a whole sea bass cooked in salt.
What I loved about Palais Gentile: I felt like I was staying in someone’s home with a concierge just for me. The rooftop terrace is sublime and the perfect start to the day for a sumptuous breakfast and end of the day for an aperitivo.
Other hotels visited
La Fiermontina – located in the historical center of Lecce - filled with art and rich with a history, including Moroccan influences. Large pool and garden area.
Palazzo Maresgallo – newly restored palazzo in the center of the city focused on art – each room is carefully curated and has a different inspiration. Art exhibits in the common areas.
Masseria Trapana – secluded farmhouse dating back to the 16th century, surrounded by olive groves. Nine rooms surrounded by a lovely pool garden. Perfect place to seal in the zen of a trip to Puglia.
Thinking about a vacation in Puglia? Don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our advisors, so that we can tailor the experience just for you and match you with the hotel of your dreams.