Travel

Puglia Is Italy’s New Hotspot for Luxury and Wellness Retreats

italy

Puglia hasn’t always been on the global list of luxury travel destinations. But change is coming, thanks to visionary hotel investors and passionate local entrepreneurs.

Restored farmhouses known as masserie dot the region. These lush properties boast gourmet restaurants, wellness retreat facilities, day spas, and villa-like suites—some with private swimming pools. A short distance south of densely populated Bari and north of Brindisi, you’ll find a concentration of towns each uniquely diverse, nestled in the slopes of the Itria and Murgia valleys.

In the center sits Savelletri di Fasano, an unassuming town of 600 and home to the region’s most exclusive resorts. It has become an epicenter of hotel investment, namely for the Rocco Forte and San Domenico hotel groups.

Old Traditions, New Luxury

Here, Borgo Egnazia was a pioneer in the area in 2011, hitting it big with the Hollywood crowd first in 2012 for the wedding of singer Justin Timberlake and actress Jessica Biel, and again in 2017, when Madonna danced the night away doing the traditional local folk dance, the pizzica. Nestled amongst millennia-old olive groves, Borgo Egnazia isn’t technically a masseria, but with its spaces, lines, and sand-colored stone it is a microcosm of a traditional Apulian village.

Aldo Melpignano, owner and managing director of Italy’s San Domenico Hotels group, says the resort’s philosophy is more about guests’ well-being than luxury: “We never use the word ‘luxury,’ even if we design and offer high-end experiences for our guests. For us, true luxury means to offer something based on love and care at the fullest, designing meaningful experiences deeply rooted in our land and traditions.”

Open year round, the property boasts 183 rooms, casette (mini houses), and villas; six restaurants; private beach clubs; swimming pools; and soon-to-be-expanded spa Vair, touted as one of the best in the country.

In May, Masseria Torre Maizza became the latest high-end resort in the area. Combining an ode to local heritage with contemporary luxury, the original 16th-century farmhouse has come to life with 40 impeccably designed rooms and suites, a gourmet restaurant, rooftop bar, and swimming pool set among the perfectly manicured gardens.

Why expand Rocco Forte, a British luxury hotel group, into Puglia? General manager Franco Girasoli says Puglia has an intriguing culture, beautiful landscapes, and a rich culinary tradition. “It was a strategic move,” explains Girasoli. “Masseria Maizza is emblematic of the guiding principles of the Rocco Forte group: It combines local heritage, contemporary luxury, and tailor-made services.” Group founder Sir Rocco Forte adds, “Our model of luxury has a strong and undeniably Italian soul, is outward looking and draws on the values of culture and design this country was built on.”

Hot Hamlets

Ostuni, nicknamed the “white town” because of the concentration of whitewashed buildings, is also famous for its medieval gates and cathedrals. Enjoy an exquisite meal in a cave at the Osteria del Tempo Perso, where, as the name suggests, it’s as if time stood still.

Perfect to get lost in for a few hours is the town of Locorotondo, another collection of stark white buildings pleasantly void of tourist groups, with glimpses of local life at every turn; elderly Italian women congregate on plastic chairs by their front doors as the intoxicating perfume of orecchiette flows through kitchen windows.

Alberobello, with its unique Smurf-like dry-stone trulli dwellings, is Unesco protected. Shops and restaurants have terraces ideal for admiring unique rooftops. Don’t miss a typical Apulian lunch at the family-run restaurant La Cantina with never-ending antipasti (starters): a feast of local products from burrata to cured pork delicacies. Follow with the signature orecchiette washed down with local wine.

On the coastline is the fishing village turned hip seaside resort town of Monopoli and the spectacular Polignano a Mare, with views snaking around the cliffs and where town native Domenico Modugno’s “Volare” lyrics decorate the walls. At the entrance to the old town gates, queues build at Il Supermago del Gelo, a bar known for the best gelato in town since 1935. But people flock here for the caffè speciale: a shot of coffee, fresh cream, lemon rind, and signature amaretto.

The Next Entrepreneurs

A food supplier to many of the luxury masserie and resorts in the area, including Masseria Torre Maizza, Salumificio Santoro is the brainchild of Giuseppe Santoro and Piero Caramia, both butchers for over 40 years. Now Santoro’s three children are starting to take the reins at this salumi production house. Daughters Angela and Micaela, especially, stand out as trailblazers for a new generation in a significantly male-dominated industry.

“We were raised working with men, and challenging their skeptical view of us became our daily norm,” Angela Santoro says. “We learned on the job by getting our hands dirty, and in doing so, we gained their respect and admiration.”

Angela says Puglia’s rise in tourism means travelers have discovered it offers much more than the famous Salento beach area. “Puglia is also about the rural Itria Valley, tradition, and gastronomy,” she explains. “Many successful entrepreneurs have been able to capitalize on this, developing world-class resorts.”

By

 Maria Pasquale

 

 

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