“A luxurious family-friendly retreat in the heel of Italy, with sumptuous design, great local food, a luxe spa and no end of activities on offer”
We loved the vast swimming pools (indoor and outdoor) and the superbly run creche (with Puglian and English staff, all of them charming and unflappable). Other guests rave about the delicious seafood and pasta at the gourmet restaurant, or the perfectly manicured 18-hole golf course washed by sea breezes. In summer, you'll bless the al fresco pizzeria and the 2 beach clubs (one - rocky - within walking distance, the other - sandy - reached by shuttle). In winter, the no-expense-spared Vair spa comes into its own. Or, if you happen to be scouting for a large scale meeting or wedding venue, there are few better in this part of the world.
In terms of accommodation, you can choose anything from a cosy double room to a supervilla for 6-20, so have a read of our Rooms page and take your pick.
- Flawless interior design, with creamy limestone interiors, quirky decorative touches and literally thousands of flickering candles and oversized lanterns
- The spa appears to be run by Roman goddesses: my wife's 2-hour massage-facial combo left her (but sadly not my bank manager) blissed out for days
- The Casettas (townhouses) in the Borgo are beautifully rustic-chic, perfectly sized for a family, and decent value, too
- You can book your kids into the creche or teens' club without guilt: they'll have a whale of a time, and if you don't believe us, bag a lounger by the sleek kids' pool and keep a sunglassed eye on them
- Puglia feels authentic and charming - yet it's so easy to reach. Discover its ornate Baroque hilltowns, freshly unearthed Roman ruins, cliff-ringed sea coves and gnarled olive groves
- It's a pricey place, and extras can mount up, especially if you end up eating in all the time (though it's nice to see a free creche, kids' club, beach shuttle, WiFi and bikes)
- Puglia can get very hot in summer, and crowded with Italians in August
- It's big and some might find it all a bit too perfect - you'll be in a beautiful bubble rather than the real Puglia
- In winter, the dining options are limited (especially for families), and the clientele is largely corporate
- In July and August, couples might find it overrun with excited little ones
- Cots and bed guards
- Changing tables
- Bottle warming
- Highchairs in all restaurants
- Hotel shuttle has car seats available
- Child seats can be put on push bikes (book ahead of time)
Some equipment may need to be requested in advance
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
There's a fantastic kids' club, split into the Trullaleri (for 6 months - 12 years) and Tarantari and Marinai for teens up to 16 (though actually it tends to be just the younger teens). It's open from 9am-6pm and gets very busy; book ahead. 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. 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 Puccetta 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
- Tennis: 3 courts, plus tuition if required
- A choice of swimming pools
- Playground (slide, climbing frame, trampoline)
- Occasional football matches
- 2 beach clubs within a short drive or 10-minute walk
- A teens' games room: Wii, Playstation, multimedia, billiards
- Windsurfing, kitesurfing, sailing and fishing trips
- Horse riding and go-kart racing nearby
- Cycle to a local farm
- Carrisiland Acquapark: pools, flumes & pirates - near Lecce (1 hr)
- Indiana Park: rope ladders, tree-climbing, cable slides...
- Zoo Safari: 50 species, from hippos to penguins, plus dolphin displays and amusement rides; gets rave reviews (though it's not cheap)
- Boutique Resort
- 63 rooms, 92 townhouses, 29 villas
- 5 restaurants (3 seasonal); self-catering available
- All ages welcome
- Open all year
- Creche / Kids Club
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
- Daily Maid Service
- Towels & Bedlinen
- Concierge Service
- Tennis Court
- Pool Table
- Bicycles Available
- Cigar room
- Paddle court
The accommodation offering is complex and wide ranging, so listen up, I'll say this only once.
LA CORTE (HOTEL)
With 63 rooms spread over 2 floors, couples should book a room here (adults only June-Sept). An entry-level La Corte Bella is more than adequate for most; Vista Mare options give sea views. We stayed in one of the larger La Corte Splendida rooms, which have space for an extra bed (handy for parents with 1 child). We loved the vast terrace and creamy marbled interiors, with their neat quartets of candled niches offset by quirky urns of salt crystals. Beds 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).
This is 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 92 rooms and Casetta's (townhouses). 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 hot in summer. The Borgo Splendida rooms are the best option for a couple with 1 younger child coming in summer.
THE VILLAS (sleeping 6-8)
Still with me? OK, if you have cash to splash and are coming with the family (and/or nanny and/or grandparents), go for a villa. Arranged in 8 clusters of 4 (so that's 28 in all, well done), each villa has its own walled garden bursting with colourful flowers, aromatic rosemary beds and a pool. Spread over 3 floors, they each have 3 ensuite double/twin bedrooms plus a nanny/box room. 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) and a full kitchen and diner (not that you'll use it much). Expect basic starters (tea, coffee etc) and a washing machine (handy for avoiding astronomical laundry bills); a private cook is also available. The decor is more colonial and perhaps less chic than the other options, but it's spacious and comfy and you’ll spend most of your say by the tantalising private pool right outside. Extended family groups can even book 4 adjoining villas to make a supervilla for 20.
- Air conditioning
- Central heating
- Cots Available
- Extra beds
- Internet access
- Safe box
- Satellite TV
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, desserts are average (as often in Puglia), and diners must be 12 years old or over.
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 is a laid-back traditional restaurant with occasional barbecues on the terrace overlooking the kids' pool. Next to this is Mia Cucina (summer and shoulder season only), an open kitchen serving traditional recipes and offering seasonal cooking lessons (book in advance). Here, we enjoyed a wonderful aubergine and parmesan starter and Orecchiette pasta with beef ragu - fresh, light and beautifully rich. 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 within a short drive there are local towns with fantastic restaurants. 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!
- Chef on request
- Children's meals
- Organic produce
- Vegetarian menu
- There's plenty to do within these walls: have a swim in one of the pools, including an outdoor pool that is heated until November or a heated indoor one in winter; book a tennis session on one of the 3 grass / astroturf / paddle courts (racquets and balls can be borrowed without charge) , or ask about their summer tennis academy; or explore the resort's games room (table tennis, billiards, Wii) and playground (trampoline, swings etc)
- You've the luxury of an 18-hole golf course on your doorstep (San Domenico) which gives preferential tee times and fees to guests
- Walk or cycle 10 mins to the rocky beach club of Cala Masciola behind the golf course, or take the free shuttle to a sandy one at La Fonte; both have umbrellas, snacks and drinks, though in truth the beaches are small and not that great - there are better ones a half-hour drive away at Torre Guaceto nature reserve
- Rent a bikeand explore the walled lanes which bissect the age-old olive groves around; the land is flat and, with careful planning, you can avoid major roads
- An obvious place to head for is the ruined Roman town of Egnazia (1km away): sadly, you can no longer walk through the houses along the ancient Via Traiana, but the knee-high patchwork of walls and the extensive museum exhibits (including a saucy mosaic of 3 ladies) paint a good picture
- The nearest village, Savelletri (2km) is a somewhat drab fishing harbour with bobbing boats, simple seafood eateries, and trays of fresh caught sea urchins and sardines at the market
- Better to jump in the car and head to Ostuni or Martina Franca, 2 of our favourite Puglian hilltowns, with ornate Baroque churches, shiny flagged piazzas, shady public gardens and a wonderful sense of la dolce vita; or up the coast to Polignano a Mare, with its cliff-ringed cove and Cycladic whitewashed lanes
- You can't miss the region's famous trulli: small, conical, stone-and-slate houses dotted among the olive groves, looking for all the world like elfin hideaways (give Alberobello a miss, though - it's trulli gone Disney)
- The Grotte Castellana, north of Alberobello, offers 3km of stalactites and -mites, atmospherically lit
- Back at base, choose from an almost bewildering array of treatments at the Vair spa, but be prepared for London prices and betoga'd masseuses wafting about like goddesses
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Boat trips
- Cooking classes
- Historical sites
- Horse riding
- Museums / galleries
- Pool table
- Private guided tours
- Shopping / markets
- Tennis coaching
- Well being
- Wine tasting
Best Time to go
September and October are great, especially as the sea has warmed up over the summer. Puglia is lovely in spring (April-May): wild flowers run riot (though the sea is chilly). Winter (Nov-March) is popular with the conference market, so "leisure guests" might feel slightly out of place.