“A fantastic family-friendly resort in the heel of Italy, with sumptuous Conran-esque design, great local food, a luxe spa and no end of activities on offer”
The accommodation offering is complex and wide ranging, so listen up, I'll say this only once.
THE HOTEL / LA CORTE has 60 or so rooms spread over 2 floors. Couples should book a room here; an entry-level La Corte Bella is more than adequate for most. The larger La Corte Splendida rooms have space for an extra bed, which is handy for parents with 1 child visiting in winter, when the other options are closed (or too pricey). We stayed in one of these, with a vast sea-facing terrace, and loved the creamy marbled interiors, with their neat quartets of candled niches offset by quirky decorative touches like chunky iron keys and urns of salt crystals. Some might find it a bit too reminiscent of a Habitat showroom - you half expect to find a price tag on the oversized rococo candlesticks - but we loved it. Beds (superking or twin) are sink-right-in comfy, with 6 pillows and a bewildering array of lights. Bathrooms are big and beautiful, with chunky limestone basins (his'n'hers, of course), an ample wetroom (and separate bath), plus waffled robes and slippers (even for our 4 year old).
Next up is THE BORGO, a kind of remodelled Puglian village complete with piazza, cafe and bell tower, which - though it may sound cheesy - is actually beautifully executed. Situated next to the hotel and linked by narrow alleys, it offers a further 90 rooms and Casettas. The latter are an excellent family option, compact but charming. Spread over 2 storeys, they have 1 or 2 bedrooms, a rustic-chic living area with a tiny but serviceable kitchenette, and a pretty walled garden with citrus-shaded table and chairs. The look is less affected than the hotel rooms: think tatty straw hats and dove-grey-painted taverna chairs. There's also a roof terrace which you won't use as it's so damnably hot in summer. The Borgo Splendida rooms are the best option for a couple with 1 younger child coming in summer (only because the Borgo effectively closes down in winter, and if it chances to rain you won't enjoy dodging the puddles). Book a standard Borgo Splendida on the ground floor if possible.
Still with me? OK, if you have cash to splash and are coming with the family (and/or nanny and/or grandparents), go for one of THE VILLAS. They're arranged in 7 clusters of 4 (so that's 28 in all, well done), each villa having its own walled garden which bursts with colourful flowers, prickly pear cactus, aromatic rosemary beds; and a pool. They each sleep 6-8 in 3 double/twin bedrooms (all ensuite) plus a nanny/box room, all spread over 3 floors. We loved the wraparound balconies with marble stairways down to the pool; not so keen on the fact that the lower-ground floor gets little or no natural light. You get 2 living rooms (one up, one down - with a whopping home ents system), a full kitchen and diner (not that you'll use it much, as buffet breakfast is included and, let's be honest, the aroma of fresh pizzas and seafood wafting over from the restaurants will put paid to any self-catering plans). But you do get basic starters (tea, coffee etc) and a washing machine (handy for avoiding astronomical laundry bills); and a private chef is available. The decor is more colonial and perhaps less chic than the other rooms, but it's spacious and comfy and you won't spend much of the day indoors - especially with such a tantalising private pool right outside. It's a great option for an extended family group, or you can even book 4 adjoining villas to make a supervilla for 20 well-heeled friends.
There's an equally wide range of dining options on site, but bear in mind that some only open in summer (May-September).
Due Camini (open all year) is the fine-dining à la carte restaurant which doubles as the breakfast room. Sleek tables sit under a white vault hung with illuminated bottles, while outside is a covered terrace for summer. We enjoyed our marinated seabass carpaccio and artichoke flan starters, and the cavatelli pasta with scorpion fish and tarragon too. Of the mains, my wife's huge slab of bream with braised lentils and fennel seeds was faultless, while my deboned quail with sage stuffing, pak choi and potatoes was fine without being outstanding. Three caveats: it's not cheap (see Rates), desserts are average (as often in Puglia), and if you come with children you might find the atmosphere a little formal.
If you want something less formal, A Pizzeri (summer only) offers pizzas straight from the wood-fired oven, served on a shaded terrace overlooking the pools and olive groves. Children can also create their own pizza toppings.
Or La Frasca (summer only) is a laid-back buffet restaurant with occasional barbecues on the terrace overlooking the kids' pool. Next to this is Mia Cucina (summer only), an Italian tavern with sociable dining and seasonal cooking lessons (book in advance). There's also a lovely space for kids to eat; and even in winter, simple but healthy kids' lunches are offered inside the Trullalleri club.
At night, a groovily lit cocktail bar (open all year) offers a vast range, including a superb signature mix of apple vodka, galliano, mint syrup and pink grapefruit. Plus you've several outdoor bars in summer, including 2 by the pools, whose attendants will appear as if by magic when you look up from your book.
In short, you could spend a week here without leaving the resort and still not run out of things to try; but if you want a change, it's only 2km to Savelletri (several fish restaurants, including Umberto which we enjoyed); and there are other towns within a short drive which have fantastic restaurants, from Michelin-starred affairs to classic Italian trattorie and gelaterie. Top tips include La Sommita in Ostuni (Michelin star at a snip), Al Fornello da Ricci in Ceglie Messapica (some say it deserves 2), and Pasha on the square in Conversano (more rustic but no less delicious).
Back in the hotel, breakfast is a rich buffet of sweets and savouries, from wholegrain croissants to superb chocolate cake, from child-pleasing cocoa puffs to parent-pleasing muesli with yoghurt and prunes. Our favourite start to the day was succulent cherry tomatoes with tangy pecorino and prosciutto. There's an egg station too, and dietary needs are well catered for (rice milk, soya milk, gluten-free bread on request). Just don't expect caviar and prosecco, and you won't be disappointed!
This is a great place to come with kids of any age: the accommodation is extremely flexible, there's a creche and kids' club which covers the whole range from 8 months to teens (free for all except under 3s, because of the extra cost of qualified nannies), and plenty of thing to do on and off site, from tennis lessons to kite-surfing to making pasta or pottery. Best of all, in school holidays, there are plenty of other children to play with, from the UK, Italy and elsewhere.
We think the Borgo Casettas are the best family option, with either 1 bedroom (a couple + 1 child) or 2 bedrooms (a couple + 2 children). You also get a small kitchenette, sitting room, compact but safe walled garden, and 2 bathrooms (one upstairs, one downstairs). Both options can fit an additional baby cot at a squeeze. The biggest villas have a pool, cinema room and private chef. If you are a couple + 1 baby, the Borgo Splendida and Magnifica rooms should be adequate for all but long stays; go for a ground-floor one if possible.
An alternative to the Borgo - especially in winter when it closes down - is a pair of communicating rooms in the main hotel. One or both can be set up as twins, and older children will like the additional independence, though it costs more (note hotel rooms include breakfast only, while Borgo accommodations include dinner too). For a couple + 1 child, a La Corte Splendida with extra single bed should be adequate for short stays (as you're all in one space); ours had a huge, walled terrace for our 4 year old to play on while we lazed, and clever fold-out lights by the bed so we could read at night without waking him up.
English-speaking babysitters can be arranged (though the teens' club is open quite late in summer, so you may not have to)
Baby listening equipment available on request
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
There's a fantastic kids' club, split into the Trullaleri (for 8 months - 12 years) and Fichi d'India for teens up to 16 (though actually it tends to be just the younger teens). It's open from 9.30am-8pm in summer (when it gets very busy; book ahead), or 9.30-5 in winter (when it's just a few kids). Best of all, it's free for all except the under 3s who pay a small charge. Younger ones can get stuck into drawing, crafts, Lego and soft play; teens might be taken on treasure hunts, ceramic painting classes or cooking lessons; and all ages will enjoy the kids' pool (a huge one, with shallow section and plenty of space for parents who prefer to be near their charges). The staff - a mix of Italians and Brits - are all charmingly competent, led by the wonderful and unflappable Charmaine (a locally resident Scot). They will change babies' nappies, lull them to sleep (in a separate room), apply suncream and supervise lunch
If your child is in the kids' club, lunch will be provided - either at the kids' restaurant by La Frasca with low chairs and tables, or (in winter) in the main playroom. Our son gobbled up 2 portions of his orechiette pasta with ragu, and asked for it again at dinner. If you book half-board, it includes supervised dinner for over 3s, available from 6.30-8.30pm
The nearest big, sandy beaches are 20+ minutes' drive away. The outdoor pools are not heated