Palazzo Rosso, an 18th-century manor in fairy-tale city Ostuni, has had many past lives. It was once a convent, housed the science institute, police barracks and was once the residence of the city’s first mayor, who used its hallowed halls for meetings with insurrectionists. But, even with that lineage, its current guise as adults-only boutique hotel Paragon 700 might be its most exciting. Dynamic design and restoration duo Pascale and Ulrike have furnished suites with worldly antiques, reclaimed glorious frescoes and gently updated ancient spaces such as the vaults and water cistern with a laudable restaurant and spa for your own restorative needs. Alongside its incredible cache of art, wine and statement furnishings, it also has the city’s largest garden and one and only pool. Updated with reverence to the past, its owners have given it new life for many years to come.
Double rooms from £350.92 (€405), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include a gourmet à la carte breakfast (eggs any-way, teas, juices, breads, garden picks, yoghurts, cold cuts, pancakes and more). For extra, you can add caviar, beech-smoked salmon, omelettes and eggs Benny.
Not content with having the only pool in Ostuni, the hotel also has the largest garden, although you wouldn’t have guessed from the outside, with over 1,700sq m of lavender-scented lawns, herb and vegetable beds, and orange trees. Tables and chairs are set out for guests to idle away the afternoon with wine, and from chunks of ancient stone to avant garde sculptures to giant garden gnomes, there are some intrigues to explore throughout.
The hotel closes annually throughout January.
At the hotel
Private garden, orange grove, wine cellar, spa, small boutique, laundry service and free high-speed WiFi. In rooms: welcome gift, iPad Pro loaded with useful info, a minibar with free soft drinks, linen bathrobes and slippers and free Fragrart bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Each of the hotel’s suites is wonderfully unique, with antiques from far-flung corners of the globe, huge bath tubs, high frescoed ceilings and the odd private terrace or decorative fireplace. However, the Paragon Suite is something of a standout for the huge stone arch behind the bed, the circular two-person tub sunk into the French parquet and artfully weathered historic features, plus its suntrap terrace. And, the Onyx Suite stands apart from the rest for its dramatic all-black interiors lit with elaborate mod chandeliers.
This is the only pool in the town of Ostuni – and it’s a good ‘un, at 15 metres long, with leafy views, a sun-bleached deck topped with shaded loungers, and its own bar.
Once the Palazzo Rosso’s water cistern, set seven metres below ground, this space now serves as the hotel’s well-equipped spa. Body treatments promise revitalising, toning and detoxifying, and massages borrow from Ayurvedic and Mediterranean practice, including ‘shirodhara’, where water droplets rhythmically fall on your head. But we recommend a ritual that mixes up treatments with spells in the Turkish bath, Jacuzzi and chromotherapy shower, followed by a snooze in the Himalayan-salt-lined relaxation room. Out-on-the-town touches include mani-pedis, make-up sessions, waxing and hair appointments (on request). In summer, you can take your massage in a private leafy courtyard of the garden.
Pack light if you have designs on the hotel’s, well, design. Occasionally the owners are willing to part with some of the one-off items and outré artworks they’ve found, so if something in your room catches your eye, all you need to do is ask. There are no TVs in rooms, so maybe slip in a few novels by fittingly Italian writers, such as Italo Calvino, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and Umberto Eco.
Two rooms cater for guests with mobility issues, they’re not adapted, but are generously sized and have huge showers. Public areas – aside from some sections of garden – are accessible too, and there’s a lift.
Bring your (small and medium) furry friends along for a supplement of €30 per day. There's a maximum of one pet per room, and a final cleaning fee of € 200. See more pet-friendly hotels in Puglia.
Little ones and delicate antiques don’t mix, so only over-14s can stay here.
The hotel’s eco-conscience is clear. The owners used local manpower when renovating the palace and took care to reduce carbon emissions and stay energy efficient. The hotel uses more environmentally sound micro-cogeneration heating and natural gas, it’s plastic free and uses very little paper, and the gardens are irrigated with rainwater. Dining is staunchly local, organic and seasonal, using short-chain suppliers, home-grown produce, local fishing crews and non-intensive farms.
Indoors, the oil mill turned table has an appealing Middle Ages made steampunk feel within the stone vaults, but on a sunny day the garden terrace beckons.
If there’s ever a time to pull out your vintage evening wear, this is it.
The provenance of ingredients in hotel restaurant 700 is as exceptional as you’d expect for a menu that gives shout outs to beloved nonnas (and, curiously, Catherine de Medici, who inspired the duck with bitter oranges) and extols the virtues of rustic Apulian cuisine. They’re sourced in season from local fishermen and farms, or as near as the hotel’s kitchen garden. But this isn’t quite meals like grandma used to make; the best of local technique and flavour is put into a more modern context to create five- and seven-course feasts with the likes of cauliflower with miso, almond milk and caviar; cacio e pepe with cured sturgeon roe; mackerel meunière with sea fennel and capers consommé; plus an edit of imaginative desserts, one mysteriously dubbed simply ‘the Breakfast’. On odd Sundays in summer, a convivial and belt-busting brunch is served, with market delicacies, including cheeses and charcuterie, fruits, club sandwiches, croques and hamburgers oozing with regional caciocavallo cheese.
Bar 700 is quite striking, with its 8.5-metre counter lined with vintage tin plating from Argentina and, behind it, centuries-old majolica tiles from the palazzo’s past, plus a monkey statue standing guard. Comfy in soft sofas, guests can work their way through creative and classic cocktails and excellent local wines (tastings can be booked with the resident sommelier), and a fire warms people on chillier eves. Try the refreshing L’Oro della Puglia, where gin is topped up with white wine infused with lemon and olive leaves and gentian; or perhaps the unique savoury sipper (a more potent take on the Bloody Mary) Guacito, where tequila and mezcal are mixed with peperoncino chutney, yellow-tomato sauce and ricotta foam. Small sharing plates keep things civilised too and you can take your drinks poolside if you don’t fancy budging from your lounger.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10.30am, lunch from 12.30pm to 3pm and dinner from 7.30pm to 10.30pm. Brunch runs from 11am to 3pm on selected Sundays in the summer season.
If you fancy an in-room feast, you can pick at boards of spicy sausage and salami or creamy caciocavallo and cacioricotta, or order light dishes of sandwiches and burgers, pastas and salads.
Paragon 700 is in a peaceful residential area to the north of the White City, within walking distance of historic hilltop sights and engaging museums.
Brindisi Airport is the closest to the hotel; it’s just a 30-minute drive away, but the journey has plenty of spectacle, largely following the coastal road and passing through the Torre Guaceto nature reserve. Alternatively, fly into Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport, an hour’s drive away – and, if you have time for ambling, pause at some of the pretty villages along the way. The hotel can arrange private transfers from both Brindisi and Bari from €120 each way.
While it is possible to interrail to Ostuni using Trenitalia services, routes from major cities are somewhat complicated and lengthy. If you do arrive by rail, take note that the station’s a 10-minute drive from the town, so you’ll need to hop on the shuttle or arrange a transfer with the hotel (€40 each way).
You’ll need a car for cruising through the countryside and heading out to the coast, and all the way down to the tip of the heel are must-do day-trip spots: say Lecce for its Baroque treasures or southernmost Santa Maria di Leuca, to see its natural stone arches and dazzling blue waters. You can hire wheels at either Bari or Brindisi airports and Mr & Mrs Smith guests get free parking at the hotel (usually €20 a day).
Worth getting out of bed for
Ostuni is a time worn (in the best way) treasure in a region renowned for being wildly beautiful. Within, its gleaming white buildings and brush-with-the-past monuments make for a magical holiday setting, and beyond there’s the dazzling coastline, the sun-warmed Salento peninsula, waves of olive groves and multi-layered histories to be read through towns and villages with perfectly preserved monuments. But, before you discover all that, the hotel itself is a warren of wonders. The spa in the former water cistern has bubbling Jacuzzis, steam baths, colour-changing showers and healing Himalayan salt walls as well as titillating treatments. The hotel has not one, but two coups in having both the largest garden in Ostuni and the only pool, a large swimmable one at that. There’s 1,700sq m of greenery to nose around in, so we encourage you to waft through the orange groves and kitchen garden, admire the sculptures and garden gnomes and sit and sip a glass of local wine. There’s tour-worthy artwork hanging on the palazzo walls too, with pieces by Suzanne Lipsey, Adrian Boswell, Giuseppe Ciraci and Caio Gracco, plus photos and works by Ad’Opera. And, if the owners are around during your stay, they’ll happily go into the details of designing the palazzo. A courtyard in the garden can be booked privately for yoga and pilates sessions, massages or something craftier: a painting class or stone-carving using remnants from the pool’s excavation. There’s a small boutique onsite selling homewares (and a larger one at the owners’ P Beach club), plus accessories from the Made In Carcere programme where detainees at Lecce’s womens’ prison make pieces to sell. And in the old store room where once olive-oil was abundant, wines now line the walls and the hotel’s sommelier will take you on a tasting through the region’s primitivos, negroamaros and susumaniellos. And you can attend a cookery class with the talented chef so you have something to pair them with. Then, it’s time to see the surroundings in style – the hotel will happily charter its restored carabinieri boat turned private yacht for a jaunt on the Adriatic. The hotel can arrange horse riding, biking with trail maps and point out the area’s most beautiful natural beaches, such as the free to laze on Torre Gauceto. Those who want to know more about the region’s star products should take a trip to the Ostuni Olive Oil Cooperative, to pick up a bottle of liquid gold or learn how to make burrata. And, if you want to make a day of it, complete the trifecta of Puglia’s ‘white towns’ with trips to Cisternino and Martina Franca. And it’s well worth making the two-hour drive to Matera to see its mysterious sassi cave dwellings.
Puglian cuisine has all of an Italophile’s favourites plus some regional specialities: luganega (a cheese and parsley stuffed sausage), orecchiette (‘little ears’) pasta, taralli biscuits, and the spoils of the richly hued sea, of course. Ostuni may be one of the smaller towns in Puglia, but it has culinary clout by the plate-load. Osteria del tempo Perso, close to the Basilica di San Vitale, is low-lit and intimate with an elegant menu that focuses on meat and fish. Try the shrimp on black rice with tomato and pepper, the terrine of squacquerone cheese and pistachio in a bisque, or the scallops on a prosecco risotto with pumpkin. Or up the romance with dinner in the ancient Spanish garden at Cielo Relais La Sommità, where tradition and innovation co-exist harmoniously. Dishes include simple compositions such as pata negra with burrata and sea urchin or more unique creations, such as squid’s ink gnocchi with goat’s cheese, plankton and spirulina cream. For succulent seafood head out to the coast to dine at Miramare da Michele (Via della Torre, Torre Santa Sabina), a laidback diner with spectacular views and a fine line in clams, mussels, squid and more. Further north, chi-chi Cala Masciola at Borgo Egnazia’s beach club has a DJ-spun soundtrack and freshly caught delicacies.
Monna Lisa Caffe, inspired by Da Vinci, is set in a natural cave and is run by a passionate barkeep who makes a mean Hemingway Daiquiri (with tequila, grapefruit and lime juice, plus a spicy garnish of mango, pink peppercorn and ginger).
Every hotel 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 restored-to-glory palazzo hotel in Ostuni and unpacked their lucky ‘plumo’ statuette and something that caught their eye in their hotel room (the owners will sometimes part with their one-off finds for the right offer), a full account of their regal break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Paragon 700 in Puglia…
You can’t miss palatial hotel Paragon 700; in Ostuni, a historic hiltop town nicknamed Puglia’s ‘white city’, it’s the only redbrick building, and an exceedingly grand one at that. And, its scarlet complexion may have been all that seemed remarkable about it were it not for the tireless work of Pascale Lauber and Ulrike Bauschke, highly experienced partners in design who saw the potential in the former Palazzo Rosso and vowed to make it a masterpiece once again. Cognizant of the many lives the palazzo has lived since it was first built in the 1700s, they handled the original vaults, frescoes and stoneware with great care. After all, this was once the home of Ostuni’s first mayor Don Paolo Tanzarella, who held covert meetings here with insurrectionists dedicated to transforming Italy into a democratic republic – meetings which were ultimately successful. The building then became the showcase for the biennial exhibition of the Industrial Technical Institute, housed the Scientific High School and the barracks of the Italian Customs and Financial Police, before falling into disrepair. And so, after falling madly in love with the rundown building, Pascale and Ulrike’s Italian getaway became all business as they – alongside conservator Maria Buongiorno – retouched frescoes depicting mythical beasts, converted the water cistern into a chic spa, hauled upcycled South African bomas, Indian gazebos, French-rustic antiques and some mid-century modern pieces in to make lavish suites, installed local wine bottles in the former olive-oil store, secured an excellent chef; and tamed Ostuni’s largest private garden, adding the town’s only pool and spaces for kitchen ingredients to grow. The end result is a truly unique old- and new-world hideaway just for adults (well, it is terribly romantic), with quite literal doors to the past alongside cosmopolitan cuisine and convivial gathering places (nowadays more for cocktails or wine tastings than conspiring for governmental reform). The renovation has brought life back to the palace and made its aristocratic countenance (in Pompeii red, a pigment that displayed outrageous wealth in the 18th century) an enticing prospect rather than a passing curiosity.