“Historic palazzo dominating the white hilltown of Ostuni, with Moorish patios and creamy interiors from Milanese boutique Culti”
Scattered about on various levels and positions within the 18th-century palazzo are 10 rooms and suites, many carved out of old monks' cells. Some have balconies overlooking the citrus gardens, others have small windows through metre-thick fortress walls. Some suites are duplex affairs with downstairs sitting rooms and upstairs bedrooms; others are a long succession of vaulted rooms.
What they all have in common is a calm, minimalist decor with smooth stone floors, cream walls (no artwork), super comfy kingsize beds (no twins), and little furniture besides a chic ladder to hang your clothes, and a pair of linen-clad chairs or a cubical poof. Some might find it all a bit too beige, but it's comfy, quiet and inoffensive. And there's plenty of technology under the skin: underfloor heating (which is a devil to turn off!), slimline TVs, latex and pocket-sprung mattresses, WiFi (or wired ADSL internet in the thick walled rooms). Our room, La Loggia, even had motorised blinds to black out the tiny window hewn out of the 6-metre high vaulted ceilings.
Gleaming glass and chrome bathrooms come with Culti toiletries and, often, a separate wetroom with pancake-sized shower.
Other rooms which caught our eye were: Il Sole (Deluxe) for its secluded balcony over the walled garden; Il Camino (Suite) for its separate sitting vault with cosy fireplace; and Le Volte (Suite) for its panoramic terrace and big bathroom with jacuzzi (a honeymooners' favourite). Parents should opt for La Cattedrale (Suite) whose downstairs sitting room has very comfy sofabeds; or for La Palma and La Torre (connecting Deluxe rooms).
La Sommita cleverly poached a rising young chef, Sebastiano Lombardi, from a rival hotel, and he has brought fantastic recipes, colourful presentation, superb tastes and a refreshing lack of pretension along with his Michelin star.
Sitting in the vaulted dining room alongside a few hushed couples and a kind sommelier, Signor Adonini, we enjoyed a fabulous amuse-bouche of fish cakes in an onion reduction, washed down by their house prosecco (a gorgeous Ruggieri Valdobbiadene). My sea salad which followed had some of the most succulent bites of sea bass and gilthead bream, softened by half molten cubes of ricotta and tomato, plus a crisp crunch of Adriatic seaweed. Equally exquisite was my wife's generous seared tuna steak with borlotti beans and onions, whose commingling tastes were cut by a tang of fresh redcurrants. Presentation was immaculate, flavours resolutely local: our plates came with a "seed pod" of pureed aubergine in turmeric-coated breadcrumbs, or a colourful sprinkling of oxalis and vetch petals, picked that morning in the olive groves.
The wine list is more than a match, with over 15 pages of mostly Italian bottles ranging from €15 up to €270 for an Antinori Solaia 2003. Most are sensibly priced around the €25-35 mark.
It's the same story at the breakfast buffet, where local cheeses (fresh burata, smoked mozzarella, pecorino) and cold cuts (including a D.O.C. capocollo from Martina Franca) sit alongside homemade pastries, organic jams, yoghurt plum cake and fresh juices. Eggs come to order, and you can come down any time until 11am.
If you do want to eat out, the cosy Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale comes highly recommended; the Osteria del Tempo Perso, also just round the corner, is a little cheaper.
Start with Ostuni – it's a jewel of a town. Close-packed whitewashed houses spill across three hills, the highest of them crowned with a hulking Aragonese cathedral and a Puglian 'bridge of sighs'. The hotel is part of this citadel, merging into the walls and sharing the best views across olive groves to the sea. Wander along cobbled pedestrian lanes, past fragrant bakeries and Baroque churches (one contains an early history exhibition), to end at the obelisked Piazza della Libertà, which positively throbs with café life on a summer Saturday evening.
Explore the rolling countryside, where 'secular' (century-old) olive trees twist elephantine trunks around dry stone walls, interspersed with those fabled wigwam-shaped houses known as trulli. In spring, when yellow oxalis flowers blaze the ground, it's a rambler's and photographer's delight. The nearby towns of Cisternino and Martina Franca are full of labyrinthine alleys, inviting restaurants and sun-drenched Moorish charm; the latter also boasts some decent fashion outlets and an annual music festival in late July and early August. Alberobello, the original trulli-town, has become over-touristy and rather tacky.
Once you've built up a sweat, head to the beach: there's a string of sandy lidos (recreational beaches) nearby, including one at the Rosa Marina resort (10km away, open 6 June-15 Sept) which offers watersports, sunbeds, beach volleyball, bar music and hire bicycles at special rates for Sommita guests. But we preferred the unspoilt tranquility of Torre Guaceto nature reserve (25km away, open all year), a 7-km stretch of sandy shores and flowering maquis centred around a 16th-century watchtower. Walk to the horseshoe bays at its centre (no vehicles are allowed) and, in April or May, you can be alone with the lizards, kingfishers, tortoises and sea birds; carpets of pink and yellow stock, clover and campion fringe the blue waters. If it's windy here, head to the Ionian coast (Pulsano-Gallipoli, 1 hour away) for sheltered turquoise shallows.
If you're staying longer, you can easily nip down the 4-lane highway to the exuberant Baroque town of Lecce (80km, 1 hour), packed with soft-stoned palazzi, ornate churches and Roman remains; or up to the low-key port of Polignano a Mare (50km, 40 mins) with its wave-beaten rocks, its superb gelaterie and a famous cave-restaurant.
Do leave time for a massage or beauty treatment at their in-house spa: the 4-hand massage comes highly recommended, and one of the two health experts speaks enough English to help arrange a personalised course. They also have a steam room, seaweed-based skin treaments and mineral-rich baths.
The hotel can also arrange horse-riding excursions and cookery lessons.
Children of all ages are welcome. However the place is more of a stylish adult retreat, with its designer décor, uneven steps, hushed atmosphere and not much of a garden. Three suites (Cielo, Aurora and Cattedrale) have 2 single beds in addition to the double bed, and are split across 2 levels. Extra beds for children aged 4-12 incur an additional cost; cots and extra beds for under 4's are free.
Cots Available, Extra Beds Available, Family Rooms
Babysitting available by arrangement
Baby cots available on request
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking