It’s been on the travel radar for a while, but truth be told, Puglia, in the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’, has been a bit of a slow-burner when it comes to hip destinations. Cast in the shadow of sunflower-filled Tuscany, Puglia has traditionally been considered Italy’s poor relation and is probably one of the country’s most untapped areas in terms of tourism. But Stylist loves unexplored territory, especially when a new five-star hotel – Borgo Egnazia – promises to put the area on the map.
Unfortunately the drive from Bari airport wasn’t the best of starts (arid wasteland and industrial buildings weren’t the picturesque Italy I’d dreamt of), but after 10 minutes the scenery changes rapidly, with us soon whizzing past rows of vineyards, lush olive groves and fields of wheat and trees laden with limes, lemons and oranges. Finally, near the small fishing village of Savelletri di Fasano with the twinkling Adriatic Sea beyond, we arrived at Borgo Egnazia.
Having taken 10 years to complete and costing over €150m – the architect researched traditional methods and used local artisan craftsmen – the hotel is a replica of an authentic Apulian village. And it’s one with wow factor. All-white and modelled from the region’s creamy Tufa stone, they employ two full-time painters to keep it gleaming. So much so that donning a jewel-coloured dress for dinner one night, I felt positively popping with colour.
You can stay in a choice of ‘ultraluxe’ villas, suites or, like me, one of the charming townhouses with white-washed, rough-hewn walls and ceilings layered with sheaves of wheat, antique bottles and vintage farm tools.
Why it’s hot
After an amble around sun-drenched piazzas, shady archways, and winding alleyways (at night, oversized lanterns light your way over the still-warm cobbles), you come across every busy woman’s holiday prerequisite: a stunning spa. Named the Vair Spa – it’s centred around a modern take on an ancient Roman bathhouse – at 1,800 sqm, it’s one of the largest spas I’ve visited. A blissful afternoon was spent hopping in and out of Roman baths, a series of mosaic-tiled cold and hot rooms, and a scrub area with salt and basil to brush yourself – all designed to recall Roman bathing traditions. Outside of Borgo, you can experience the real thing. The hotel borders the ruined city of Egnazia (hence its name) which dates back to 5BC. The architectural site still retains the ancient walls of the city and the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and temples. Further inland, take a trip to the Unesco world heritage site of Alberobello, 12 miles from Savelletri. It boasts over 1,000 traditional Trulli (Apulian houses) that resemble white, stone igloos.
Eating and drinking
Although there is a pizzeria and a relaxed trattoria, most guests (think hip, young urban Italians and in-the-know Brits), head to the hotel’s Due Camini restaurant. It’s partially al fresco so you eat in a lovely airy arcade. Michelin-starred chef Mario Musoni serves up a selection of simple pastas, risottos and fresh fish. The squid risotto, with local Taralli bread on the side, is delicious and the strawberry sorbet was exquisite. Puglia is an important region for wine and pasta, so head into the city of Egnazia and if you feel inspired, join the hotel’s cooking school to master the art of local delicacies.
In the lobstercoloured twilight, Borgo Egnazia has a Moorish feel to it with the sun casting its shadows across its archways and piazzas. Each house and villa also has a secret roof terrace – climb up at sundown and look south to the Ionian Sea and east to the Adriatic coastline.
Black Tomato offers four nights at Borgo Egnazia from £665 per person based on two people sharing (020-7426 9888). Price includes return flights from London and a superior room on a B&B basis. Quote ‘Stylist reader offer’ when booking at Black Tomato to receive one night’s complimentary stay and a spa treatment (on a B&B basis in a superior room; Vair spa treatment subject to availability; valid from 15 November 2011 to 15 January 2012, excluding Christmas and New Year).