Summer destinations of peace and quiet and away from the madding crowds are always a gem to find, and after a forty minute drive from Bari airport on the smooth new motorways which cut the sun-drenched landscape, we are greeted by a handsome smiling doorman, who emerges from his designer cream stone gatehouse to welcome us. Dressed in a crisp white polo shirt and pressed chinos, he hands us a bottle of local chilled water, and the gates behind us glide shut, in absolute silence.
An imposing cream stone courtyard, entirely built from soft tufo stone typical of Puglia, greets us. Fresh white potato vines in full bloom dangle from the architraves and lemon trees, and large sturdy storm lamps line the perimeter. The power of this main structure does not quite prepare you for the softly sophisticated, off-white, candle-lit lobby, infused in natural essential oils.
These first impressions of “arrival” have brought friends, celebrities and guests from all over the world back to the San Domenico Hotels time and time again, be it for holidays, weddings, private parties or for time for total seclusion. It is since 1996 that the Melpignano family (with Marisa Melpignano, the visionary and hands-on manager behind the projects), has been painstakingly creating this series of havens of perfection and tranquility, namely the Borgo Egnazia, and close by, the Masseria San Domenico and Masseria Cimino. Golf courses, beach clubs and high-profile spas in and around the properties all share this same common denominator of style and discretion for their high-profile international client base.
The Borgo Egnazia is a low-lying contemporary structure of rooms, swimming-pools, village houses, large private villas, courtyards, stables and even a church, which encompass three very distinct types of Puglia’s lifestyles designed by Pino Brescia, of Puglian descent. La Corte, the main hotel, has been created as the initial first section of this local experience, and a sophisticated concept has been rolled-out across the 63 guest rooms, which are immaculately designed and decorated with witty, unexpected and touching local elements, giving the rural life outside a twist of fashion appeal inside, drawing the interest of fashion designers, young executives, discerning business travellers, families and high-profile guests. Following the greige cushions lined up on the seating areas in the softly-lit niches along the lobby, the warren of cream-on-cream, high-ceilinged, stone corridors leads to white dining areas extending beyond.
All the highly appointed bedrooms in La Corte and its suites have their private balconies overlooking the secular olive trees on the estate, the soft turquoise swimming pools lined with white sun-loungers, and the entire Borgo with the Apulian mountain range and blue seas in the distance.
The Borgo itself is a village-style complex, again entirely of tufo stone, which has been used for the streets, the church tower, the central piazza and the restaurants within. Everything here has been created with families in mind, who can freely enjoy the safety of this resort, with its rustic, small town houses.
These chic yet cosy homes reflect the elements of daily farm life, and again, authentic traditional agricultural elements and tools from the farmers’ trade have been brought into the homes: iron bundles of wire used for the vines, agricultural digging and planting tools, jars and bottles for the preserves of sughi and olive oils, gardening utensils, twine, herbs and not least, an upturned chair in every home (a token to the local superstition that this would bring on the rain for the crops). Every imaginable item has its place in this charming décor. Comfort, service and hotel facilities have in no way been overlooked in these bijoux homes and luxury lives in total harmony with the soul of the country-side….and there is even a little bit of country-side outside every home in the way of a small private garden.
Stepping up the ante, on the fringe of the Borgo’s vast estate, lie the 29 independent villas, strewn around the edge like a strand of beautiful stones. Here styling and design is classic and of high definition, offering top comfort, total privacy in the walled gardens, and all the services of the hotel.
Residents have their own golf-caddy as a means of transport to and from their homes, and each villa boasts a breath-taking vista over the olive groves, the landscaped gardens, and further afield, the vegetable patches which serve the estate, the immaculate San Domenico golf course and the Mediterranean Sea. Of course, if one didn’t fancy the open seas, there is the comfort of one’s own pool to do the daily lengths in, in total privacy, without a crab in sight!
BORGO EGNAZIA – NOWHERE ELSE
La Masseria San Domenico – Fashion Grown Up
A ten minute drive away from Borgo Egnazia lies the Grand Dame of the Melpignano properties; a set of beautiful farmhouse buildings dating back to the 15th century, now all carefully restored. Immersed in natural beauty, we feel the power of the millenary olive groves, with tree trunks which would take at least two people to embrace. UNESCO has declared these trees a world heritage sight, and they share their accolade with the bright yellow, scented gauze bushes, jasmine corridors, rose gardens, wild rosemary borders and caper bushes that surround the Masseria.
The silence of the gardens and the elegance of the hotel is conducive to total relaxation and rest, yet the gardens and these landscape awaken the soul and the senses. Marisa Melpignano has been able to capture an atmosphere of history and comfort here, which is enjoyed by a very elegant, discerning and cultivated clientele, primarily couples, who come for both time-out and for therapeutic cures at the Spa & Talassotherapy on the property.
This travel destination, known for its award-winning wellbeing Spa, focuses again on only the very best treatments with a definitive, marked benefit to body and mind. Daily, or indeed weekly packages, are enhanced by a healthy Mediterranean diet of strictly locally-grown vegetables and olive oil, fresh fish and a burrata which (anyone would agree!) is second to none, in amongst the local cheeses.
The treatments, being created for a noticeable effect, are not for the faint-hearted, and a medical overview is de rigeur before embarking on energizing Aquagym classes, Kneipp routes, saunas, ThalgoJets, Thalatherm, Algotherapy and other à la carte treatments.
Marisa here again has focused on world-class standards in her wellness centre and spa, and she has trained the staff well over the years, some having been with her since day one, 18 years ago. All are through and through knowledgeable, informed, proficient, discreet and of course local, which has been an important entrepreneurial effort the region has enjoyed beyond what is the influx of international tourism.