Serial hotel-hopper Christina Ohly checks into a serene beach club retreat on Italy's Adriatic shores.
PUGLIA, Italy – The concept of a traditional Apulian masseria, or farmhouse compound, has been taken to the next level at Borgo Egnazia, a spare, sleek, luxurious, and tasteful hotel-cum-spa-cum-beach-club near the charming port town of Savelletri in Puglia. Open for just five years, the blissful compound feels authentically rustic with the service and attention to detail one would find at an Aman resort.
The expansive grounds are fashioned as a maze of pathways that faithfully mimic the rustic streets of the surrounding towns. What could have been tacky has been exquisitely executed, right down to the bougainvillea-laden archways found at every turn. And despite hosting several hundred guests during high season, the hotel never felt crowded. The effect was magical.
Borgo focuses on "nowhere else" experiences and is always introducing something new. Recent offerings include Tarant spa treatments for women that are overseen by a local shaman; moisturizing oils and creams infused with local prickly pear, olive oil, and lemon developed by spa director Patrizia Bortolin; and beachy fashions from the concept shop, like chic caftans from UK-based niche brand Soler, tailored linen shirts custom-made for Borgo by Angelo Inglese, and the latest Allagiulia espadrilles. There is also a new pizza lunch spot and an ever-changing lunch buffet with fish crudo mixed to order.
The hotel also hosts Festa del Borgo three times each summer. The celebration features Apulian food and drink, local customs like the pizzica dance, a horse show that has steeds step in time to music (no joke), and demonstrations of beadwork and other local crafts. For kids, these nights are magical and worth planning a visit around. The luminaria-lighted central piazza and its surrounding streets twinkling with white lights make for the perfect place to stake out a table and savor the feast.
What's On Site
Literally everything you could wish for. Nothing has been overlooked by the Melpignano family, owners of Borgo Egnazia and the local boutique brand of San Domenico Hotels. The service is attentive and relaxed at the same time, from the moment you recieve a welcome drink in your spacious, light-filled room to the minute you want a spur-of-the-moment warm-stone Mascior massage.
There are several tennis courts and three pools — a swimming pool for families and two peaceful adult pools decked with sun loungers and shades and glasses of chilled Prosecco that seem to come out of nowhere. San Domenico Golf Course is across the driveway, and Cala Masciola beach club is a short bike ride away. The club is an ideal spot to spend a day in a cabana gazing out at the azure Adriatic. Water sports like paddle boarding, snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking are available to hotel guests, as are meals of grilled fish and pastas studded with sea urchin at Pescheria da Vito.
One major highlight at Borgo is Vair Spa, a sanctuary with soothing, tailor-made restorative treatments led by barefoot aestheticians. De-stress with herb-infused facials, cocooning cleansing rituals, and aromatherapies made from locally sourced ingredients. This is a destination spa, but guests are encouraged to try something as simple as a Roman bath, an Iyengar yoga class, or a relaxing pedicure. (No grueling workouts or deprivation here.)
It's impossible to find a bad meal in this part of the world, and this holds true for all of the restaurants at Borgo Egnazia. My favorites were the most relaxed: La Frasca for a casual breakfast buffet, Trattoria Mia Cucina for crusty, chewy pizza con prosciutto, and my top pick, the chic ocean-front Pescheria da Vito for billowing white linens and just-caught tuna tartare.
For a special evening, I highly recommend Due Camini. The hotel's fine dining option is so wonderfully designed that I barely focused on the cuisine, though it is excellent and traditionally Apulian. Neutral linens, local limestone, and exquisitely simple light fixtures create a magical backdrop reminiscent of a white-washed castle. Savor grilled octopus and house-made gnocchi with tomatoes grown on site, as well as glasses of local red and white wines. Verdeca house white and Negroamara Cabernet by Masseria Li Veli were among the highlights.
In the Room
There are 192 rooms — 63 in La Corte, the main house, and 92 in Borgo, which are sprawling, bi-level casitas. Most have patios or rooftops for sipping an Aperol spritz. Twenty-eight sumptuous villas, some with six bedrooms for all kinds of family configuration, round out the offerings.
Interiors are spacious and light-filled, but in no way showy or luxe: the epitome of understated elegance. Décor is perfectly muted — beige and cream-colored textiles, stone walls made of local materials (like tuff), sleek TVs, minibars with unlimited beverages, and terra-cotta tile bathroom suites.
Rooms with a View
I stayed in three different room types and loved them all. Bi-level room 37 in Il Borgo was perfect for our family of four (with two teens who need separate space), while room 52, a light-filled accommodation, was the ideal set up for two adults. Best of all was room 182 in La Corte, just off the central courtyard. The flowing space felt like a separate house and was in striking distance to the gym, adult pool, and subterranean spa. I'm coming back to stay at a villa. They look toned-down and tasteful, as with everything at Borgo Egnazia.
This Place Is Perfect For
Couples, families with children of all ages, stressed-out people in need of a relaxing spa experience. Also: foodies, sun-worshippers, lovers of the abundant UNESCO World Heritage sites surrounding the property, golfers, swimmers, chic shoppers. I could go on. The beauty of Borgo is that you can choose to see people or be completely, and I mean completely, alone.
But Not So Perfect For
Anyone averse to the heat or the sun. Both are seriously strong. And anyone who doesn't like fish. It's possible to subsist on pasta, but fruits of the sea are the name of the game.
One of the most wonderful things about Borgo Egnazia is its proximity to so much great culture (UNESCO World Heritage sites, medieval towns) and natural beauty (stunning blue grottoes, rocky beaches, and endless verdant rolling hills).
What to Do Nearby
Outside the hotel gates is Savelletri. It might not seem like much at first glance, but the fishing town is unbelievably charming at night. I especially loved dinner at the design-led Pescheria 2 Mari, with lots of glass and the freshest tuna crudo I've ever tasted. The restaurant is a wonderful place to watch the world go by on a summer evening, as is La Taverna di Umberto across the road.
Best of all was lunch at Ricciolandia (SP90, Torre Canne; +39-33-8357-3010), a massive outdoor spot serving freshly caught urchin prepared all sorts of ways. It's breezy picnic table dining that offers a glimpse into local life at very affordable prices. Ristorante Osteria del Porto is another winner for spaghetti alle vongole and grilled seafood served on a deck overlooking the harbor's fishing skiffs.
Just north of Borgo in the seaside village of Poliganano a Mare: incredible mussels and branzino at Da Tuccino, where the warm waitstaff is topped only by unparalleled people-watching from the terrace. The nearby fishing village of Monopoli is also worth an excursion, as is dinner at the atmospheric Porto Ghiacciolo (+39-34-6223-7762), which has white sandy beaches on either side. The embodiment of the Dolce Vita vibe.
No trip to this part of the world would be complete without seeing the trulli, conical stone houses, of Alberobello. It's touristy, so go in early in the morning, then visit the lovely centro storico in the quiet, sweet town of Cisternino.
Ostuni is another highlight, perched on a hillside overlooking the distant sea, where we had several of the most memorable meals of our trip: Casa San Giacomo (Via B. Continelli, 4; +39-32-8138-8457) for a cozy meal in a grotto-like setting, Il Bella Vista for stunning views of olive groves at sunset, and La Sommita for chic cocktails in a hip hotel atmosphere.
Last but certainly not least is Lecce, a historic city with exuberant Baroque masterpieces at every turn. Basilica di Santa Croce, Piazza del Duomo, and the stunning Museo Faggiano are all must-sees. A meal at the new boutique hotel at La Fiermontina is another reason to visit.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How to Get There
Fly into Bari Karol Wojtyla Airport (BRI) or Brindisi-Salento Airport (BDS). The ride from either is an hour.
I highly recommend a rental car for day trips to nearby Polignano, Lecce, Ostuni, Cisternino, Alberobello, and Savelletri, the sweet seaside town right outside Borgo's front gates.
What to Pack
Bring sunscreen. The sun is searing. The highest SPF I could find was 25, which didn't do much for my pale skin.
Good to Know
The services of Emily Fitzroy, of London-based Bellini Travel, are incredibly useful when planning a trip to this part of the world. Emily is an insider and has access to hole-in-the-wall restaurants like Ricciolandia in Savelletri and scores of impossible-to-book tables at trendy spots like Masseria Cimino. Her incredible team handles everything from car transfers to cathedral tours in Lecce. Consider her the tasteful, connected Italian friend you wish you had.
La Corte Bella rooms start at $831 per night. Click here for reservations.