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After a few days at the glamorous Borgo Egnazia, it’s time to check out another family-run hotel nearby, which we reach by taking the wonderful scenic route along the Adriatic coast. Embracing mud and water comes naturally at Masseria San Domenico hotel, hidden among some 60 ancient olive trees in Puglia, southern Italy, which location alone might tempt you to come and visit, leaving everything else behind to simply sink into an oasis of tranquillity and splendour. It’s one of Italy’s hitherto lesser-known tourist destinations, but nonetheless famed for its fantastic weather – a place where tourists can escape the crowds and the hustle and bustle of the country’s busier counterparts of Rome, Tuscany, and Naples.
Formerly a 15th Century fort and watchtower, once used by the Knights of Malta to defend against Ottoman attacks, the Masseria San Domenico is now a five-star boutique hotel which houses 40 rooms and suites, plus a large spa with 22 treatment rooms. Its kind and welcoming staff usher me to a bedroom within the Junior Suite Garden boasting its own private patio equipped with table and chairs and overlooking the olive groves. The hotel’s own olive-based products in the bathroom are very good and generously sized, there are masses of towels, fresh, crisp bed linen and the decor is probably best described as authentic regional Italian.
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The spacious candlelit Spa Thalasso, which looks on to olive groves stretching to the sea, is accessed from one of the many courtyards and gardens around which the hotel is built, and which are filled with lemon trees, lavender bushes, jasmine, and roses. There are all the sauna and steam room facilities you would expect (the hot tub is at one end of the outdoor pool) as well as treatment rooms. The decor is classical and elegant in the white, light space by the indoor pool, and the atmosphere is one of silence and total calm – exactly the retreat I have been longing for. Within its remit as a ‘medical spa’, guests are met by a doctor who designs a personalised programme that ensures they leave with a glow to their skin and a skip in their step. This is a spa of two halves; the upstairs area is dedicated to thalassotherapy and downstairs is home to holistic therapies, traditional beauty treatments, and fitness. The term “Thalassotherapy” derives from the ancient Greek word ‘Thalassa’ – meaning sea, and all the therapeutic treatments use sea water.
If you fancy an escape to the beach, you are truly spoilt for choice – the hotel has more than one beach, just a stone’s throw away, including San Domenico a Mare, which is reserved exclusively to Masseria San Domenico’s guests. It opens for the summer in June and offers a panoramic pontoon on the rocks, easy access to the sea, and a corner of white sand overlooking a cove with shallow, turquoise waters. Here, you can lose yourself in a book, enjoy the peaceful silence, and spend the day soaking up the Mediterranean sun on comfortable loungers next to the Adriatic, with your every need catered to by a team of diligent staff.
If you fancy something a little different, why not try the hidden gem of La Fonte beach, best known for its pretty cove of white sand shaded by tamarisk trees and adjacent to a water spring? It is perfectly equipped with a bar, sun loungers, and umbrellas and shared by the guests of Borgo Egnazia. There is also a magnificent lagoon-style outdoor pool filled with seawater located right in the centre, so I think now’s the time to jump right in and I shall be right back!
The hotel offers yet another not-to-be-missed activity in its own private golf resort. Considered one of the best golf clubs in Italy, the San Domenico Golf is a prestigious 18-hole course overlooking the sea of Puglia – 6,300 meters of meadows, meandering amongst the olive trees along a lovely stretch of the Adriatic coast and offering spectacular views of the sea – stunning perfection for golfers! Also, there are several places nearby such as Bari, Lecce, Ostuni, and Brinsidi. In Lecce, often dubbed the ‘Florence of the south’, tourists can while away the time marvelling at the ancient buildings, taking in the breath-taking architecture and strolling around the Piazza Duomo or Piazza Mazzini, with an ice cream. Among the sights worth seeing in the baroque town, where gargoyles loom from the towering historic buildings, is the Basilica di Santa Croce, a haunting yet magnificent architectural feat built throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. This is an area waiting to be explored. From the hotel, you can easily cycle the length and breadth of Puglia’s stunning coastline, dipping in and out of pretty ancient villages and relaxing in between on the white sandy beaches below hilltop towns. I stopped for an espresso and then continued on, deeper into the maze of the town. Keen to explore the whitewashed historic towns and glittering sandy beaches, we asked at reception about the best ways to get out and about – staff went out of their way to ensure I had the perfect trip – and surely it was!
“Someone” is feeling rather peckish now and yes, that’s me! All dressed up in smart European attire, linen trousers, loose shirt and cashmere jumper wrap on the shoulders, along with the loafers, as we call them, completing the look. In the San Domenico restaurant, which dates back to the 1700s, a gastronomic feast awaits. Here you can enjoy the very best locally-sourced fresh food and exquisite wine, including typical Apulian dishes cooked by Chef Giuseppe. The specialty of the hotel is the low-calorie Mediterranean diet, devised by a nutritionist, and focusing on using fresh, local ingredients to produce light dishes, all made using olive oil. The food turns on its head the idea that dieting means privation. The vegetable frittata with a pepper puree was a deliciously light and flavoursome lunch. Dinner could be buckwheat pasta with clams or tomato sauce, or langoustine with capers, herbs, and a punchy citrus dressing. If you stick to the Mediterranean diet, the food is high protein, zero carbs. If you do as I do, and opt for a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, plus the bread basket and an alfresco lunchtime glass of rosé, then it isn’t. But it was, hands down, the best tomato and mozzarella I’ve ever had. However, even though I could really fancy a bit of Tiramisu, I think it might have to be a fresh fruit sorbet for dessert.
After a lovely candle-lit dinner, a gentle evening walk around the estate is just the ticket to walk off the delicious food, because it’s when the sun sets and moonlight veils the hotel that the stunning architecture really comes to life. Meanwhile, the room has been expertly prepared for retiring, the service has turned down my bed, drawn the curtains, a freshly-filled water bottle and glass is waiting on my bedside table along with a pair of comfy slippers next to the bed. Time for some sweet dreams, methinks?
No wonder this hotel is one of the leading hotels of the world and you will know where to find me.
Masseria San Domenico, a five-star hotel located in Puglia, Italy rates from £285 for a double room.