Ostuni hit my radar in December 2018 when we were staying at Borgo dei Conti. I had started reading about other Relais and Chateaux hotels and resorts. With that trip, I was excited to explore more of the properties in Italy. The challenging thing, however, is that Ostuni is a bit further off the beaten path. Ostuni is more than 5 hours from Rome.
Our December trip to Rome proved to be the perfect time to explore a bit of Puglia. We’ve barely scratched the surface of this delicious region but enthusiastically recommend it. I’m happy to share a mini Ostuni travel guide for anyone who is traveling to Puglia. We struggled a lot to find books on the area, so I hope my recommendations can be helpful for you!
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Getting to Ostuni
We decided to make a road trip from Rome to Ostuni. The roads were easy to navigate and it was a fairly easy drive. It is, however, less populated than the road trips we made through the north, so you’ll want to plan to stop when you can and take snacks with you.
At the end of our trip, we flew from Brindisi to Bologna via Rome. Brindisi is quite a bit closer to Ostuni than Bari so check both airports. We found the Brindisi airport incredibly easy to navigate. The rental car was easy to drop off and security was a breeze. (There’s a key box in the terminal if your flight is before 7:00am.)
You’ll want a car in Puglia, but I would fly into the region. It is a better use of your time. (The long drive was really hard on my body.) We were able to see the Trulli of Alberbello, visit Monopoli, and explore more of Apulia because we had a car. We tried to visit a few towns (like Martina Franca), but we had trouble finding parking. Turns out, this is a pretty popular region after Christmas! And – it’s popular with locals! We didn’t hear much English during our stay.
Where to Stay in Ostuni
La Sommita Relais is the perfect place to stay. Obviously, my Ostuni hotel knowledge is limited to our experience, but the entire experience could not have been more lovely. From the moment we called for parking directions until the (very early) morning we checked out, every single staff member ensured that we had an incredible stay in this beautiful city.
FYI: Parking is $10 / day. La Sommita Relais offers a shuttle from the parking lot. When you arrive, call the hotel. They will send someone to pick you up. It is truly door-to-door service – and much easier than schlepping up the hill with your luggage.
Similar to Borgo dei Conti, we were invited to sit down for a local drink while we checked in. Tom thought it was a type of wassail. This is such a delightful way to start a hotel visit. I don’t know why more properties haven’t jumped on this bandwagon. When we got to our room, they had a local lemonade on ice, as well as a pastry for us to enjoy, too.
La Sommita Relais – Room 8 – Il Sole
I waited too long to book, so we “ended up” with a deluxe room with a balcony. Truly, I probably would have booked the same room, even with choices. Maybe I would have opted for a room with a bathtub though. This room includes a lovely terrace with a table and chairs. (There was also a table and chairs in the room.) Our room was absolutely romantic and cozy, especially in the evenings. The beds are pretty comfortable, though my hip was ready for a change by the time we checked out.
Rooms are minimalist in design but not the expense of feeling luxurious or comfortable. I adore the linens and the curtains. The high ceilings and white walls help the room to feel spacious and airy. Yet, with the curtains drawn in the evenings, it felt warm and cozy, especially when you could hear the wind whipping outside. There is a large flat-screen TV in the room, but we never turned it on. The room is really well designed with plenty of storage. Our room had a wardrobe that kept the luggage out of the room while also offering plenty of room to hang our clothes and store them in drawers.
La Sommita Relais Bathroom
Overall, the bathroom and walk-in shower is incredibly spacious. The bathrooms are stocked with Bvlgari amenities, which smell delightful, and my hair has never been more clean. Water pressure is great, especially for a hill town, and we didn’t run into any issues with hot water. Rooms come with spa robes and slippers, which we put to good use.
The hotel is on the edge of the city, so the terrace offers clear views to the Adriatic Sea. Sunrises are magical and blue hour is especially lovely. The terrace is well-lit and very private if you want to spend your evening out there. If you want to take advantage of the mini bar, I found prices to be extremely reasonable. There is also a bar downstairs and you can take your drink up to the library or back to your room. Since we had our own balcony, we opted to enjoy that view more often than not.
Breakfast at La Sommita Relais
On our first day, we slept in and decided to head out to explore Ostuni around 11:00. We were greeted by one of the staff members who invited us to come to breakfast. When we explained that we planned to skip breakfast that morning, she asked us, quite bluntly, “Why?”
We laughed and promised to attend the next morning. It is easy to see why she was concerned. With any number of fresh options, it’s impossible to have a bad breakfast at La Sommita Relais. There are made-to-order eggs, fresh fruits, pastries, and delicious meats and cheeses. Breakfast is included in your room rate, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of it.
When we called down to let the front desk know that we would need to check out in the early morning hours, they offered to make a us a to-go breakfast box. We insisted that they didn’t need to trouble themselves, but it speaks to the outstanding service (and delicious breakfast) that they even offered.
La Sommita Relais Spa
The hotel offers a hammam and a Turkish bath, which we were able to reserve (at least) once a day. This proved to be a great way to start our day, but it was also a great way to unwind and relax.
I booked a custom massage, which used Tahitian oils. The smell was incredibly relaxing and the entire experience left me in a state of pure bliss for the remainder of the day. I recommend scheduling at least one full day for self-care and enjoying the spa amenities at the hotel.
One of the things I love about the Relais and Chateaux properties is how the spas encourage that you slow down. They have even made a believer out of my husband and we’re constantly on the hunt for saunas and spas in Dallas now.
Ostuni Travel Guide Restaurant Recommendations
While Ostuni was certainly hopping when we arrived on December 26, not every restaurant was open for the winter season. We found ourselves in the middle of the old town square, Piazza della Liberta, trying to choose a restaurant. Fortunately, it worked out really well!
Osteria Ostuni Bistrot
This was the first meal we had in Ostuni and it didn’t disappoint. A cozy restaurant that seems popular for apertivo as well, Ostuni Bistrot welcomed us warmly. (We loved it so much that we went back for apertivo on our last night – and should have just stayed for dinner.) I don’t even like meatballs, but I could have made multiple meals out of these meatballs. Same with the bruschetta. There’s fresh produce and there’s Ostuni produce. Nothing compares to how delicious this bruschetta was.
We tried two different variations of orecchiette, the ear-shaped pasta that the region is known for. Both were delicious. One thing that we found funny was that they (somewhat) reluctantly felt like they should offer us parmesan for our food. Our waiter assured us we wouldn’t need it, but it felt like he thought he should offer. Parmesan was not needed. Americans, please try local food before dousing it with cheese. (This was not the only place we ran into this.) Beyond the pasta, we found the local beer and wine to be quite sessionable (drinkable), but I opted for the Aperol spritz. Ostuni Bistrot makes one of the best I’ve had.
This staff is also the most delightful. Every time we saw them after our first night, they recognized us and said hello. We couldn’t figure out if it’s because most people don’t stay for an extended time or they just wanted us to feel welcome. Either way, we certainly enjoyed the hospitality.
Trattoria Fave e Fogghje
Tucked off a small side street, Fave e Fogghje is a quirky restaurant that reminded us of one of our favorite restaurants in Cinque Terre. With multiple dining rooms, there is no telling where you’ll end up eating, but one thing is for sure, the service and food will be good.
Our starter for the evening was a mixed meat platter with fresh cheese. I don’t think I’ve seen Tom enjoy cheese as much as he did while we were in Ostuni. I mean, he loves pecorino, but the fresh mozzarella and burrata are definitely contenders for first place in his mind. We opted for two different types of orecchiette for the main courses. I didn’t enjoy the meatballs in the orecchiette as much as I thought I would. And, I preferred the meatballs from Osteria Ostuni Bistrot.
Il Gatto Rosso
Almost every evening, I would get gelato and Tom would get a pizza to take back to the hotel. While Tom enjoyed Pizzeria Notti Bianche for the first part of the trip, he ended up picking up Il Gatto Rosso at one point, and it quickly became his favorite. The picante salami had such a strong and delicious flavor that he couldn’t finish it. (That’s saying a lot, if you know Tom.) On our last night, we tried a pizzeria with the highest ratings, and it was the most disappointing meal of our trip. Maybe they were having an off night; Il Gatto Rosso gets Tom’s vote for best pizza in Ostuni.
Cremeria alla Scala
I think it’s probably pretty well known that I think Buon Gusto in Pienza is the best gelato in Italy. That said, Cremeria alla Scala in Ostuni gives Buon Gusto a run for its money. For 2.50 euro, you can get a cone with two flavors piled high. Whether it was the hazelnut and chocolate or the fruit flavor combination, the gelato didn’t ever disappoint. The only disappointment was when the gelateria closed early on an evening they deemed “too cold for gelato.” Even still, we had a good laugh over Facebook. Without question, I would come back to Ostuni solely for this gelato.
What to Do in Ostuni and Puglia
We found it incredibly difficult to find information on Ostuni and Puglia. The Lonely Planet Southern Italy book devoted a few pages to it, as did the Frommer’s Italy 2020 book. Most of the things I found online were focused on Lecce, which looks lovely, but is an hour drive from Ostuni. After visiting Ostuni and its surrounding towns, Tom and I both feel that this area is severely neglected by travel writers and bloggers. If we had been able to find a little more information, we probably would have been able to put together a better itinerary. As such, we did the best we could. We took full advantage of the opportunity to slow down and enjoy being in one place for four days!
Walking Tour of Ostuni
There is a local guide that offers daily walking tours of Ostuni in English, and it’s quite affordable. We would see him out and about every morning and every afternoon near the Ostuni cathedral. Though we talked about taking advantage of this and booking a tour, we never did. We found it to be quite enjoyable to roam the beautiful streets, pop into churches, and explore the alleyways on our town. Keep in mind that Ostuni is a hill town, so you’ll definitely get your exercise in. If you’re not much of a walker, the guided tour may be perfect for you.
You should explore the city during the day and during the evening. At night, the city absolutely glistens. I’ve never seen anything like it, but the way the light reflects off the stone is absolutely magical. If ever there was a city to be content wandering after dark, Ostuni is it.
Visiting the Trulli at Alberbello
One of the first day trips we made from Ostuni was to visit the trulli of Alberobello. These cylindrical cone-roofed houses are absolutely fascinating and are an engineering marvel when you consider how they were built. Like many medieval structures, they could be identified by the symbols etched onto the roofs, rather than by using words or numbers. Many shops are housed in the trulli now, so it is possible to experience what the inside looks like, without resorting to an AirBnB experience. The trulli church in Alberobello is absolutely stunning and worth a visit, too.
If you are interested in architecture or history, Alberobello is worth a visit. I was also able to pick up a hand-painted Christmas ornament, too. There seemed to be a number of hand-crafted souvenirs that I have not seen in other places in Italy, too. We also noticed that there was a small Christmas market, as well as an ice skating rink. The only stalls that were open while we were there for food items and mulled wine, so it seems to be serve locals, as opposed to solely tourists.
Olive Oil Tasting in Puglia
One of the things that we would have liked to do is visit a masseria, though with the holidays, we didn’t even try. This region is known for being one of the oldest producers of olive oil, and based on the size of the trees, I don’t doubt that reputation. Most masserias require 24-hours advance notice to visit, though I’m sure that the staff at La Sommita Relais could have helped us secure reservations.
That said, we did visit a shop in Monopoli that offered several local products to try, including wine and and olive oil. (Made in Puglia prodotti tipici, Via Barbacana, 80, 70043 Monopoli BA, Italy) We ended up purchasing both to bring home. They never made it. We ended up enjoying them on our last night in Ostuni. I highly recommend trying as many of the local products as possible, but most certainly the olive oil. For less than 4 euro, we were able to purchase the most delicious olive oil we’ve ever tried. It’s incredible how inexpensive quality products are when you are able to purchase them in the region in which they are produced.
There is also an olive oil shop in Ostuni, which probably offers a tasting. We popped in after dinner one night, and I was too full to even consider eating anything else.
Take a Cooking Class in Puglia
One of the things we tried to do was book a pasta cooking class in Ostuni. I really wanted to learn how to make those delicious ear-shaped pasta. Unfortunately, we were unable to confirm our cooking class, though we were offered an alternative class in Taranto, but it was further than we were prepared to commit to on a Sunday morning. The cuisine in the Puglia region is different than other parts of Italy, so I strongly recommend trying to take a cooking class if you have the opportunity though.
Returning to Ostuni and Puglia
We loved our visit to Ostuni. Though the December temperatures aren’t quite warm enough for the beaches, it is a more temperate part of Europe and Italy. The wind did get up from time to time, so we were glad to have our jackets, but it wasn’t unbearably cold or chilly. We really enjoyed the local vibe, and similar to the hill towns, we felt like we had the locals to ourselves after Christmas.
That said, while we would love to return in the spring, we found it to be absolutely lovely in the winter. All the small towns were decorated beautifully for Christmas and appeared to have small Christmas markets. It feels very festive. The local were friendly, the food and flavors were delicious, and the hotel was delightfully cozy. I highly recommend heading to southern Italy, but do as much research as you can before you go. A little extra research pays dividends in the experience that you can have.
Be prepared to slow down and you won’t be disappointed.