When people start waxing lyrical about Puglia, the southern region that forms the sexy stiletto of Italy’s boot, they’re likely to mention certain emblematic images. The centuries-old trulli that dot acres of farmland; the rugged, sun-bleached coastline; the hilltop towns filled with labyrinthine lanes, ornate palazzi and baroque masterpieces.
This magical place feels a little like Tuscany, Greece and North Africa all at once, they’ll tell you, and summers linger so late you can happily holiday in October.
But the thing that marks out the region above all – to international travellers and Italians alike – is the food. Here, cucina povera origins clash gloriously with modern-day Italian indulgence; food is a cause for reverence and for celebration. Meat and cheese come from local farms, seafood is caught just off the coast, and fresh produce is plucked straight from the earth. Oh, and it’s the birthplace of burrata.
So from a rooftop aperitivo overlooking the ‘Florence of the south’ to a traditional feast in a restored masseria, these are some of the very best boutique and luxury hotels in Puglia where you can taste it all.
For kitchen daydreams
There are many charming sights at Masseria Calderisi, a former Puglian farmhouse that dates back to the 17th century near the seaside town of Savelletri. Stacked stone walls and Moorish-style rooftops frame a scene plucked straight from purest Puglian fantasies: a restored onsite chapel illuminated by strings of bohemian bulbs, bright suites set in former stables and watchtowers, acres of olive and citrus groves.
One of the most memorable images, however, is dashing chef Pietro Sgaramella plundering the grounds for fresh produce – figs, pomegranates, tangles of wild herbs. These crop up everywhere, from breakfast in the vaulted dining room (originally the Masseria’s hay store) to pizzas paddled by your own fair hand in the hotel’s ancient oven, fired up for aesthetically pleasing cookery classes.
Best bites La Corte is the main hotel eatery, with tables laid out over a pergola-shaded piazza. The menu combines rustic classics with fine dining – just don’t miss Sgaramella’s orecchiette, with ragu slow-cooked for hours and pasta made moments before service. Every Friday, the hotel lays on a traditional Apulian feast, with market-style stalls serving up pettole (crisp little clouds of fried dough), vats of burrata, fragrant porchetta and the freshest fish.
Off menu Order a Mojito Rosso at aperitivo hour on the Moroccan-style roof terrace; a heady blend of Campari, vodka, fresh mint and crushed ice makes those cosy cushioned corners all the more inviting.
For the spice of life
Thanks to its Baroque beauty and historic heart, the city of Lecce is often nicknamed ‘the Florence of the south’. Somewhere between the film set charm of colossal churches and narrow side streets you’ll find the former bank that houses Palazzo BN, a place that trades in apartment-style suites and particularly stylish street food.
The three restaurants that surround the lobby make up what is in effect a food court, but before you baulk at the Americanised undertones, rest assured that all produce is emphatically Italian. The informal set-up just means you can wander freely between the three, gazing at the seafood counter at Ammos, grazing in Banco Lounge Bar, or tasting rarely seen regional classics at Red. There’s enough to seduce even the most seasoned foodies – and a well-stocked boutique so you can fill a suitcase and continue the love affair back home.
Best bites Climb up to the roof terrace for aperitivo with a side of Lecce city views. Then immerse yourself in all that awaits downstairs: purple shrimp tartare, sharp with lemon olive oil at Ammos; deep-fried panzerotti filled with steaming mozzarella at Banco; and, at Red, pasticciotto (traditionally sweet filled Italian pastries) transformed with octopus, wild onions and salty ricotta, or pork bombette stuffed with figs and pecorino.
Off menu The coastal town of Gallipoli is half an hour away from Palazzo BN, and its fish market is the ideal place to try Salento’s spikiest specialty: sea urchins.
For fisherman friends
This tiny 10-room hideaway is built into the ancient seafront ramparts of Monopoli. Something of an insider favourite, this fishing town is often overshadowed by its more dramatic, Insta-friendly neighbour, Polignano a Mare, but it’s well worth a stay here (and as they’re only a 15-minute drive apart, you can easily get the best of both).
Don Ferrante’s stone-hewn rooms make a soothing base for food-focused adventures, especially as the hotel offers free buggy tours through the historic centre to the harbour, where dinky traditional boats bring in the day’s catch. The hotel can also arrange cookery classes and wine tastings in the masserie that are dotted throughout the landscape surrounding Monopoli.
Best bites Locanda Ferrante’s all-white sea-view terrace is near impossible to resist, thanks to its sweeping Adriatic views and a seafood-heavy menu that changes every month to make the best of local produce. You can drink these in from May to September for lunch and June to August for dinner. And if you’re travelling outside those months, book a table at Angelo Sabatelli Ristorante, a Michelin-starred must in the grounds of an old farmhouse just outside Monopoli.
Off menu Follow your nose to Trattoria il Cavaliere, a life-affirming spot full of locals, pasta, seafood and, at the end of your meal, tiny custard pastries covered in icing sugar called sporcamusi (which translates to ‘dirty snouts’).
For dining à deux
This 10-suite mansion smells good enough to eat, every inch of its soaring ceilings, parquet floors, marble bath tubs and blissfully engulfing beds lightly perfumed with musk from unseen diffusers. It’s heady stuff, so be careful who you stay with, especially given the honesty bar that’s open from 7.30am till late (a few of the staff have mastered mixology if you’d prefer the expert touch).
Guests may be drawn to this hotel for the modern art and design set against 18th-century splendour, but they’re sustained in equally standout style by food that feels authentically simple thanks to a Salento native chef who favours market-fresh ingredients. Special themed dinners are a frequent occurrence here, with feasts held in the historic atrium and romantic Mille e Una Notte dinners that take place in the garden illuminated by candlelight.
Best bites In the warmer seasons, the verdant courtyard garden beckons with a cluster of tables laid out invitingly. Breakfast is a peaceful pleasure here, with newspapers to peruse while the lovely staff bring out neat platters of local cheese, honey, fruit and pastries. Snacks are served on the intimate roof terrace (complete with pool), though the art deco dining room is a fine alternative for those on off-peak sojourns.
Off menu Stroll along to sister hotel La Fiermontina for a pool day in the garden surrounded by the city’s ancient walls. Postprandial naps are unavoidable once you’ve lunched on bread and pasta made onsite by Chef Simone Solido and team.
For historical flavour
The maze-like medieval town of Ostuni may be known as the Città Bianca (or white city), but it’s the burnt terracotta hue of the city’s only Palazzo Rosso that’s turned travel-savvy heads in recent years.
This 18th-century manor was once a convent, then the site of rendezvous for secret Italian unification plots, but its current guise is a boutique hotel restored in head-spinning style. Reclaimed frescoes, worldly antiques and irreverent touches make this a memorable place to stay, but so too does the hotel restaurant.
It’s housed in a vaulted former mill with a fiery open kitchen but when the sun shines, tables spill out around the gleaming pool (the only one in the city of Ostuni) and oasis-like garden. On odd Sundays throughout the summer, a belt-busting brunch of market delicacies is served, including cheeses, charcuterie and hamburgers oozing with regional caciocavallo.
Best bites The best of local technique and flavour is put into a modern context in five- and seven-course feasts, expressed perfectly by an innovative take on cacio e pepe cooked in a pecorino reduction and bejewelled with cured sturgeon roe. Other dishes on the imaginative menu are more mysterious, like a pudding simply dubbed ‘The Breakfast’.
Off menu Ostuni is filled with great restaurants but they get very busy in high season, so take advantage of Paragon’s local connections to secure one of the old town’s top tables.
Tuck into a full serving of stays with our complete collection of Puglia hotels