The i-escape blog / How to spend a £250 i-escape voucher / Ben Reed

By Ben Reed, Bookings Consultant

Our bookings expert Ben is just back from a long-awaited tour of Italy’s spectacular ‘heel’, Puglia, and neighbouring Basilicata. Read on to discover his highlights of the regions, his new favourite place in all of Italy, and some beautiful places to stay along the way. 

Oh Italy, how I’ve missed you! Our most recent jaunt took us to some incredible hotels in some incredible locations across Puglia and Basilicata, a land of ancient hill-top villages, cave dwellings and the finest of cuisines. The sun shone throughout, the wine flowed and everything was right in the world. We absolutely loved every single minute of it.

Stop 1: L’Hotel in Pietra, Matera

the i-escape blog / Just back from Puglia / L'Hotel in Pietra

This hotel is in a mesmerising location in the ancient stone city of Matera, which has quickly become my favourite place in all of Italy. It’s stunning. A higgledy-piggledy old town that hides a honeycomb warren of troglodyte caves underneath. I could have slept in a bin liner and still loved this place – luckily, L’Hotel in Pietra was slightly nicer. Built into the valley-side with views over the town to the cathedral, it leaves you speechless. The main reception is a 12th-century church carved into the rockface, and the unique rooms are buried into the hillside. We had a stunner – with a bedroom that led through to a sunken cave complete with a separate shower room and Jacuzzi – it was like a Bond villain’s lair (funnily enough, the latest Bond movie featured a sequence shot in Matera). We indulged. It was amazing. Admittedly, there’s a faint whiff of musty damp in the air… but you’re sleeping in a cave, so you need to go with it. I’m still smiling at the amazingness of it all!

the i-escape blog / Just back from Puglia / L'Hotel in Pietra

Stop 2: Le Grotte della Civita, Matera

the i-escape blog / Just back from Puglia / Le Grotte della Civita

As you can probably tell by now, I absolutely adore Matera, and this hotel personifies everything I love about the place. A collection of cave rooms spread over 3 floors tumbling down the hillside with incredible views over a national park. As if sleeping in a cave wasn’t extraordinary enough, they’ve gone the whole hog and made the style and atmosphere completely authentic to the town’s historical roots. It’s pared-back beauty at its finest. Monastic in feel, the rooms are candlelit (but there is electricity and lights if needed), with antique furniture and no mod cons. It may be sparse, but what they do offer is well thought out and just enough for what you need. It oozes character and history. An absolute highlight was the complimentary aperitivo with local wines and an array of nibbles, taken at ancient wooden tables overlooking the canyon at sundown – the swifts are at play and the views are incredible. You really have to pinch yourself.

the i-escape blog / Just back from Puglia / Le Grotte della Civita

We had one of the smaller caves at Le Grotte della Civita, opening onto a shared terrace. All rooms are unique in size and shape – ours was long and narrow, with an egg bath and open-plan bathroom. The hotel has an underfloor heating/cooling system that ensures the caves never feel damp – so there is nothing Grotte about this place (ba-boom! dad joke – tick).

Breakfasts are taken in the grandest church cave with high arched ceilings, with an extensive array of local produce beautifully presented. There’s no dinner service (although private dining can be arranged) but heaps of amazing restaurants are close by. It was a total treat and I would recommend this hotel to anyone in a heartbeat. Utterly unique. Spellbinding. Magical. You get the drift – I like this place. Ideal for honeymoons and special occasions, a stay at Le Grotte della Civita is a genuine one-off experience.


Stop 3: Paragon 700, Ostuni

the i-escape blog / Just back from Puglia / Paragon 700

I’ve been looking forward to visiting Paragon 700 for ages, and it didn’t disappoint. The whole experience just had that wow factor from the moment you walk through the imposing pink façade to the minute you leave. This was a big restoration project and a big space to fill – but fill it they have with huge double-height rooms jam-packed with art pieces on a dramatic scale. Most of the rooms are so big you genuinely have to crane your neck up, gawp and simply can’t help but say “wow”. I felt like a total fanboy. It feels like no expense has been spared; a ridiculously long cocktail bar stacked to the rafters with every spirit there has ever been leads through to a modern open-plan kitchen, stylish and with intent. The Michelin chef has departed, but the ambition remains – we were indulged with a tasting menu along with all the added amuse bouche and local wines they could throw at us. Incredible.

the i-escape blog / Just back from Puglia / Ostuni

The highlight is the huge back garden and pool – it makes Ostuni more of a destination for a longer break and a base from which to explore the area. Temperatures sizzle and taking a dip was a godsend when Ostuni closes for siesta. Ostuni itself is a real stunner and has such a mellow atmosphere in the evening when the daytrippers tootle off. Great restaurants and great vibes. Most are located a 5-minute stroll from the main tourist centre – so it feels local, discreet and under the radar.

Jaw-dropping rooms, a spa, cocktail bar, restaurant, gardens and pool, all within the most magical of hill towns in Puglia. It’s a dream. If you’ve got money to burn on an adults-only break, this is as good as it gets.

Tempted by Puglia and Basilicata? Click here to see our full collection of hotels and villas in the region