Joanna Booth falls in love with Puglia, the region in the heel of Italy’s boot


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Forget flying all the way to New Zealand in search of a hobbit house – there are examples much closer to home.

Puglia, in southern Italy, is peppered with squat, white-washed ‘trulli’, and these dinky dry-stone cottages with conical, tiled roofs are as cute as any version you’ll see on the big screen.

SELL: QUIET RURAL CHARM



The distinctive trulli aren’t the only things that give Puglia a unique identity within Italy.

The Greeks, Romans, Turks and Spanish have all passed through and left their architectural marks, and the area’s fertile soil – while not cultivating a beauty as immediate as the rolling hills and tall poplars of Tuscany – sustains 60 million olive trees, and the wheat for most of Italy’s pasta. As a result, the food is quite something, even for Italy (see picture below).

Add to this a coastline of long, sandy beaches and an unspoilt feel, and it’s time to sell it to clients, before everyone else gets the same idea.

It’s an easy region to reach, with the main airport, Bari, served by Ryanair, easyJet and British Airways. Even those who don’t want to fly can visit, with Great Rail Journeys featuring a tour of the area for the first time (13 days for £1,875).

Marketing and sales director Alex Roberts says: “We’ve seen a massive growth in popularity since southern Italy has become easier to reach by train.”

Puglia

STAY: CONVERTED FARMHOUSES AND FAMILY RESORTS



Puglia is dotted with masseria hotels – converted stone farmhouses, blending modern facilities including spas with the original features that give clients a real sense of history and place.

Masseria Torre Coccaro is a firm favourite with operators. This fortified 16th-century farmhouse, previously a watchtower, is now an intimate hotel just outside Savelletri, in the heart of the countryside and less than two miles from the sea.

Alongside beautiful rooms and a lovely pool area there’s a beach club with its own stretch of sand, and plenty of activities, from horse riding and cookery classes to, new this year, Italian lessons and yoga classes. Seven nights’ B&B starts from £1,429 with Expressions Holidays, including flights and car hire.

Another option is Masseria San Domenico Spa & Golf Resort, recommended by Classic Collection Holidays for its enormous swimming pool and exquisite dining. A week’s B&B starts from £1,482 including flights and transfers. For those with a smaller budget,

Cresta suggests the Tenuta Monacelle near Fasano, where clients can choose between rooms in the main house and those in a ‘trullo’. The operator offers seven nights’ B&B from £368 including easyJet flights from Gatwick.

An alternative to these historic properties is the five-star Borgo Egnazia, which has created quite a stir since it opened in 2010.

Designed as a traditional Puglian village and set within 20 hectares along the coast, it’s been built to blend with the local architectural style. Accommodation is across a hotel, three-bedroom villas, and within a ‘village’ of one and two-bedroom townhouses. Facilities are extensive; there’s an excellent kids’ club, a spa, a golf course, tennis courts, a football pitch, a games room, three outdoor pools and a cookery school, and the beach is a 10-minute shuttle ride away.

A week’s B&B departing May 14 with Citalia starts from £999 including flights from Gatwick, including a £500 per couple saving.

A modern option on the beach in Torre Canne is the newly-opened, four-star Canne Bianche Beach & Spa Hotel, featured by Sardatur with a lead-in rate of £806 for seven nights’ half-board including flights and transfers.

SEE: BEACHES AND VILLAGES



Puglia is a long, thin region, stretching right up the back of the heel of Italy’s boot. To make the most of it, Sardatur recommends hiring a car, as public transport isn’t particularly extensive.

The central area near Bari has been the most popular with British tourists, with some lovely seaside spots, including the pretty town of Polignano a Mare, and Torre Canne, which has a particularly fine beach.

The area is also home to those photogenic trulli, with the largest collection to be found at Unesco World Heritage Site Alberobello. Wandering the quiet streets among these quirky buildings is a lovely way to pass a morning, before moving on to nearby Locorotondo, a picture-perfect hilltop village with views over the villages and olive groves of the Valle d’Itria.

Nearby, the underground network of natural caves at Grotte di Castellane is a great adventure for families, and further north, the 13th-century Castel del Monte, an octagon of honey-coloured stone, has a fascinating history as a citadel, prison and plague refuge.

In the south, Lecce is the main city of the Salentine Peninsula, and is so packed with baroque architecture it’s been dubbed the Florence of the South. Along with many churches and an ornate cathedral, there’s a triumphal arch and a half-buried Roman amphitheatre.