Puglia, the bottom heel of Italy’s famous ‘boot’ is home to many a hidden gem, and one of its most dreamily beautiful (though hopefully now slightly less hidden) is the Villa San Martino. Just a few kilometres from the baroque beauty of the town of Martina Franca, the Villa San Martino is surrounded by many acres of both beautiful countryside and its own private grounds. Wandering through the gardens or lounging by the swimming pool is a heady delight with the fragrance of jasmine, wisteria and honeysuckle always on the air. Though a former 19th century Masseria, the Villa San Martino has been renovated into the epitome of classical, clean Italian elegance. With 21 rooms spread across two buildings, the Villa San Martino has a wealth of entertaining spaces – an inside ballroom with an enormous fireplace for the (unimaginable) cold winters, outside dining terraces shrouded in leafy vines, almost cavernous stone porches to stay out of the sun but to have the calm beauty of the gardens close by – and underground spa facilities that have an almost Moroccan souk feel.
The Villa San Martino has an established and well-deserved reputation as a wedding venue (especially with international guests), and it is easy to see why. With so many spaces on hand to accommodate guests in all weathers – with the sun sparkling through the abundant greenery, the birds singing gently, the crickets chirping and the pink walls of the Villa reflecting the sunshine – it is easy to picture exactly where the cake will be cut and how the wedding guests will walk happily through the leafy arbours.
The Villa San Martino has 21 rooms across its two beautiful buildings; 13 deluxe rooms and 8 suites, which gives it a pleasingly exclusive feel. The bedrooms are fantastically tasteful, blending the best of old Italy with modern elegance. Our room was an unfussy warm palette of creams, deep yellows and reds. Elegant vintage mahogany furniture, damask curtains from Caserta, a marble bathroom with jacuzzi bath, and a sun-drenched private balcony complete the feeling of luxurious escape.
The onsite restaurant at the Villa San Martino is the Duca Di Martino, with the option to dine either in the small but crisply elegant dining room (again, complete with roaring fire for the colder months) or on the outside terrace. As the weather was a balmy 26 degrees that evening, we sat out in the leafy undercover terrace for dinner, where the sound of night-time crickets was almost as relaxing as the gentle piano music.
Apulian cuisine is always a tasty treat, but the menu in the Duca Di Martino managed to take its rustic charms and elevate them to fine dining. My companion ate the Capocollo, burratina cheese and other local antipasti (all from the neighbouring Martina Franca), which was in essence the tastiest cheese and meat board we’ve had in quite some time. My fish tartare with burrata cheese, orange gazpacho and avocado was fresh, light and delicious. For our mains my companion had an outstanding example of the local speciality Strascinate pasta, with beef ragout, caciocavallo cheese sauce, pine nuts and crunchy capocollo, and I had a meltingly soft slow-cooked beef cheek, with soft potato, capsicum and mustard jus. I finished the meal with an exceptional orange-flavoured mille feuille (though my fellow diner was too stuffed), and the whole thing was accompanied by an excellent house white which sadly (like most of the best Italian wine we’ve enjoyed over the years) we failed to get the name of.
The breakfast buffet (taken on the same terrace) was a lovely selection the typically ‘European’ breakfast items of breads, pastries, fruit, yoghurts, meats and cheeses.
Out and about:
From the Villa San Martino Puglia is your oyster! The Itria valley, where the hotel sets itself, is the meeting point of three distinct regions so if you venture in any direction, you’ll find a daytrip to take your fancy. The more famous beautiful towns of Lecce, Monopoli, Ostuni, and of course Martina Franca, are not more than an hours drive away. To see the typical UNESCO Heritage ‘Trulli’, Alberobello is close by, or if magnificent caves are your thing so are the Grotte di Castellana. Puglia also has some fantastic beaches, and though the Villa San Martino is a little inland it’s not far to reach the coast.
The worst thing:
The crystal-clear pool is a relaxing joy, but a few more sunshades around it wouldn’t have gone amiss on a scorching 32-degree afternoon (or so says my skin-sensitive partner).
The best thing:
The gardens, terraces and general grounds of the Villa San Martino are simply exquisite. Whether basking in the sun with an Aperol spritz or finding a shady tree to sit beneath, the carefully cultivated nature all around the Villa San Martino was paradisiacal and extremely hard to leave behind!
Rooms start at 135 euros, suites at 175 euros, Villa San Martino,SS172, 59 Via Taranto, Martina Franca (Taranto), relaisvillasanmartino.it