I've fallen in love with Puglia. It's the large stretch of Italy that reaches down into the heel of it's famous boot and runs alongside the Adriatic sea. A land where olive trees are like the Ents in Lord of the Rings, gnarled and rugged, holding the mysteries of the past in their roots, some for 1000 years. It's where the Itria Valley stretches down into rich farmland producing some of the best crops in Italy. Let's not even talk about the gorgeous oilve oil, most of which is produced in Puglia. Forget an overrun Rome...this has it all. Space, peace and one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever stayed in.
The hotel is the Borgo Egnazia, a magical place in the heart of Puglia and I'm actually here on a Balance Magazine commission, sampling one of the 14 programmes on offer at their drop-dead incredible spa. 'Fure' is a 3 or 6 day programme, a great kickstart for those who've fallen out of love with moving their body, like me. In this glorious Puglian landscape, it's easy to find motivation. Patricia Bortolin is the creator of the Vair Spa, a unique and transformational space in the basement of the hotel, evidently more then just a place to feel good; it's where many come when stress is on the horizon, to put preventative measures in place. Or if stress has already set in, the right environment to do some really deep inner work with one of the more intense programmes. The spa menu reads more like a book – on my first night here I settle in my favourite place, the bath, and read through. Comprehensive explanations of all treatments means everything sounds amazing, quite frankly. As it was dark when I arrived, I simply came to my room and scoffed the cold meats platter laid out for me, dunked my bread into the olive oil and moderna vinegar combo and then ordered a plate of local pasta, to satisfy my craving for local food. Unlike dried pasta rubbish we're mostly used to, this had a firmer, chewier texture. Yum!
It's hard to imagine this place has only been here since 2010. The mystery of the land informs the entire design of the property; which has been done to an exquisite standard. It elegant. Sophisticated. I want to waft around in a long floaty dress. More then anything, it's ridiculously romantic. Everyone who works here is from Puglia and most speak English, in fact, a fair few of the staff I spoke to have worked in London hotels but there are a few, mainly behind the scenes, who don't speak English. Entering the reception area of the main hotel, the part known as 'La Corte', has an instantly calming influence. It's all creams and whites and flickering candlelight and sereneness. The smell of a special fig blended with other smells is probably what i'll always associate with this place. In fact the scent can be brought in the on site shops but, not only am I here with hand luggage, I also kind of only want to retain the scent for future visits. Because i'm going to come back here, 100%. Without a second thought. Everything is like a dream here. Even the gorgeous tree in reception, made from a discarded olive tree trunk from the golf course and the leaves made from old books is stunning. Apparently it's due to change so let's see what replaces it!
My room is out of this world, a sensory calm haven, almond oil scent in the bathroom, subtle lighting, the texture of the tuffi rock walls, the sheer fabrics, the comforting throws, the sound of the running water from the balcony. When I came back from the spa before heading out to dinner, housekeep had been to do turn down service and had put some Johnny Lee Hooker on the TV radio and I was overjoyed. It's made for couples! Everything at Borgo Egnazia was created by local designer, Pino Brescia who clearly knows this land well, taking inspiration from the ancient town of Egnazia, the ruins of which can still be seen in the gardens. Instead of paintings, there are lengths of tied up rope hanging on the walls, piles of old books bundled together set into crevices, a nod to Puliga's rich farm history and respectful knowledge of it's elders. I have the La Corte Magnifica room which is huge – a seperate living room off the main bedroom and bathroom and it's own large terrace area. There are smaller rooms that are equally as gorgeous. To be honest, it was extra space I didn't really need as I was out for a large portion of the day but I wouldn't turn it down again. Alternatively, out into the Borgo (meaning 'village') there are cute little Casetas if you'd rather a more private experience or if there's 6 or more of you, there are villas with private pools that are gorgeous. Some come complete with a Massaia, which is basically a private housekeeper who also is an amazing cook. The villas are huge so there's plenty of room for private dining. Borgo Egnazia is a resort, but it's not a resort. It's so cleverly designed that it doesn't feel like a resort, rather like a little village. There are 4 pools, 1 outdoor heated, 1 inside heated, 2 out of the Borgo by the main hotel. Children are very welcome here, there's even a great kids club, but some areas are restricted which is a good thing. There are several restaurants on offer all with amazing food, so you need not leave the hotel but i'm told there are some brilliant Trattorias in neighbouring villages so always worth venturing out if you feel to do so. One must is lunch in the Golf Club (which i'm told is fantastic by the way and quite first class, especially as Italy isn't known for it's gold at all) which is ultra traditional, all food cooked by the Massaia who I thought was in her 70's but turns out she's about my age. And the restaurant on the beach which specialises in fish. In season, they set out a stall like a fishmarket, you pick your fish, have it cooked however you want before tucking in. Sea Urchin is popular here...i couldn't think of anything worse personally! I had dinner in the Egnazia restaurant which is about to change into a fine dining restaurant as they aim for a michelin star. Judging by the food and service I sampled, I'd say they won't have to wait long. I will always remember the bread gnocchi with mushrooms and a really REALLY thick sticky mushroom sauce that was utterly delicious. And the wine menu is full of italian wine, as you might expect. It's my favourite so I was happy. The bar is rather swish with a great spirits selection, knowledgable bar staff and relaxing places to sit. It's all about the 'nook and cranny' here.!
There's lots to do nearby and although the hotel can arrange a hotel transfer I would suggest hiring a car so it's easier to explore local areas as it would be a waste to come all this way and not go to nearby Alberobello, the cone-roof houses known as 'Trulli' or a spend a day in Lecce, known as 'the Florence of Southern Italy'. There are UNESCO sites here and everything is within driving distance. I'm told the streetfood scene in Bari (you can fly here via Ryanair or to Brindisi, Bari is 50 minutes and Brindisi about 30) There's so much to do here, from olive oil making, cycling around the groves, cooking with a local I could go on. There are what's called 'local advisors' here who are a bit like a concierge, but more. Not just limited to men, they are also women. The idea is they fix up anything you want to do locally, make suggestions and all via the wonder of Whatsapp. They are like a personal servant. What's not to love?!
Back in the spa there are some really unique treatments. I can only talk about the ones I had. I tried the 'Astrignul' a unique hour that fuses movement with the Apulian love of Pizzica, an Italian folk dance, something still common in all villages across Puglia. Giuseppe led me into this with a tambourine beat, singing an Apulian working song, enjoying his voice, surprising myself by joining in, following his movements, copying his breathing technique, singing my heart out. I totally loved it but I imagine the shy wallflowers amongst you might find this a challenge...like being the first one to dance at a club and not wanting to because of fear of everyone watching you. But it's totally liberating so i'd give it a go. There was the Spirit V, designed to be had after exercise, which can last for up to 2 hours in Roman Thermal baths, a journey through the different heat stages using the different bathing pools (so up my street!) before a scrub using sea salt, olive oil soap and rosemary water. I guessed the right scent as I smelt like fresh Foccacia bread! There are a range of facials but I had the 'Abbel Bel' a fluid facial massage, layer upon layer of angelic hand movements with natural scents of lemon and rosemary wafted in front of your nose, beauty rituals influenced by the Apulian women of the past, set to the soundscape of birdsong and traditional music of Puglia that works with the brainwave. I get slightly irritated at regular facials following the regime of 'cleanse, tone, scrub, mask etc etc' so this was very refreshing.
Then there was the very intriguing treatment called 'U Se Ca Si Crisuse' which translates to 'do you know you are weird?' quite amusingly. It's a bit of a reading, like tarot card, where you smell lots of aromatherapy oils, say what you like and don't and your palate is then 'read' to create a profile of you. It's rather difficult to explain but it's very interesting and quite accurate.
As well as a brilliantly equipped gym with personal trainers, there's also Iyengar yoga sessions with the most graceful teacher I've ever come across, either in a class or one to one, which I really recommend. My body is in a bit of a mess, put simply. I have really tight hamstrings, calf muscles and I can't straighten them at all. It's rather embarrassing, but he tailors the class to me rather then ignoring my cries of pain, tells me to do these stretches everyday and my legs will get better, as will my flexibility. Now I just need to find a clear piece of wall I can prop my legs against! At least one session of this is a must. It's a very precise form of yoga, and all the specific movements can be a little frustrating at times but it's essential to get it right.
By the way, you'll want to steal the dresses off the girls who work in the spa. They're coffee mocha coloured long maxi dresses and I coveted them. The girls are all gorgeous but also very skilled at their craft. In fact, most of the staff here are gorgeous. The men all smell amazing. So up your game and come prepared. It's not a place where you have to dress up, but the kind of place where you want to dress up.
In my opinion, this place is worth every penny. Depending on what level of accommodation you go for and the time of year, the price can vary BUT Healing Holidays have some great deals that also incorporate a spa journey so this is worth checking out for sure. It's offset with the flights being operated by Ryanair, cheaper the further ahead you book. Oh and make sure you bring proper luggage as you'll want to at least bring back olive oil, wine and maybe the scent of Borgo Egnazia.