I’m always on the lookout for new and alternative areas, regions or cities for local Hideaways. Therefore, it took me a while before I could add Italy to the LH map. For I was looking for those lesser-known and authentic places. My search was finally rewarded when I came to the beautiful and diverse region of Puglia and its surprising neighbour: Basilicata!
Puglia, in the heel of Italy’s boot, is the southernmost part of Italy, and the weather here is lovely from early spring to late fall. What’s more, I would advise you to visit this area especially in the early or late season, when it is lovely and quiet around here (Puglia being a popular summer holiday destination for the Italians), for in the summer it can get very hot around here!
My journey starts in Bari, but you can also fly to Brindisi and start from there. I drive to the border of Puglia and Basilicata, where I visit a magnificent old estate with working farm: Borgo Valle Rita. This estate gives you an authentic experience of Italian country life, without compromising the comfort of its guests. The enormous estate can be explored either by bike or on foot. But the beach is also close by, a mere ten minute drive away. Unfortunately, most beach restaurants are closed this time of year (late October), but I have the entire beach to myself, and looking out over the sea I enjoy the sight of flying fish jumping out of the water.
The next day, I continue my journey to one of the highlights of this trip, only twenty minutes away from the Borgo: Matera, in the province of Basilicata. This is a relatively unknown and thinly populated region in the south of Italy. The area is characterised by rugged nature, the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coast, agriculture, small villages….a true diamond in the rough. The absolute highlight of this particular diamond is Matera, a city that is made up of two parts: the modern area, with fancy shops, bars etc. and the gorgeous ancient part: Sassi. This part originates from a prehistoric settlement and consists of an extensive series of cave dwellings. Because of this, Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was declared European Cultural Capital of 2019!
Some ten years ago, a small part of Matera was bought by Daniele Kihlgren, a Swedish-Italian philanthropist/ idealist/ philosopher/ dreamer/ millionaire (it is simply impossible to describe people like him one word ). Completely taken in by the beauty and authenticity of old and abandoned Italian villages, he sought a way to preserve them. Never before have I slept in such a magical place and I can heartily recommend spending the night in Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita. This will allow you to experience Matera inside and out, literally, and will give you all the time to wander around in this special city.
My trip continues to the Salento, the southernmost part of Puglia where it’s as though time has stood still in the sixties. The area is relatively unknown and boasts a magnificent rocky coastline, hidden bays and crystal clear water that colours azure in the dazzling sunlight…. The temperature is nice the year round (beware of the summer heat – but you can cool down everywhere!) These are perfect conditions for cultivating superb wines…..the Salento is famous for its great wines, for instance Negroamaro, Primitivo and Salice Salento.
Here, I visit two Hideaways: Palazzo Guglielmo – A beautifully restored 18th century palazzo – a former patrician house – and an enormous hidden garden, and the more budget-friendly la Tana del Riccio – where you live like the locals, with the smell of freshly made pasta and aprons hanging out to dry on the clotheslines on your doorstep. Both are perfect bases from which to discover the Salento. Be sure to take the coastal road to Santa Maria di Leuca – breathtakingly beautiful! And, for a lovely lunch or dinner, go to Cantine Menhir Salento, a winery with exceptional restaurant. Here you can sit outside in a lovely setting, but it is very cosy inside as well. I enjoyed one of the best meals during my stay in Puglia here, complete with accompanying wines.
Saying goodbye to the Salento, I travel onwards to the beautiful white city of Ostuni, but there are so many more hidden gems here: Cisternino; Ceglie Messapica; Martine Franca; Locratonda….Not to mention Puglia’s capital: Lecce, with its wonderful baroque Santa Croce and Duomo. This part of Italy is also famous for the typical trulli that tower over the landscape. They almost seem gnome-like with their cone-shaped roofs. In the old days, they used to house cattle….
I’m staying in a Local Hideaway where everything is just right: Masseria Cervarola, beautifully decorated and with a great restaurant and wonderful staff. And you can sleep in a trullo, as I did. These days, there is nothing Spartan about it, indeed, it is a luxurious and authentic experience.
Century old olive groves, gnarled over time, standing tall and proud in the landscape, mark the old “Via Appia”, one of the most important ancient Roman roads from Brindisi to Rome. Now, I come to the final two destinations of my journey. Two adjacent, luxury Hideaways: Masseria Torre Maizza and Masseria Torre Coccaro. The latter is more suitable for families travelling with children, whereas the first is a bit more modern and is located next to a golf course. Both are a stone’s throw away from the fishing village Savelletri. Here, the fish is fresher than fresh and the fishermen will allow you to taste their local specialty: freshly caught sea urchins! But Monopoli and Polignano a Mare are also close by and worth a visit. Just outside Savelletri is the trendy Coccaro Beach Club, which belongs to both Hideaways.
And then, unfortunately, the time has come for me to return to the Bari airport. Obviously, my time here was too short and I have only seen a fraction of Puglia and the unpolished region of Basilicata yet. But it was enough to be able to tell you that this is a must-see region of Italy. And please do not tell too many people about it…..For wouldn’t it be wonderful if Puglia and Basilicata could remain the hidden gems that they are! Psst, don’t spread the word!
Esther van Onna – Founder Local Hideaways. March 2015
Local Hideaways Italy: www.localhideaways.com