A former palazzo with fragrant gardens, vaulted ceilings and sun-trapping terraces, boutique B&B Don Totu invites you to slip seamlessly into the south-Italian lifestyle. Lounge by the pool sipping on an Aperol spritz, or escape the midday heat altogether in the underground hammam – the hotel’s very own wellness grotto. Back upstairs, the rooms are a showcase of rustic grandeur, with high ceilings, sculpted plasterwork and fine local ceramics. The owners have given things a tasteful update with pale and pared-back furnishings, but the hotel remains pleasingly lo-fi: with no TV's in the rooms, it's the historic, honey-coloured stone that remains centre stage.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in is usually 4pm.
Double rooms from £257.50 (€300), including tax at 10 per cent.
Room rates usually include breakfast, a choice of a zero-mile buffet spread or à la carte menu. Expect freshly squeezed orange juice, bread from local bakers, home-made biscotti, fresh fruit (some from the hotel garden) and cold cuts of meat.
If you’re heading to the beach, let the hotel know roughly what time you expect to be back, as they’ll prepare refreshments for your return.
The hotel is closed from the 1 November until Easter each year.
At the hotel
Library, garden with several terraces, spa with hammam, gym/fitness studio and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: decorative fireplace, Maria Candida Gentile bath products and free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
Every room has its own charm, but we’ve got a soft spot for the Torretta Suite. Split over two floors, it has a four-poster bed with white drapes, a regal chaise longue and a private terrace; it’s also one of the only rooms in the hotel with a wooden floor. Families will appreciate the Quad Room, which has two interconnecting bedrooms – one with a king-size bed, the other with twins.
The large pool is outside on the terrace, surrounded by fruit trees, fragrant shrubbery and slender cypresses. Sunloungers with parasols are arranged around the outside.
The spa is in what used to be the cellar, where freshly-picked olives were stored before being pressed into oil. Now, it’s home to a hammam, colour-changing shower, Jacuzzi and a fitness studio equipped with the latest Technogym equipment. There’s also a lounge area with a view of the garden – the perfect spot for your post-workout recovery.
Unless it's the height of summer, bring something to wrap up in while zipping around on a Vespa – things can get a little chilly at speed.
Don Totu’s historic character doesn’t allow for a lift, so it’s not really suitable for wheelchair users.
Children of all ages are welcome. An extra bed (€80 a night in low season; €100 in high season) can be added to one of each room type. A cot (free) can be added to most rooms, but numbers are limited, so be sure to ask when booking.
On warm days, aim for the table under the covered portion of the terrace, where you get the scent of rosemary and lavender on the air.
Don Tuto is right at the bottom of Italy's bootheel, so it gets hot in summer. Breezy linens and all things light and white should serve you well.
The hotel doesn’t have it’s own restaurant, but they can serve a casual lunch on the terrace if you let them know at breakfast. The menu includes light bites like octopus salad, pasta with mozzarella and mixed vegetables, and sandwiches made on puccia bread – a Salento speciality.
The hotel has a poolside bar, which serves from 6pm to 8pm each day. The barman can whip up negronis, whiskey sours, Moscow mules and more. At all other times, drinks (as well as home-made cakes and biscuits) are available from the kitchen, which operates as an honesty bar. Non-alcoholic drinks are free; wine, beer and spirits are available too. Apéritifs and nibbles are also served on the terrace every evening.
Don Totu is tucked away on a quiet street in the town of San Cassiano, a comune in southern Italy’s Puglia region.
Brindisi (also known as Salento) is the closest international hub. It’s well connected with Italian airports and nearby European destinations, but direct flights from the UK are few and far between. If you’re travelling from the UK or further afield, the best option is to fly via Rome or Milan. From Brindisi, it’s a 90-minute drive to the hotel. Flights and transfers can be arranged with the Smith24 Team; call 24 hours a day.
The closest station is Lecce, a 35-minute drive away. You can take a high-speed Trenitalia service from either Rome or Naples to Bari, before swapping to a regional train to Lecce.
Hiring a car makes a lot of sense; you’ll have easy access to the coast, and day trips (to the beautiful Baroque city of Lecce, for example) will be much simpler. Guests can also park for free on the street in front of the hotel. The Smith24 Team can arrange car hire.
Worth getting out of bed for
Go local by getting behind the handlebars of a Vespa, the best (and most stylish) way to explore the town. The hotel keeps two for guests to use; the rental itself is free, so you just need to cover the daily insurance rate and your own fuel. Those planning on making a break for the beach will be pleased to know the coast is a mere 12-minute ride away; pleasure drivers should ask the staff to suggest some scenic routes. In terms of nearby day trips, a visit to Lecce is unmissable. The city’s one-time mania for Baroque architecture has left its mark, earning it the nickname ‘the Florence of the south’. Many buildings showcase lavish ornamentation both inside and out – highlights include the Piazza del Duomo, where you’ll find the cathedral, the Basilica di Santa Croce, Chiesa di Santa Chiara, Chiesa dei Santi Nicolò e Cataldo and the Triumphal Arch. Nature, too, has gone to decorous extremes: just take a walk along the beach at Porto Selvaggio Regional Nature Park, a seven-kilometre stretch of green-fringed rocky coastline. Devotees of the grape will enjoy sipping their way around the Museum of Wine at the Leone de Castris winery, who were the first to bottle and sell rosé wine in Italy. Tours and tastings are available.
The hotel doesn’t have it’s own restaurant, so you’ll need to dine out – the hotel can organise taxis. In the tiny town of Surano (a six-minute drive away) you’ll find authentic trattoria La Bersagliera, where you can dine in a charming, tree-filled courtyard or amid rustic interiors furnished with antiques. The food is rich and soulful; order a selection of plates for the best experience. If, by the end of your meal, you decide that you can’t get enough of the food, owner and chef Rafaello also happens to run cooking classes bookable at Don Totu. For all things seafood, try Nonna Rosa in Muro Leccese (a 15-minute drive), which occupies a choice spot in the town’s picturesque square. The terrace is a particularly atmospheric dinner spot, with one of the town’s handsome churches acting as the backdrop. Those looking for a truly creative meal will enjoy La Farmacia dei Sani in Ruffano (a 15-minute drive), which occupies a large stone-walled room with an arched roof. The menu is concise and many plates are on the smaller side, but this is Puglian cuisine at its creative best.
Thank goodness for Google Maps. If we’d been relying on an old-fashioned A-to-Z to navigate the flat expanse of olive-grove-and-trullo-dotted countryside that is southern Puglia, on the very tip of the heel of Italy’s boot, I’m sure we wouldn’t have arrived at Don Totu until long after dark.
As it was, we pulled up at its enormous front door in the late afternoon, having stopped at the shop around the corner – where an entire aisle is dedicated to dried pasta and another to tomato passata – for emergency chocolate rations. It turns out we needn’t have bothered. We were immediately ushered into the supremely stylish lounge and offered homemade plum tart and coffee; our hosts gracious enough not to send us packing when we committed the faux-pas of ordering cappuccinos after 11am.
The tart was exquisite, as is all of the food at Don Totu. Homemade cakes, bread and pastries, local cheeses and meat all feature in the diet-busting breakfast buffet; if not made on site then sourced as close to the house as possible, in line with its ‘kilometre 0’ philosophy. I say ‘house’ not ‘hotel’, because that’s what it feels like; the term ‘B&B’ far undersells Don Totu’s charms.
In fact, it’s a dimore storica (historic house), that was gifted to the eponymous Lord Totu, a steward of the local noble family, in the 18th century. Not wanting to draw attention to the generosity of their gift, the exterior gives no clue as to the grandeur inside. But what grandeur.
Soaring, vaulted ceilings in honey-coloured pietra Leccese and original tiled floors offer a sense of history that’s complemented by contemporary furnishings worthy of a World of Interiors shoot. No sooner had I finished taking slack-jawed photographs of the vintage chandeliers and artfully arranged local ceramics, making a mental note to colour-match the cream-and-teal colour palette, then we were led out to the achingly pretty, sun-dappled courtyard, complete with wishing well and 1,000-year-old olive tree.
Don Totu’s magic lies in these outside areas. The palazzo surrounds a higgledy-piggledy collection of secluded seating areas and sun-drenched terraces, with surprises at every turn. Through one sliding screen is a spotless, high-tech fitness room, where yoga classes are offered every morning. Another ancient doorway opens onto a courtyard garden, whose vine-covered walkway leads to a huge expanse of lush, manicured lawns, complete with vegetable patch (where much of the fresh produce is grown), daybeds, pergolas, an outdoor bar and swimming pool surrounded by sun loungers.
A cool pool house is decorated with reproduction Matisse blue nudes and furnished with a gargantuan David Hockney art book. It’s here that lunch can be served, having placed an order at breakfast. On its roof is another sun-trap terrace, the ideal spot for catching the last of the evening rays. There’s also a garage, where bikes and two Vespas are available for guests to hire and, back in the main house, a cave-like underground hammam with jacuzzi, rainfall shower and Turkish bath, which can be booked privately by the hour every evening.
It feels like the grounds of an upmarket resort and yet, back in the palazzo, there are only six rooms. All of this is for the sole use of 14 guests, max. You could take over the entire house with your closest friends and family and never have to share the same social space as them.
The tour ended upstairs, through a quirkily-furnished library, at our whitewashed double room. A minimal four-poster bed, neutral soft furnishings and that beautiful natural Leccese stone maintain the calming aura, which made the Pepto-Bismol pink tiled bathroom come as quite a surprise. Floral patterned and with heart-shaped sconces, it’s very #AccidentallyWesAnderson.
These ripe-for-Instagram scenes are everywhere, and nowhere more so than during aperitivo hour (6-8pm), when guests can enjoy local wine or cocktail on the house. We took ours in the almost laughably romantic candlelit courtyard. If this was a larger resort, people would be queuing up to find the right filter for the olive tree and ancient tiles, but it was blissfully serene, our Primitivo-sipping interrupted only by the chimes of nearby church bells.
Idyllic as the setting was, our stomachs were rumbling, and there’s no restaurant or room-service menu (staff vacate the house shortly after 8pm). There’s a well-stocked drinks fridge in the kitchen (soft drinks are free and unlimited) and, if you’re lucky, perhaps a couple of slices of that day’s leftover cake. But, for proper sustenance, you’ll need to venture farther afield.
Make no mistake, San Cassiano is a sleepy town – comatose, even – there’s no ‘parade’ of bars or restaurants. But we were directed towards a kebab shop-cum-pizzeria around the corner, with plastic tables and football screens, which serves absurdly good €4 pizza and strong yet delicious local wine – the perfect pit stop before stumbling the few minutes home to our large, comfortable bed.
The next day was my birthday and we drove to Lecce, 40 minutes away, to taste the local specialties. Don’t miss traditional rustica, a flaky pastry oozing with mozzarella cheese and pomodorino sauce, and pasticiotti, indecently delicious cream-filled cakes. Known as the ‘Florence of the South’, Lecce is a historic tangle of cobbled streets and baroque architecture, complete with a part-excavated Roman amphitheatre – one of Puglia’s must-visit cities.
Bellies and camera rolls full, we returned to Don Totu in the mid-afternoon, which by now felt like our own holiday home. The other guests had grabbed the beach bags provided and headed to the coast, so we had the run of the house, spending the afternoon drinking Prosecco and eating birthday cake by the pool. At 4pm the wonderful staff returned, offering us more drinks and a plate of crunchy taralli. They also recommended we try the next closest restaurant for that evening’s celebrations. A 20-minute walk away in the neighbouring village of Botrugno, La Locanda dei Camini specialises in homemade pasta and fresh fish, washed down again with excellent local wine.
The next day, after a quick pre-breakfast gym session to try to keep all those pasticiotti at bay, it was all too soon time to say goodbye. When we come back, we’ve decided, we’ll hire the whole place and cook up a storm in the dream kitchen – then the fantasy of owning this unexpected slice of Puglian paradise will have come (almost) true.