I’ve visited the major cities of central and north Italy, and feel like I know the culture and cuisine relatively well… but the rural region of Southern Italy was completely unknown to me. I’d heard fellow travel fanatics talk about the growing trend to visit Puglia, the less visited part of Italy which is known for centuries-old olive groves, whitewashed hill towns and crystal clear sea. The reality was even more idyllic than it sounds.
Masseria Trapana – Located on the outskirts of Lecce and surrounded by sixty hectares of ancient olive groves. Rob Potter-Sanders has transformed a derelict 16th farmhouse into one of the most luxurious hotels in Puglia. There are ten sumptuous suites to choose from, each with a grand four-poster bed and giant bathtub.
Masseria Moroseta – This stunning, minimalist bed & breakfast is found on the outskirts of Ostuni, and feels like it was built with Instagram in mind. The contemporary masseria was designed by Andrew Trotter and is set around a central courtyard, with six charming bedrooms, a beautiful pool and lovely common areas to enjoy.
Cielo – Tucked away in the Ostuni maze of white streets is the enchanting Cielo restaurant, inside the luxury hotel, La Sommita. Sit down for lunch and you will be treated to lots of little surprises throughout from foie gras chocolates to aperol liquid sweets. The plates of pasta are refined and delicious and the innovative Egg and Flour dessert is not to be missed.
Cremeria alla Scala – The best gelato in Ostuni. There are several branches of this ice-cream parlour in Ostuni, pop in for a cone of the speciality flavour, Sant’Oronzo (almond and mandarin).
Il Principe del Mare – Cheap and cheerful this basic seafood restaurant is found at the sea’s edge in Fasano. The family-run eatery offers the freshest fish straight from the ocean, while you sit watching the waves crash to shore.
Angelo Sabatelli Ristorante – There are only a handful of good fine dining restaurants in Puglia. Angelo Sabatelli is among the best, serving up inventive recipes based on the traditional dishes from Puglia. The Orecchiette pasta with 30 hour cooked meat ragu and canestrato cheese fondue is a triumph… Puglian cuisine at its very best.
Il Cortiletto – Located on the edge of Ostuni this neighborhood restaurant is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. The courtyard dining room has a lovely atmosphere and serves simple but authentic anti-pasti, pasta and wood-fired meats.
Gelateria Natale – Universally referred to as Lecce’s best gelato, Gelateria Natale is always busy and has enough flavours to satisfy everyone. I tasted the ricotta and fig and rum baba flavours which were both creamy and delicious. There is also a range of traditional Italian confectionery.
Places to Visit
Matera – This ancient town carved into the canyon is famous for its cave dwellings, known as the sassi. This World Heritage site is unique and enchanting, transporting you back to centuries ago.
Otranto – This historic town is on the east coast of the Salento peninsula. Visit the Romanesque cathedral to see the twelfth-century mosaic and if its hot take a dip in the crystal clear turquoise waters.
Lecce – One of the largest cities in the Apulia region Lecce is known for its magnificent baroque buildings. Visit the amazing Cattedrale di Lecce and the Basilica di Santa Croce, before cooling off with a delicious ice-cream from Gelateria Natale.
Gallipoli – The lazy town of Gallipoli has fantastic beaches and a charming historic old town to explore.
Alberobello – Although touristy it is worth visiting Alberobello to marvel at the amazing trulli, a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof. Head a cafe with rooftop seating for the best panoramic views.
Polignano a Mare – Perched on top of a limestone cliff, Polignano a Mare offers a dramatic coastline and a beautiful beach in the centre of town. Wander round the streets and grab lunch in a local cafe before soaking up the sun.
Monopoli – This quaint town is centred around a lovely fishing port. Charter a sailing boat for the day, and sail up the coast to the St Stefano monastery where you can admire the amazing caves and take a dip in the azure Adriatic sea.