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  • I had been dreaming of a family holiday in Puglia for years. At last I journeyed there, for the first time, together with Victor and Jivan. Our heritage is Italian and we are all equally obsessed with Italy. The food, the language, the people, the agriculture, the culture, the slow way of living, and of course the coastline resonate deeply with all three of us. This faraway travel was also a time for us to connect, away from the hustle of our urban existence, outside of commitments, work and friends—it was beyond cherished time. Each day, each breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between, we were together, connecting! Puglia has so much to offer so I will break it down the way the trip unraveled.

    We began at Borgo Egnazia, which included hands-down the most magical first night I have ever experienced on any holiday, at the Festa Del Borgo. What followed was our time at the agriculturally- and historically-abundant hotel Masseria San Domenico. From here we explored day trips to the breathtaking and iconic Polignano De Mare, the white city that is Ostuni, and the architecturally-enchanting Alberobello, which captured my heart like no other.

    Long-Awaited Stay: Borgo Egnazia

    Our Puglia adventure began at Borgo Egnazia. The hotel had been at the tippy-top of my Puglia wish list for years—she is pricey but worth it. We stayed just two nights, to have the experience. “Borgo” means village and a village it is. I could get lost within the various buildings’ walls, all carved from limestone, with their vibrant and fragrant bouganvillia- and rosemary-adorned archways. 

    On the property there are so many delicious eateries highlighting the local Puglian cuisine, from a casual trattoria to a higher-end formal restaurant. Wherever you go, be sure to ask for the famous almond iced coffee, caffè leccese. Also make your way to the beach club and restaurant Cala Masciola, just a three- to five-minute golf cart ride away. The eatery provided without doubt my favorite fare from the trip. I have eaten some of the best vongole all throughout Italy, but here they took it to a whole new status.

     

    As for activities, Cala Masciola beach club offered sunbeds on the sea as well as water sports, which were great for Jivan. The pool is grand, to say the least, and beyond swoony. The Vair Spa was newly designed and reimagined, and certainly enticing—I experienced the new aromatic offering and spa treatment. Even the shop exhibited thoughtful attention. It was populated with flowing, dreamy linen dresses and rattan accessories, most of which the staff wore. From design to execution, all was so beautifully curated!

    We arrived on the very night of the Festa del Borgo—a sensorial celebration steeped in local tradition, over the top and charming at once. The piazza came alive with street performers, animated musicians, artisans practicing ancient crafts, and the most delicious Puglian food. The festivities only got better as the party went on—so much pasta, even more wine, and crazy fun was had with my guys! The night concluded as we danced on our rooftop to a one-man band— we named him “Pipo”. The song he played will forever be burned in my memory. From the iced coffee to the mouthwatering vongole to the floor-grazing linen dresses and buzzing festa, all of my senses were heightened at Borgo Egnazia.

    Echanted Stay: Masseria San Domenico

    Next we moved over to Masseria San Domenico and this little lady has never been more in her element. The property is an oasis of a 14th-century farmhouse turned five-star luxury resort—the first masseria, or farm complex, of its kind to be turned into a deluxe boutique hotel. Steeped in history, the tallest building on the expanse was used by the Knights of Malta as a watchtower. Here we were immersed in a century-old olive grove and yet steps from the Adriatic. The ancient courtyards were exactly the respite we all needed. The vast freeform pool overlooked the restored buildings was surrounded by the olive groves and manicured grounds—consummately calming.

    In my wildest dreams I could not imagine more fertile and vibrant land. It was one where I could literally pluck ripened figs from the tree outside my room and savor it for breakfast with fresh ricotta and honey. (Yes, this really happened — daily!) I discovered that there in Puglia the temperature could drastically change in a single day, sometimes by the hour. This means as the fruits ripen they constantly expand and contract to adapt to the shifting climate, thus cultivating more intense flavor! Fascinating—they are a pure product of their environment, and their flavor provides a strong sense of place.

    From fresh fish to olive oil pressed from the Masseria San Domenico’s own groves and much more, the delicacies of the grounds and surrounding area are vast. These local spoils are put to delicious use in the hotel’s eateries. Under its dramatic 18th-century arched and vaulted ceiling, the San Domenico restaurant offers traditional, seasonal Puglian fare. If you fancy something even fancier, make your way down to the edge of the water and visit restaurant La Nassa. The beachside fine dining establishment fittingly specializes in seafood, with an emphasis on traditional preparations.

    While much is notable at Masseria San Domenico, the spa is certainly among the most eminent features. In fact, during my stay I chose to indulge my body in not one but two treatments. The hotel is known for its thalassotherapy, which is the use of seawater for therapeutic purposes. The spa’s practice takes advantage of the mineral-rich seawater and seaweed from the nearby Adriatic Sea, incorporating the two elements for purifying effect. I opted for one such thalassotherapy service. My other treatment, an olive oil envelopment and chromotherapy, similarly took advantage of the native abundance. The practice entails an olive oil scrub to exfoliate and smooth the skin, a chromotherapy, or color therapy, body pack to promote harmony, and an olive lipogel to nourish those newly-silky-smooth gams.

    With a trip that had been twinkling in my mind’s eye for years finally in fruition, I can say that Puglia delivered all I had hoped, plus wild, unspoiled, and altogether new experiences my family and I could never have otherwise dreamt. With a renewed sense of wonder, below I share all the highlights and unexpected gems from our trip, including my fave restaurants, gelato, tour guides, and more!

     

     

    Polignano a Mare

     

     

    Alberobello

    The magically historic village of Alberobello is a must-visit! The conical-roofed whitewashed structures called “trulli” are iconic to the region.

     

     

    Ostuni

Puglia, Italy

  • Polignano a Mare

    We took a day trip to Polignano a Mare to visit the famous seascape and explore the town. Polignano a Mare is known for its beautiful coast and its views. A shining gem on the Adriatic, the town is perched atop a 20-meter-high limestone cliff that sits above the crystal-clear waters. Here, at Gusto Caruso, I indulged in the best gelato I have ever savored—get the almond! After that I was off to Il Super Mago del Gelo to sample the “caffè speciale”, a hot local drink made of coffee, amaretto, and cream. Yum!

  • Ostuni

    In the evening we ventured to Ostuni, a town perched high atop a hill with a tumble of white-washed buildings and views of the countryside’s endless olive trees. In exploring this charming maze of a white city we navigated through ancient archways and narrow streets that led to labyrinths of stairways. It was unexpected at each turn—a narrow stairway leading to our restaurant was populated with cushions! As the sun set we enjoyed aperitivo hour and witnessed Piazza della Libertà come alive at night.

  • Osteria del Tempo Perso

    For dinner in Ostuni we dined at Osteria del Tempo Perso within the “grotto”, which is actually carved out of a marble cave. Dishes here are super local but incredibly creative. We loved everything we ordered, but the ribs are absolutely not to be missed. I was worried about this plate, as I never would have imagined having ribs in Italy, but they were fantastic and unique.

  • Masseria Il Frantoio

    A restaurant must in Ostuni! Here on this masseria, or farm, the family greets you with a tour of the grounds, then cooks a set eight-course rustic meal with wine pairings—and everything is grown on the property! The charm of Masseria Il Frantoio is unparalleled and their love of the land and of its food is highly evident.

  • Alberobello

    The magically historic village of Alberobello is a must-visit! The conical-roofed whitewashed structures called “trulli” are clustered in pockets and are iconic to the region. The design and architecture, built in 1550, is oddly perfect and ridiculously efficient. I have traveled the world extensively and never has my heart been captured more than in Alberobello. This is one thousand percent because of Mimmo, (@trulliepuglia), our incredibly passionate local guide who is not only a native but also an expert. Mimmo is without doubt my new favorite human!  During our tour we learned a ridiculous amount of history, laughed a ton, nibbled on antipasti, and sipped on local wine in a renovated trullo, (singular of “trulli”), and then visited a trullo that was untouched, captured in time, from WWII. While in Alberobello I happened upon a village dinner outdoors amongst the charming trulli. I am unsure how often they do these, but if you can, go! Mega, mega inspiration for my next EyeSwoon dinner! And you absolutely must take a tour with @trulliepuglia. Without Mimmo’s expertise we would have never learned about the village’s charms or to met the locals as we did!

  • Terra Madre

    We were dying to visit Terra Madre, the much-raved-about veggie-centric restaurant and organic garden in Alberobello, but sadly our plans were dashed. I am highlighting it here anyway so you can pay it a visit since it is such a singular spot! The restaurant, described as a “celebration of vegetables”, is as farm-to-table as it gets. Its organic ingredients are grown and harvested on-site and make use of the compost created by the owners’ hotel, Charming Trullo. Terra Madre’s aim is to create simple fare with bold flavor, the kind you might get at home, using high-quality organic vegetables that simply stay on the tree or in the ground until they are bursting with flavor—always at peak freshness, never frozen. The restaurant itself is inside a trulli house, and you can either eat indoors or out on the veranda. Either way, your view is of the charming organic garden, tidy little rows, hand-written wood posts, and all.

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