Scents of nearby lemon groves drift through the courtyards of I Tre Bacili on warm Adriatic breezes. This adults-only stay in pastoral Puglia is redolent of old Italy, with its Roman-style vaulted ceilings, dry stone walls, fruit trees and trailing vines. However, striking modern sculptures, paintings and ceramics by local artists bring it bang up to date. With just six rooms and a make-yourselves-at-home vibe, this is a restful retreat from which to explore southern Puglia’s charms, from its Adriatic beaches to the baroque beauty of nearby Lecce.
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Check-in is from 4 to 8pm
Double rooms from £161.50 (€187), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include breakfast, served at the foot of the chapel bell tower in the oldest part of the mansion.
Afternoons can be low key at this one-of-a-kind boutique stay, where reception hours vary and staff may be a phone call away: if you’re planning a quiet one by the pool, make sure you have your own bar snacks to hand.
Closed during winter, from early November until just before Easter, with the exception of the Christmas and New Year period.
At the hotel
Free WiFi, swimming pool. In rooms: air-conditioning, Smart TV, minibar, tea and coffee making facilities, refillable steel water flask.
Our favourite rooms
Paying homage to ancient Roman building techniques, most of the bedrooms at I Tre Bacili have high vaulted ceilings and all use traditional cocciopesto rendering techniques. Sizable works of contemporary art create colourful focal points against clean, minimalist interiors. If you really want to live like a Caesar, go for the vast Barone Suite. Big enough to get lost in, it includes a star-vaulted parlour room that fairly pops with colour, from the designer armchair’s striking menagerie motif to the incredible ceiling fresco by artist Vincenzo d’Alba, all turmeric yellows, chilli reds and sunset oranges.
Lemon trees and towering dry stone walls make the main courtyard one of the mansion’s most evocative spaces. Bonus: this is where you’ll find the pool, flanked by loungers and parasols.
There’s no spa, but massage treatments and yoga classes can be organised at the mansion with advance notice. A sauna and Turkish bath are planned for 2023.
English isn’t widely spoken down here in the rural heel of Italy’s boot, so an Italian phrasebook is essential if you want to successfully conjure up lunch with ice-cold vino in a remote hillside village. And, believe us, you do.
I Tre Bacili is an adults-only residence.
Natural building materials including dry stone and cocciopesto rendering – as favoured by the ancient Romans – have made for a sensitive restoration of the three 18th-century buildings that comprise I Tre Bacili. Modern gadgetry plays a similarly eco-friendly role: solar panels and thermal wall insulation keep underfloor heating and cooling systems efficient, while LED lighting and sensors are used throughout. Plastic use is about as welcome here as a mosquito in your mojito. For that reason, olive-based toiletries (from local producers, natch) come in ceramic dispensers and steel bottles are provided to refill at your leisure with water filtered direct from the Apulian Aqueduct.
We'll let you know as soon as Bistot opens its doors.
Things light and linen work well in Italy’s hottest region.
Breakfast is served in the oldest part of the mansion, just beneath the bell tower of the chapel next door. Fill up on sweet homemade cakes, biscuits and cream-filled pastries and linger over coffee in the courtyard. There are also eggs cooked to order, plus cheeses, salami, salads and fruit to be had.
Coming in 2023, Bistrot will showcase Salento cuisine in a welcoming, homely setting.
I Tre Bacili is a secluded sanctuary in sleepy Spongano, a tiny village set amid the orchards and olive groves of Puglia’s rural Salento region, 15 minutes from the rugged allure of the Adriatic Coast.
Brindisi Airport lies around an hour north of Spongano. Transfers can be arranged, with prices ranging from €80 to €140 one way, depending on the season.
Spongano station is a 10-minute walk from I Tre Bacili and serves local towns and cities including Lecce and Castiglione.
Spongano is too small a village to rely on for all your shopping and dining needs, so you’ll need your own wheels not only to source supplies but also to explore Puglia’s wild, arid landscapes and rocky coastal bluffs. Cars are available to hire at the airport and there’s secure parking at I Tre Bacili for a €15 nightly fee.
Worth getting out of bed for
Take time out of your hectic sunbathing schedule to explore some of the Barocco Leccese architecture that lends Salento’s towns and villages their distinctive character. You’ll find some of the best examples of the style – notable for features such as elaborate porticoes, cornices, balconies and gargoyles – in Lecce and Otranto.
Lecce is the cultural and artistic capital of the region, often referred to as ‘the Florence of the South’ on account of its multitude of baroque monuments, not least the namesake Basilica di Santa Croce. The facade of this eye-popping masterpiece is fairly festooned with pagan beasts, saintly figures and, um, vegetables. It’s enough to make you wonder what the 17th-century sculptors responsible were putting in their morning cuppas.
Over in coastal Otranto, the Romanesque cathedral cuts a far more refined figure, its impressive rose window the standout feature in an otherwise relatively ordinary facade. But don’t be fooled: the trippy 12th-century mosaic that covers the floor inside – all winged gryphons and hirsute centaurs – is outweirded only by the skulls of hundreds of decapitated martyrs stacked high in the chapel ossuary. Stick around though: Otranto also happens to be Italy’s easternmost town, with a pretty port, a castle, some fine fish restaurants and a sandy beach lapped by the turquoise waters of the Adriatic.
Further swimming opportunities abound on both sides of the peninsula. The secluded coves at Castro and Acquaviva are close enough to I Tre Bacili to squeeze in a morning dip before anyone else arrives, and it’s less than an hour’s drive to the long powdery beaches of Gallipoli on the Ionian Coast. Lido Ficò, around 10 minutes from the mansion, promises cocktails direct to your daybed and access to gin-clear waters via a wooden boardwalk across the rocks; entry fees apply.
For a real flavour of Puglian life, find yourself an agriturismo for dinner. These working farms with rustic onsite restaurants promise authentic country fare made with field-fresh ingredients and paired with local wines. Tip well, for the trifling cost of your actual meal would make many a city restaurateur blush.
For a more traditional dining experience, La Piazza in nearby Poggiardo has a pleasant courtyard setting with olive and palm trees. Expect classic Italian dishes including silky buffalo mozzarella, baked Puglian lamb, grilled fish caught that very morning, and dishes that go in hard with the region’s signature ear-shaped orecchiette pasta.
On an unassuming sidestreet near Otranto Cathedral, ArborVitae is entered via a doorway seemingly hewn in rock, with stairs that lead up to… food heaven? At the very least, there are some great-sounding seafood dishes here, including grilled octopus and lobster spaghetti. Grab sunset seats on the leafy terrace for the win.
If you like a little more theatre (of the surreal kind) with your dinner, Lecce’s only Michelin-starred restaurant may well be for you. Made famous – or infamous, more like – by a 2021 review that went viral, tasting menus at Bros can run to as many as 25 courses, with a series of increasingly bizarre dishes delivered to your table with a dramatic flourish. Citrus foam served in a cast of the chef’s mouth, anyone?
Every property featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this 18th-century mansion in Puglia and unpacked their sackfuls of orecchiette pasta and vat of Salento extra virgin olive oil, a full account of their rural retreat will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside I Tre Bacili in the remote Italian village of Spongano…
Tranquillo courtyards and a deckchair-edged lap pool are the beating heart of this diminutive Puglian hotel made up of three 18th-century houses now transformed into a boutique stay of just six modern, minimalist rooms. Well, we say beating heart, but it’s more like a resting pulse: with a vibe that blurs the boundaries between rental and hotel, this history-steeped oasis of calm is a place for leisurely breakfasts beneath the bell tower, dips in the pool between book chapters, or afternoon naps in the cool of your vaulted room. Just 40 minutes from Lecce and still closer to the beach-studded Adriatic coastline including gems such as Porto Badisco and Castro, I Tre Bacili makes a great base for exploring southern Puglia and is a romantic, one-of-a-kind stay to come home to.