Palais Gentile is set in the centro storico of the small town of Matino, on Puglia’s Salento peninsula. It’s a 20-minute drive to Baia Verde’s dreamy, white-sand beaches, and in easy reach of tourist-draw towns like Gallipoli and Lecce.
The closest airport is at Brindisi, around an hour’s drive away. Transfers can be arranged: €150 for up to three passengers; €300 for four to eight passengers. Alternatively, lots of international flights land at Bari, which is just under two-and-a-half hours away by car. If you’re planning to hire, it’s a pleasingly scenic journey along the coast and past the Instagram-familiar, cliff-perched town of Polignano a Mare.
The closest station is at Matino, but it’s very small and services are sporadic. Lecce’s station – around 40 minutes’ drive – is larger, with trains to Bari, Brindisi, Ostuni and other local towns.
Trains and buses do exist, but public transport isn’t Puglia’s forte. You’ll really need a car to explore its scattered towns, olive groves and cove-dotted coastline. There’s no onsite parking, but there are free spaces available a few minutes from the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Salento’s exquisite Baroque towns are unquestionably worth an excursion, starting with Lecce, AKA ‘the Florence of the South’. It’s a dizzying profusion of columns, gargoyles and friezes, culminating in the insanely ornate Basilica di Santa Croce, carved with cavorting cherubs, dragons and dodos. Alternatively, head for Nardò – a less tourist-trodden Baroque beauty. On its main piazza, Caffè Parisi is a favourite with locals: follow their lead and order the spumone, a triumphant confection of toasted-almond slivers with pistachio and hazelnut gelato. On the coast, Gallipoli (‘the beautiful city’) is aptly named, with a sea-ringed centro storico. Stroll its fishing port, 14th-century sea walls and boutique-dotted backstreets (head to Nugae Galleria for jewellery from under-the-radar designers, and Blanc for ceramics, vintage finds and cocktails in the courtyard).
Then, of course, there are the beaches, lapped by the Ionian sea. This side of the peninsula arguably has the edge over the east coast, whose swimming spots – though beautiful – tend to be craggy underfoot. Fifteen minutes’ drive from the hotel, Baia Verde offers white, dune-backed sands and sunny shallows, while the smaller, wilder coves at Punta Pizzo are edged with pines and gorse.
If you’re feeling lazy (and a little spoiled for choice), the hotel can do the legwork, arranging cooking classes, sailing trips, or chauffeur-driven forays in a gleaming vintage Fiat.
As luck would have it, one of Puglia’s most accomplished eateries is almost next door; the upscale Foscolo. After a martini at the ground-floor bar, head to the roof terrace for dinner, starting with the stellar seafood crudi with Gallipoli-fished purple shrimp. A few minutes’ walk away, the convivial Danilo Osteria Creativa is also strong on seafood, accompanied by a glass or two of Salentine rosé. In neighbouring Casarano, above the olive groves, is the hilltop Villa de Donatis, whose epic set menus follow the seasons with real flair (in summer, a confit-tomato Caprese, say, or aubergine parmigiana alla leccese). Desserts are a highlight, so save space – the tiramisù is sublime.
Two minutes’ walk from Palais Gentile, Caffè Arco Antico is a no-frills neighbourhood joint by the central piazza. Claim a pavement table and cool down with a caffè leccese; espresso, ice and a hint of almond milk. Every local bakery serves pasticciotto, Puglia’s cream-filled signature pastry, but for the definitive version (freshly baked and not too sweet) head to Pasticceria Andrea Ascalone in the charming nearby town of Galatina.
Catch the sunset from Palais Gentile’s terrace with a glass of prosecco in hand, or ask the owners to arrange an aperitivo, with locally-made burrata and fennel-seed-sprinkled taralli. Another prime hangout for a sunset spritz is the rooftop at Palazzo BN in Lecce. Perched on top of the Banco di Napoli’s column-clad former HQ, it’s a sleek Campari bar, where olive and pomegranate trees frame show-stopper skyline views. The coast’s dotted with beach clubs but Solatio is a standout, with a cool, canvas-shaded deck and an excellent line in cocktails.