With delicious food, the bluest seas and a thoroughly laidback charm, Maxine Briggs discovers why Puglia is on the honeymoon hot list
Located in Italy’s heel, Puglia has long been a well-kept secret, guarded by the natives as their personal holiday spot. As one local put it: “Italians never leave Italy because we have Puglia!”
However, the secret is finally out and with its hot summers, fantastic beaches, wonderful seafood and increasing number of chic hotels, it’s the place to go. And, with regular UK flights to Bari in the north and Brindisi in the south, it’s now very easy to get to.
It’s best to rent a car, and the good news is that the leisurely pace of life here makes driving easy as you wend your way through the rugged countryside, with mile after mile of olive groves, Mexican-style cactuses, almond trees and the famous Primitivo grapevines.
The countryside is full of former farmhouses, or masseria, many of which are being turned into chic-chi hotels.
We made Simpson Travel’s beautiful Masseria Le Torri, just outside Polignano A Mare, our base. Surrounded by olive fields, this nine room, adult-only hotel is a castle dating back to the seventh century that has been lovingly restored by the owners, one of whom used to visit the farmhouse as a child.
The styling maintains the beautiful period feel with terracotta floors, natural wood, white linens and a calm aesthetic. We stayed in the Orchidea suite, which boasted its original fireplace and frescos, as well as the largest stone bath we’d ever seen, complete with homemade lavender bath salts for a relaxing evening soak.
On our first morning, after a traditional breakfast of breads and cheese, we met Francesco, our Simpson host and Pugliese native.
Using his extensive knowledge of the area combined with what we wanted to do, Francesco devised a bespoke itinerary for our stay, down to booking the best tables in the latest restaurants. Bene indeed!
Francesco suggested that to really experience Puglia, we should head for the coast and try one of the many amazing seafood restaurants. We visited Da Tuccino just north of Polignano.
Kicking off with a romantic glass of sparkling wine overlooking the Cala Ponte Marina, we enjoyed fresh lobster, sea urchins and caviar with melt-in-the-mouth homemade pasta.
A stroll around the old town at Polignano is a must, with alternating views of ancient streets and vertiginous cliff tops to the seas below. The best-known view is at Ponte de Polignano, overlooking the town’s main beach.
Vertical cliffs, with houses jutting out from the rocks, surround the beach on three sides. Pick the right time and you can witness the incredible daredevil cliff diving from jumping boards 90 feet above the sea.
The coastline from Polignano through to Monopoli is dotted with of public and private beach clubs. We stumbled across public beach, Cala Verde, at the end of a dusty lane.
There are no bars, cafes or gelato kiosks here; just a gorgeous tiny cove, a smattering of local bathers and the crystal clear Adriatic lapping against the secluded sands. The warm, shallow water here is a haven for pretty fish milling around the rocks, ideal for a spot of snorkelling.
Heading away from the coast, is Alberobello, a town made famous by the UNESCO-listed Trulli village. The cute pepper pot-style houses with charming conical stone roofs, some of which date back hundreds of years, congregate upon a steep hill.
Castellana is also worth visiting to experience the vast, cathedral-like grotto, with its underground stalactites and stalagmites bathed in light pouring in from a breach in the cavern ceiling above.
On Wednesday evenings, Le Torri offers A Taste of Puglia nights, where traditional dishes are lovingly prepared by Madam Ezia, who welcomes guests to watch and join in the feast preparation.
A beautiful communal table is set in the courtyard, with lanterns bobbing in the trees. It’s a great way to socialise with the other guests, a glass of Primitivo di Manduria in hand while the sun sets over the olives groves.
A seven-night stay at Masseria Le Torri starts from £799 per person, based on a couple sharing on a bed-and-breakfast basis. Price includes return flights and car hire. A seven-night stay in the Orchidea Suite starts from £1,088 per person.
020 3355 4717; simpsontravel.com
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