This summer, our founder Jennifer Jones took a dream trip to Italy and based herself in Puglia, home to the iconic cone-shaped Trulli houses, ceramic-filled villages and stunning beaches. Here's The Jones List: Puglia edition.
Italy is my favourite country in the world and after three years it was pure joy to return. This year we explored the area of Puglia which has been on my bucket list for a while. While Tuscany has rolling hills, Puglia has crumbly Milo soil with rows and rows of olive trees. Tuscany is romantic but Puglia is sexy with its heat, vivid turquoise water and stark masserias like an oasis in the desert. It’s a different energy and we found it to be more traditional and encountered mostly Italian tourists escaping the heat of Rome. Bellissima!
Where we stayed: Masseria Cervarola
I’m calling it. Masseria Cervarolo is probably one of my favourite hotels in the world. A 15th century restored farmhouse with 17 rooms, it has redefined luxury for me. Traditional trulli (conical peasants' houses) act as rooms and suites. Maybe it’s as I get older but I find I appreciate the soul of the place more than the room size (which was great since our room was tiny!)
There is a small chapel annexed to the masseria which according to legend made this place a destination for pilgrims seeking peace and inner calm. It certainly worked for me and I spent a few moments everyday here counting my blessings. Another folklore of the masseria is that Spring comes earlier to this specific area and the farmers then adapt their farming schedule around this phenomenon. There is magic within those walls.
The masseria was perfect for our little family. Teddie, our six-year-old made friends instantly with some other children in the huge lagoon pool and they were off having adventures picking figs, plums, apples and grapes or playing on the hammocks strung in the olive groves. The adults were then left to chat on the chairs on the lawn or in the evening spend time under the vaulted ceilings of the shared living room.
The food came under their 0km policy which meant everything was either made in-house or sourced locally. The breakfast buffet was simple yet absolutely divine – I feasted daily on dense nutty wholemeal bread topped with fresh Stracciatella cheese and tomatoes. Oh the tomatoes were just a burst of heaven in your mouth! Dinner was the typical Italian four course bounty and the menu was put up every day so you could decide whether to dine in or head to one of the nearby local villages for a meal. One night they put on an Apulian feast and had tables under the trees hosting all the local delicacies and wine. A small band and a lively dancer entertained us all into the wee hours (even the kids stayed up past midnight!)
The pool area is surrounded by lush vegetation and crumbly biscuit-coloured stones. The pool bar led by the wonderful Paolo served light lunches and strong Aperol spritzes. The size of the pool and the space between the loungers and umbrellas meant that you always felt like you had plenty of space around you and no one would hear you snore if you felt like an afternoon siesta!
All in all the location, service and architecture of this hotel and its wonderful history made it an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I was so grateful to have jetlag as it meant sunrise yoga on our private terrace and then a few hours of work in the glorious living room with a cup of tea made in the honesty kitchen.
Where we stayed: Casa Romigi
The Thinking Traveller provided our next home from home. We spent a week in Casa Romigi with some great friends who joined us from the UK. We loved the freedom that our own place brought us. The local supermarkets are groaning with amazing fresh and affordable produce and so many a night we cooked up a storm. The house had four bedrooms (all ensuite) so there was lots of room for us all. It’s surrounded by olive groves and the pool area was great for the kids and adults too! The Thinking Traveller provides you with a specific app for each house and so we had access to great local knowledge such as the best restaurants, villages, beach clubs and shops. You also get given a local manager to curate your holiday for you so we splurged on massages at the house and a private chef came and cooked us a lovely traditional meal and did the washing up! It was heaven!
Where we went in Puglia
Puglia is dotted with lovely little villages and hilltop towns each with its own flavour and unique aspect. The midday sun made it too hot for us (especially Teddie!) to be sightseeing during the day so we opted for a morning exploration or an early dinner and a wander around with a gelato in hand.
August is also festival season and each town usually has something going on in the evenings – bands in the main square, a light show, a procession. It was just incredible to come out of a restaurant straight into a procession of the statue of the Virgin Mary being carried on the shoulders of men around the streets.
Our favourite towns in Puglia: Ostuni
Ostuni is one of the larger towns in the area with great restaurants, people watching and shops! It is famous for its white washed lanes and hilltop views. While Ostuni is larger we found the smaller villages more charming and easier to visit especially with a 6 year old who really only had 2 hours max sightseeing patience.
Our favourite towns in Puglia: Alberobello
This town is the Unesco site of the Trulli houses. These traditional cone-shaped homes were designed to be built without cement so that the owners could dismantle them easily when the lords came to collect taxes! Absolutely charming, their roofs are painted with mystical symbols of protection and astrology. I loved the whistle shop in Alberobello who sell over 9,000 designs of clay whistles which are traditional to the area. There are meanings behind the designs – the peacock is a symbol of immortality while the rooster represents the strength of the family. We loved wandering through the hilltop streets here especially when the sun faded away and the trulli houses were lit up.
Our favourite towns in Puglia: Polignano a Mare
This is the postcard view most would think of when Puglia came to mind. A small beach sandwiched between cliffs and white-walled houses with the most divine turquoise water. We swam off the rocks into warm, crystal clear water and then wandered around and got lost in the old town.
Our favourite towns in Puglia: Martina Franca, Cisternino, Ceglia Messapica and Locorotondo
Honourable mentions go to these towns. We had fantastic meals in each place and then post dinner wanderings or sitting with an ice cream listening to music in the main squares.
What to do in Puglia: The Caves of Castellana
What better way to escape the heat of the day than to go underground! The Caves of Castellana is the most spectacular and beautiful cave system in Italy stretching to over 3 kilometres at a depth of 122 metres underground. When we were there, the temperature dropped to about 16 degrees, so we had to dig around for the sweaters we wore on the plane. The caves were vast and hugely impressive – the kids absolutely loved feeling like explorers from Indiana Jones. We opted for the shorter tour of 60 minutes which was enough as then everyone was ready for a pizza and a cold drink. The tour takes you deep through the cave system from one enormous cave through smaller ones all along narrow passages.
What to do in Puglia: Beach Clubs!
As Puglia has amazing coastlines, another great way to spend the day is a beach club. Most of the beaches in Italy are a mix of private beach clubs and public beaches. The public beaches are incredibly crowded in August and so we went to a beach club with a great restaurant. Le Palme Beach Club provides sun loungers and umbrellas, a kids club, service directly to your sunlounge, a great fish restaurant and bar. Plus there’s also a lovely little boutique with great linen clothes and accessories.
When our friends from the UK arrived and we wanted to do a long lunch, we hit another beach club called Lido Bosco Verde. The seafood restaurant here is exceptional and the beach bar reasonable. The kids loved playing in the maze while we feasted on oysters and fresh tuna steaks. It was magical! It was definitely better value than Le Palme but the beach is rather narrow and the sun loungers were perched on the last bit of sand so we never even made it to the sea! But the restaurant alone was worth it!
What to do in Puglia: Grottaglie
You cannot go to Puglia without visiting the ceramic village of Grottaglie. I started hyperventilating as we drove in but maybe that’s just me! Home to the century-old ceramic family the Fasanos, each designer offers their own unique version of Italian ceramics. Here you will find the famous paint-splatter plates which are perfect for serving huge bowls of pasta in the middle of the table, the incredible sculptures of folk men and women, sublime glazed fruit bowls and pedestals and the typical ceramic cactus leaf of the area. Whether you are buying from Nicola, Cinzia, Antonio, Enza, Francescao or Giuseppe you can’t walk away empty handed. (Antonio was my favourite by the way!)
What I read
Of course holidays are for putting away the screens and picking up a book. While I read many easy holiday novels (which I’ll list below) the book that touched my soul was Still Life by Sarah Winman. The story starts in 1944 in Tuscany with the chance meeting of a young soldier Ulysses and a middle aged art historian Evelyn and then weaves through both of their lives. The descriptions of Italy from the people to the architecture to the food made me appreciate the country so much more. I felt like I had her voice in my head as I bit into my breakfast tomato! It’s also an incredibly humorous book and thoroughly captivating. I can’t recommend it enough and you will be wanting to book that flight to Italy once you’ve finished it.
The poolside novels which kept me entertained were:
The Maid by Nita Prose
At the Table by Claire Powell
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Never Greener by Ruth Jones