Bold New Hotel in Italy

Francesco Bittichesu

In a part of southern Italy long known for its simple food and the high style of its rustic inns, Departures checks in on a bold new family-owned and family-friendly hotel.

For proof that Puglia is Italy’s next great destination, one needn’t look further than Borgo Egnazia. This sparkling-white $186 million resort opened in stages this summer on the flat coastal reaches of the country’s heel, between the Adriatic ports of Bari and Brindisi, just inland from seaside Savelletri. Although wealthy Italians are increasingly buying houses among the groves here on the so-called Olive Coast, there’s not much to Savelletri save a few fishing boats, stores selling beach toys, and narrow curls of sand between flat volcanic rocks. Some buzzy beach clubs have recently popped up (Coccaro being the best), but the chic and the traditional still balance each other out: Locals own most of the farmhouses, and casual trattorias stretch up the coast for 14 miles to Polignano a Mare. Here, prawns demand to be eaten raw, without even a twist of lemon, and octopus—grilled, marinated, or stewed with tomatoes and black pepper—is the taste of the sea, perfected.

Even before Egnazia there was an unlikely concentration of great hotels nearby. Tops are Masseria Torre Maizza, with its pillar-flanked pool, and Masseria Torre Coccaro, which combines Apulian antiques with an organic vegetable garden and a country courtyard. And the Melipignano family, the folks behind Egnazia, own two other hotels here, both converted from historic country houses: the 14-year-old Masseria San Domenico, first to attract the high end; and Masseria Cimino, a 15-room guesthouse, or agriturismo, serving honest, Mama-cooked antipasti, local meats, and fish.

But Egnazia is different than the others. Grander in scale, it was built from the ground up, with a mission to welcome families. Its 93 townhouse-style rooms form a sort of village complex, perfect for couples with young ones, and the kids’ club is managed by an English company that’s done similar work in Sardinia.

Family focus hasn’t diminished Egnazia’s sophistication, however. A towering lobby, a sweeping staircase, and acres of locally quarried cream tufa stones set the contemporary tone, while the interiors are illuminated by the flickering light of what seems like a million outsized glass lamps. The three main pools appear endless—and endlessly serene—flanked by dazzling white loungers and even more dazzling attendants.

In the main building are 63 rooms and suites, and even the smallest one proves how light and shadow bring architecture to life; toward the back, all 28 three-bedroom villas have roof terraces, large pools, and balconies. Mario Musoni, who headed the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Puglia, oversees the decidedly grown-up food, and a spa, using organic products from the Australian company Sodashi, will debut shortly. Guests have privileges at the adjacent 18-hole San Domenico Golf Course (the area is known for golf and, increasingly, cycling). And the cobalt Adriatic is within reach—best seen from room 101’s roof terrace—with Egnazia’s two beach clubs accessed by a 15-minute walk or a quick shuttle ride.

There are a few teething problems (imperfect service, for one), though not all of them are the hotel’s fault—the occasional guest who doesn’t like children letting it be known to families close-by. But Egnazia’s future is in good hands. Owner Aldo Melipignano lives on the property with his young family, bringing his personal style and passion to the bricks and mortar of the place. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t care about the physical details: He employs two full-time painters to go around every night “just to keep everything looking perfect.” Rooms start at $260;


Booking It: Your Own Private Villa

Launched last year, Think Puglia is riding the region’s rising popularity. The villa-rental agency, started by UK native Huw Beaugié and his Palermo-born wife, Rossella (their Think Sicily debuted in 2004)now has nine Puglian houses on its books that range from $3,600 to $17,300 a week. They include a dramatic all-white seventies villa on the hill above Santa Maria di Leuca, a town in the very stiletto of Italy, where the beam of the local lighthouse sweeps across the house’s pool at night; and Villa Elia, a divine 18th-century home that sleeps 17 and is a ten-minute drive from the town of Gallipoli, on the Ionian Sea. Owned by the son of a prominent Milanese fashion designer, Elia mixes antique and midcentury, high and low, collectible and common in a way that only well-traveled Italians so effortlessly can. The Beaugiés also have two villas close to Savelletri, with more to come in the next six months.

Fish Story

The simple Pescheria 2 Mari serves raw-fish crudo at a handful of outdoor tables on Savelletri’s waterfront Piazza Amati. Just out of the sea, its wafer-thin sea bass and juicy scampi are plated unadorned, save for a glass of Prosecco. $25;