In Travel

Peek Inside The Boutique Hotel Providing A Private Slice Of Italy

Weaving through Puglia’s sun-blushed countryside, with its rolling hillsides, quaint villages and ancient architecture, is quite possibly the closest you’ll get to an Italian fairytale.

A place of romance and intrigue, this discreet region of Italy is a picture of pastoral paradise, satiating hungry travellers with tales of history and culture, interwoven with stunning coastlines, undulating rural landscapes and bounteous plates of delicious local cuisine.

It goes without saying, a gourmet adventure is one of the most thrilling ways to sample the unique, authentic flavours of the region, so we travelled to the heart of Salento – an hour from Brindisi airport in Puglia’s far south – to the sleepy village of San Cassiano, where the decadence of stylish boutique hotel Don Totu Dimora Storica awaits.

The style

Don Totu

Set in a historic 18th Century palazzo in the heart of rustic Puglia, Don Totu Dimora Storica, which once paraded as an ancient palace, offers a secluded home away from home, with a generous serve of Italian glamour.

Concealed behind an unassuming, demure façade, the hotel’s enchanting, intimate residence pairs laid-back luxury with a dash of old school decadence, balancing secluded pools, rustic décor and ancient exteriors with sun-soaked terraces and scatterings of silvery olive trees that set the scene for endless adventure.

Stunning coastlines and picturesque rural landscapes beckon from afar, but this peaceful oasis, in all its understated glory, will prove difficult to drag yourself away from.

Inside, vaulted ceilings draped with crystal chandeliers welcome guests with a sense of Italian grandeur, yet its laid-back, homely living space complete with squishy cream sofas, is designed to make you feel right at home. Everything has been tastefully decorated in muted tones and marble accents, and with floor-to-ceiling windows, the natural light seeps in from the outdoor terrace. The perfect space for guests to relax and unwind.

Fresh lavender and scented rose petals waft from the beautifully manicured gardens, whilst the outdoor pool glistens seductively in the sun. Help yourself to a crisp Pinot Grigio from the poolside bar, stretch out on the cushioned sunbeds and drift away to the gentle hum of soft jazz. Serenity in its purist form.

The atmosphere

Don Totu

Although defined as a boutique, Don Totu is not a hotel in the traditional sense; guests are primarily left to their own devices, much like an upmarket Airbnb or ultra-glam guesthouse.

Attentive staff will be on hand when you want them – but this is usually during breakfast and early evening aperitivi, so bear in mind you’ll need to pre-book any activities, lunches or restaurants with Alessandra, the wonderful hotel manager, before the team disappears for the day. Having said that, you can help yourself to snacks and drinks from the kitchen if you decide to spend the afternoon poolside.

But those looking for privacy and seclusion, this only adds to the allure. You’ll quite literally have your own private slice of Puglia, so prepare to relish the tranquillity.

The rooms

With just six rooms, this private residence really does have an air of exclusivity, and although intimate, the property is still big enough to lose yourself without bumping into another guest.

Bedrooms are sumptuous and extravagant, with the same muted décor and natural-hued textiles running throughout. The Don Totu suite – set just off the library – is particularly striking, with a towering four-poster bed, stone-clad walls, a sprawling bathroom kitted out with double sinks, a heavenly rain shower and free-standing bathtub.

There’s also a private terrace that can be accessed via a tiny winding stone staircase. A slightly arduous climb, but it’s worth it – once you’re up there, you’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramic views stretching across the quaint town of San Cassiano.

Elsewhere there’s a basement hammam, well-equipped gym and fitness studio, plus a wine cellar, where you can experience private tastings with Don Totu’s incredibly knowledgeable sommelier.

What’s on offer

Don Totu

For a flavoursome insight into Puglia’s local cuisine, be sure to book into Don Totu’s cookery course. Budding chefs will be taken on a culinary journey of the region, starting off with a shopping trip to a local cheesemaker’s – this is quite possibly the freshest, creamiest ricotta you’ll ever taste – before perusing the nearby providore for fresh olive oil and organic vegetables in preparation for the feast that’s about to come.

Guests will be put to work in Don Totu’s rustic farmhouse kitchen, where you’ll chop, prep and marinate a selection of seasonal vegetables for lunch – with a glass or two of Prosecco in hand – then learn the art of traditional Italian pasta-making, before being taken on a journey through Salento’s deliciously full-bodied primitivos and negroamaros in the downstairs wine cellar.

Besides culinary exploits, Don Totu also has a selection of resident Vespas on-site (or electric bikes if you’re not feeling brave enough to hit the road, mod-style) which is a great way to explore the neighbouring villages, as well as yoga classes, hiking expeditions, wine tours and regular film screenings. You could literally lose yourself for days on end.

The location

Don Totu

Nestled in the heart of the Salento region of Puglia, Don Totu sits in the sleepy village of San Cassiano, located around 40 km from Lecce, and about 10 minutes’ drive from the coast.

It’s gloriously peaceful, and whilst there are a handful of local eateries and bars in the area – be sure to try Raffaele Fanciullo’s restaurant, La Bersagliera in Surano (Raffaele also moonlights as a renowned opera singer on the side), and for cocktails, head to Prima o Poi in San Cassiano – there are so many fabulous restaurants and beautiful beaches to explore a little further afield (drive along the coast towards Gallipoli for breathtaking seascapes), so if you want to make the most of the surrounding area, we recommend hiring a car.

The surrounding highlights

Farmacia Dei Sani, Ruffano

(20-minute drive)

Look forward to superlative plates of fresh, handmade pastas and delicious local drops at this atmospheric Italian trattoria. Ask the owner Fabio for a taste of his rosé – it’s delicious.

Cantine Menhir, Minervino

(20-minute drive)

A fabulous lunch spot, this chic eatery is lined with shelves of local produce, bags of dried pasta and delectable wines, with a menu of simple yet flavoursome Italian classics.

Nonna Rosa, Muro Leccese 

(15-minute drive)

For all things seafood, you can’t go past Nonna Rosa in the heart of the town square. Score a spot in the terrace and you’ll get front-row seats to all the action.

Doppio Zero Deli, Lecce 

(40-minute drive)

Doppio Zero is serious about aperitivo – their nergronis are hard to beat. As are their moreish antipasti boards.

The details

The nearest airport to Don Totu is Brindisi/Salento, which is about 89km (one-hour drive). You can either hire a car or the property offers a paid airport shuttle service. Gallipoli’s coastlines are 36km away (40-minute drive), and the neighbouring city, Lecce, is around 40km, 30-minutes by car.

The weather in Puglia is glorious year-round, but it’s particularly pleasant during the autumn, between September and October. Don Totu is open from March – October.

The Don Totu Suite will set you back $615 a night in August and September and $440 in October.

(All images: Don Totu / supplied)

Published 05 August, 2019