It's a hotel in a cave! The Sassi in Matera is a UNESCO world heritage site, a stunning collection of cliff side cave dwellings with ornate carved stone frontages. Best viewed from the ravine opposite the town, the scene is positively biblical. Indeed, Mel Gibson used the Sassi as Jerusalem's double in The Passion of the Christ, but don't let that put you off.
The area was run down and basically a slum until the 70s, but the last ten years have seen the unique charms of the Sassi finally receiving their dues. And the jewel in the crown is Le Grotte della Civita, a boutique hotel where Philippe Starck bathtubs stand proudly in bare limestone caves, the sparseness of the setting is uniquely romantic, artistic and beautiful. The breakfasts are delicious as well, and it's a brilliant spot from which to explore the vast charms of Italy's most neglected region.
Otranto is an ancient port on Puglia's Adriatic coastline and the perfect seaside getaway. We booked into the family run Bellavista hotel on the seafront and were given an 'Otranto card' which entitled us to use the city's bikes free of charge. Cycling down to Porto Badisco, a rocky, lagoon like swimming cove, nine kms down the coast, proved a real treat. However there is heaps to enjoy in Otranto itself. The Romanesque cathedral in the old city is full of ghoulish surprises. A medieval monk called Pantaleone clearly had a lot of fun designing the cathedral's mosaic floor which contains a plethora of weird and wonderful pictures from Noah's Ark and Alexander the Great to King Arthur. And after roaming about, exploring Otranto's delightful nooks and crannies (or sitting under the trees on the seafront with a coffee or ice cream) where better to finish off the day than dining on gargantuan portions of pizza and seafood at La Bella Idrussa, which must surely rank as one of the best value restaurants in Puglia. Get there early if you don't want to queue.
Via Vittorio Emanuele, 18 73028 Otranto
Google map: bit.ly/QtYLRx
La Bella Idrusa
Via Lungomare Degli Eroi 73028 Otranto Province of Lecce, Italy
Google map: bit.ly/MSzW6S
The Masseria Fumarola is a converted masseria, now a beautiful boutique hotel. Every room is unique in its style and decoration and trully delightful. The outside space at the Masseria is fantastic, from a drink on the terrace, al-fresco eating, to the beautiful pool and the surrounding fields. It all adds to your feeling of well being.
But most importantly, the food there is divine!! From the breakfast offering which I still dream off; the amazing cakes (you have to try the carrot cake) to the best ever antipasti buffet ever seen in my life. If I could only eat Masseria Fumarola's antipasti & cake selection, I will have reached heaven.
Stay near Alberobello at the Chiusa di Chietri. As well as the excellent restaurant and pool, you can choose to stay in a genuine trulli house which is part of the hotel grounds.
The atmosphere is enhanced by the local weddings held there (judge the amount of money they cost by the size of the fireworks!
Visit Craco, an abandoned hill town that you can climb all over.
Matera is fascinating (used for fiming The Passion of the Christ).
Don't miss out Lecce, if not for the Roman ruins, for the relaxing and shady park and the fabulous Gelateria Natale!
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