La Dolce Vita - a short break in Puglia
Also known by it's Roman name Apulia, the 'heel' of Italy is currently one of those hot destinations that's on a roll. No longer such a well kept secret, I recently visited to see what all the fuss is about and check out two equally stunning but very contrasting properties. A Masseria is a renovated Puglian farmhouse and a visit to Puglia wouldn't be complete without a stay in one of these. For a one of a kind spoiling mini break, perhaps to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary, I can highly recommend Masseria Torre Coccaro. It's one of the most luxurious Masseria's around and opened as a resort hotel in 2002. The one hour drive from Bari airport (just under a 2 1/2 hour flight from the UK) is nothing to write home about, a rather dull flat landscape of endless olive trees. However, any sense of disappointment is quickly dispelled on arrival at the Masseria, a brilliant white building with lush pink bougainvillea rising high above the olive groves. Instant smiles all round which only got bigger once we saw our room. To say that the ceilings were high and the bathroom big would be an understatement, the room complete with antique furnishings (and a welcome bottle of Limoncello) oozed character and charm. Luxury hotel rooms, although faultless with their Egyptian cotton sheets and flat screen TVs do tend to be all rather similar, if you're looking for something a little different but still with all the mod cons, then this is the place for you. We didn't want to leave the pretty balcony overlooking the surrounding countryside and out to sea but having forsaken Easyjet's sandwich options (not too much of a hardship!) and with stomachs rumbling it was time to try out the Masseria's restaurant. Now, I'll be honest, I'll eat anything, my nephews and nieces have taken to calling me "the human dustbin" but the friend I was traveling with is much more discerning. Nicky along with her husband, has travelled the world, staying at a fair number of leading and small luxury hotels. Her judgement is impeccable and the restaurant at Masseria Torre Coccaro got the big thumbs up. The menu is original with many locally sourced products and being so close to the sea, fish is a must, even the names sound like some dramatic opera "Polpo e Patate con Salsa di Capperi e Sedano Croccante" octopus with potatoes and capers cream with crispy celery. We opted for seared sword fish steak on olive pate and summer salad, exquisite and worth the trip alone.
The Great British Bake Off, it would appear isn't just a phenomenon in the UK. Nicky and I were blown away by the amount of cakes on offer at breakfast, deep breath " lemon cake, strawberry jam pie, apple pie, pound cake, apricot jam pie, pasticciotto, muffins, bakewell tart, chocolate pie, ciambella, pistachio pie and not forgetting that old faithful madeira cake. Mary and Paul would be in "bake of heaven" and not a soggy bottom or collapsed gateau in sight! Cakes at breakfast might not be everybody's thing or piling your plate high with mozarella, stracciatella, burrata and ricotta but as a cheese freak I was more than happy to do the latter, accompanied by a generous portion of prosciutto.
Masseria Torre Coccaro is the antithesis of a big resort hotel with a multitude of swimming pools, they've just the one but it's gentle sloping nature, reminiscent of a beach makes it perfect for children whilst it soon gets deep enough for doing lengths. There were a few beautifully dressed and beautifully behaved Italian children staying on our visit and the hotel is that odd combination that somehow works, that you could visit for a romantic break (the hotel has been voted as one of the 100 most romantic hotels in the world by The Times), a honeymoon, babymoon with a new born or with children. There's a children's club for 3 - 12 year olds.
Masseria Torre Coccaro is so relaxing, so aesthetically beautiful, that Nicky and I didn't really want or need to leave. We were more than happy to enjoy our room in the watch tower, sitting chatting on the balcony looking out over the courtyard and 18th century chapel before indulging ourselves in the cave like Aveda spa or falling into a carb coma (see breakfast cakes above) on the comfortable sunbeds by the pool.
Just a ten minute taxi ride away from Masseria Torre Coccaro, our second hotel Canne Bianche Hotel and Spa boasts an idyllic sea front location. It's one of the few hotels in Puglia with direct access to a sandy beach. However, this is not the hotel's only USP. It's the interiors that we both loved here. The tasteful lobby has a number of china pomos, something that you can also buy and take home with you. A pomo, which represents a "flower bud"" is a wonderful symbol of tradition, art and poetry and is also a lucky charm against magic spells.
In London, along with Karen I daily head to Tooting Bec Lido to swim an hours worth of lengths. However, with the heat wave this summer the lido has begun to resemble human soup, so you imagine my joy at having the large crystal clear salt water swimming pool at Canne Biance more or less to myself. The saltwater giving you extra buoyancy in which to swim and I loved the fact that inflatables were banned from the pool. On our mini break we were content to swim, read, unwind and enjoy the facilities that both hotels had in spades. However, they were both well placed for exploring this fascinating corner or Italy. You will need a car but the 'White City' of Ostuni is just 20 minutes drive away whilst Alberobello, famous for its Truilli houses can be reached in 30 minutes or for a longer full day excursion, there's Leece, known as the Florence of the south, without the crowds. Again, Southern Italy is having a bit of a moment with neighbouring Matera used as the back drop for the new Ben-Hur and Wonder Women movies.
Canne Bianche also has a spa and like Masseria Torre Coccaro a cooking school, where you can try your hand at Apulia regional cooking learning how to make the traditional ear like Orecchiette pasta. Other lessons on offer include golf, tennis, sailing, horse riding, snorkling, even piano. However, Nicky and I went with the "let's just chill" option and with the busy lives we all now lead, this is often the best. Canne Bianche has been billed as the ultimate Puglian pamper getaway for those wishing to simply unwind. Again, we didn't leave the hotel but returned to London mellower and heavier - I blame all those cakes!
Easyjet http://www.easyjet.com/en/ has flights all year round directly to Bari from London, Gatwick