I never got around to posting my Ireland trip (though I still can and might), so the least I can do is share my Italy vacation details which I typed up while I was sitting on the never-ending flight back from Rome.
I have so many places on my travel wish list–some are regions or countries, others are specific to hotels and details; the second category is what my trip with my husband to Rome, Bernalda and Puglia fell into.
Two places were the cornerstones of our itinerary—the Palazzo Margherita in the small town of Bernalda and Masseria Moroseta in Puglia just minutes outside of Ostuni. In March, I managed to book two nights in Bernalda followed by four in Puglia (which according to other guests was a very random bit of luck). It was heaven.
Because we have both been to Rome several times, and decided to drive to each destination on the trip, our first night we checked into La Posta Vecchia, a thirty minute drive from Fuimicino Airport. Another palazzo once owned by John Paul Getty and now part of the trio of hotels owned by Marie Louise Scio’s family of Pellicano Hotels (the others are the spectacular Il Pellicano, where we went years back and the newer Mezzatorre in Ischia), La Posta Vecchia sits directly on the Tyerrhenian sea, is filled with the kind of over-the-top Italian antiques that look right at home in the setting, and was also, to Getty’s discovery, built atop Roman ruins which you can wonder about in the basement. I would opt to spend a first night, perhaps two, here again if I were then traveling south.
Our room had a view of manicured, Italianate gardens, we had a delicious and leisurely lunch and dinner on the veranda overlooking the water (new dish sets at every meal, something I could get used to) and swam in the hotel pool. It was a civilized, quiet beginning to our trip which we needed considering the next day we had a five hour drive to Bernalda.
Staying at Palazzo Margherita feels being in a fairytale. Owned by Francis Ford Coppola and decorated to perfection by Jacques Grange with the help of Sofia’s keen eye, every attention to detail is so incredible, it’s almost impossible to describe. Our room, Suite Six with it’s delicately hued striped walls, painted (very very high) ceiling, terrace overlooking main street and deep tub in a beautiful bathroom was pinch-me breathtaking. The gardens and pool were equally exquisite, but what made this and our following hotel so memorable were the size of them—9 rooms at Margherita, 6 at Moroseta, the people who worked there and the settings.
You could come to both of these hotels, keep to yourself and never leave the premises, but I think that would be a mistake. I remember reading about what Sofia does when she comes to stay at Margherita which was something about not doing much but wandering around the sleepy town, riding bikes, eating and really slowing down. The town, built on a hill as they all are in this region and in Puglia, has an old part with a centuries-old church and fortress/castle first erected in Norman times.
Everything is a shade of white, the roads are narrow, the houses tiny and ancient and Italian nonna’s sit outside their homes and say hello when you walk or bike by. There is main street—the more modern section of town, filled with cafes, bars and restaurants, where the whole town spills out onto after 5pm and stays out quite late. Families are eating gelato at midnight. (Everything in this area and in Puglia still shuts down from 1:30 to 3 or 5 pm.)
Bernalda is a town of very few tourists, which was refreshing. We had (very good) pastries at local cafe and spent another afternoon at a private beach club that the hotel arranges (again mostly Italians). If you go, and Rossella, the GM at Margherita invites you to their family-style dinner say yes. It is an event. We had a barbecue with food typical to the region but nothing like the Italian food we are used to, and the staff sets a large table in the courtyard. We got to meet most of the guests (I think one couple had declined) and Rossella joined us. Experiences and connections make trips memorable, the staff at Palazzo Margherita understands this and excels at making this happen. My husband and I are absolutely coming back to Palazzo Margherita. I am also writing her a thank you note, maybe FFC too.
Once we sadly left Bernalda, we headed to Matera for a day. Matera is the city, also of all white, that has many cave-like dwellings and has become a Unesco World Heritage site. (It is also in the opening the last James Bond movie for any Bond lovers like myself.) The old part is unique and worth a day trip.
If we had more time, and I had worn hiking or exercise clothes, we would have hiked out to some of the caves that surround the town, but the sun was strong and I wasn’t ready to that kind of trek. Side note: Make a reservation (Magherita did for us) to see the Crypt of Original Sin which is a 15 minute drive out of town. It is not a crypt, but an 8th century frescoed church in a cave with saints hovering above a carpet of painted flowers.
Masseria Moroseta was a palette cleanse after Bernalda. A new, modernist hotel set on a farm of ancient olive trees, the mood here is quite different. While the staff is accommodating, they also leave guests to set their own agenda, which can be spent lounging by the pool (which we did daily) or touring the towns.
The rooms are simple and minimalist, with patios that look out at palms and cacti. (Moroseta also much less expensive than any other place we stayed.) The food is exceptional, breakfast everyday was a surprise abundance of local produce and fruit, excellent bread and pastries, fresh juices and more.
Lunch arrangements must be made at breakfast (which I now regret we didn’t do), and dinners–served four nights a week are an affair, but guests are only encouraged to eat there one night. Our dinner the night we arrived was epic, with two large tables set in the courtyard with 10 people each. Like Bernalda, the multi-course meal was innovative and unlike other Italian food we’d had. We made friends with the other guests—many Australians both younger and older, and enjoyed continuing our chats and exchanging travel tips when we would see them at breakfast.
We visited many of the little towns in the region, the highlights including Ostuni, Aberobello (where unbeknownst to us they were setting up for the Dolce & Gabbana couture show), and Lecce.
We had an excellent meal at the seafood restaurant Osteria del Porto in the seaside town of Savelletri recommended by Moroseta, but the restaurant in Ostuni that seems to be on everyone’s list, Del Tempo Perso, was ok and the waiters seemed nonplussed (the place is over-hyped).
After four nights, we begrudgingly returned to Rome for an afternoon and one last day. Hotels in Rome are so expensive now, and I booked ours so late, that we stayed somewhere I wouldn’t recommend. (At least the air-conditioning was solid.) While Rome amazes at every turn, when it’s 95 and crowded, it’s hard to enjoy. Every place was overrun and everyone was borderline exasperated from the heat. The one tourist thing I wanted to do, visit the Borghese Villa and Gardens was sold out, so we milled about at a snail’s pace, ate gelato and wandered in places with good air-conditioning. The only shopping I did (for almost the entire trip) was to buy pajamas at Schostal.
If you like a good pajama, this is the place. Plus they are lovely and happy to help pull everything out for you (since it is all put away in boxes on shelves, old school style.) We had dinner at Piperno (excellent carbonara) and Pierluigi (which is known for seafood and where Graydon Carter was sweating it out with the rest of us), and lunch at Matricianella (which we had been to on every trip). All excellent, but all 95% tourists. It made me miss our time in Bernalda when we felt like we were experiencing something authentically Italian.
A NOTE ON PACKING, POST TRIP. I did manage with a carry-on tote and my old Tumi, and also stuffed in a couple of items that got a lot wear, which were white denim shorts and off-white Bermudas along with my Matteau beige linen vest. What could I have left behind? The Matteau matching beige linen pants (way too hot for pants), my white blazer (again too hot), my Manolo Susa’s sandals (you can’t walk anywhere in a heel, even a little one, in Italy), a slip dress and even the Toteme black camisole and skirt (only worn once). The white eyelet Toteme dress and logo stitched pj pants, were excellent additions. All in all, I am glad I edited myself down and realize I could have done it a bit more. (Then I would have had room in my bag for more pjs!)