Puglia: The lifestyle of Italy
Today I landed in one of my favorite parts of Italy, Puglia! Arriving at Bari airport is always a joy and, once through customs, I was met by my wonderful driver, Leo. My first stop was Ugento where I wanted to visit the newly opened Il Castello di Ugento. This lovely, small property offers history and tradition around every corner. While renovating the structure, the passionate owners uncovered fresco after fresco which they carefully preserved, creating a kind of living museum. Some of the rooms can be used for private parties and dinners. There is also a wonderful state-of-the-art kitchen which turns out delicious food for guests and services a vibrant cooking school. Students and chefs from around the world come here to train and teach. I ended my arrival day with one of the best meals I have ever had in Italy and then headed off to bed in my comfortable, stylish room.
After a leisurely breakfast Leo once again met me and we headed to Lecce. One of my favorite cities in Puglia, Lecce is stunning and famously known as the Florence of the south for its Baroque architecture, impressive palaces, boutiques and artisans. Getting lost in Lecce is pleasure but my destination was La Fiermontina, a beautiful property with lush gardens studded with sculpture. Fiermontina is an ideal option for those wanting to spend some time in a city while in Puglia. From Lecce I went to my home for the evening, Masseria Trapana.
Trapana is a private home that was converted into a small hotel, and it has everything one could want — stunning rooms, a spa in the underground olive oil mill, a beautiful pool and magnificent gardens. Walking through its orange and lemon groves was a bit of heaven. Being only 10 minutes from Lecce and 10 from the beach, this is a perfect location for anyone who wants to be close to everything while being settled in a peaceful oasis. Rob, the owner, also offers cooking classes with his very talented chef in the modern kitchen, an activity which is always fun, particularly in Italy!
This morning I started with a light bike ride. Puglia is famous for its flat roads and incredible biking. I biked to one of the oldest olive groves in the area where we talked everything olive. After a delicious lunch with the family and a crash course in olive oil tasting, it was time to continue on. Home for this evening was the new Rocco Forte property, but first I stopped in the “white city.”. With its imposing citadel overlooking the olive plains all the way to the Adriatic, Ostuni is a cozy city that is well located for a lunch or dinner stop. After an espresso I continued on to Masseria Torre Maizza, the newest in the Rocco Forte collection. This is another superb property surrounded by olive groves where guests can enjoy golf, beautiful grounds, different restaurant venues and a lovely pool. The rooms are comfortably large and I think Torre Maizza works very well with any of the other hotel properties.
Today was a very exciting day! After checking out I found a vintage Alfa Romeo at the front door which I drove to Alberobello. There is nothing like driving in a vintage car through the countryside of Puglia just taking in everything that makes this part of Italy so special. I arrived in the small town of Trullis, those iconic whitewashed stone houses with conical rooves. Memo, my guide for the day, is one of the top five guides I have had the pleasure to travel with, and his knowledge and passion for everything Pugliese is infectious. After exploring some of the smaller hidden streets with him, I had to continue on to Matera in the neighboring province of Basilicata, a UNESCO World Heritage city that was the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2019. I checked in to Sextantio, a unique property built into the abandoned cave dwellings that were totally abandoned in 1952. A 5-star cave hotel, Sextantio offers huge rooms romantically lit with glowing candlelight. Unlike any other property, it is well worth a visit as is this remarkable city.
This morning it was time to say goodbye to Matera and Puglia. I had a delicious breakfast overlooking the landscape of Basilicata, so different from the flat plains of Puglia. I love it all and look forward to a quick return visit.