Bunny’s Luxury Weekend Break in Southern Italy
Bunny Loves Italy
Bunny is known to love all things Italian. Mr. Bunny thinks this mainly applies to the local menfolk but Bunny is equally fascinated by the food, the language, the scenery, the wine, the history, the art, the style and elegance of the whole country. Italy is, quite simply, one of her favourite countries in the world.
Bunny has been to Italy more times than you can count on your fingers and toes, but she hasn’t quite seen everything yet. Southern Italy was underrepresented in Bunny’s Italian travels, so last autumn she ventured down to Puglia and Basilicata for a romantic break with Mr. Bunny.
Read below about Bunny’s luxurious long weekend in Southern Italy.
What to Do and See in Southern Italy
Bunny had only three nights at her disposal and a long list of places to see and things to do in Southern Italy. She had long ago set her eyes on a magnificent cave hotel, Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita, in Basilicata but she also wanted to swim in the Adriatic Sea, check out the curious-looking trullo buildings in Puglia, wander around ancient Matera, enjoy delicious Italian cuisine and drink copious amounts of Prosecco.
How to combine all of this on a short weekend break?
Bunny decided to fly into Bari, rent a car and make an itinerary that would include the highlights of her wish list. She wanted to start on an indulgent note and booked the first night in a Small Luxury Hotel hotel La Peschiera in Monopoli.
From there, she made her way to Matera, stopping in the trullo town of Alberobello on the way. Then she spent two nights in that magnificent cave hotel in Matera and explored this fascinating ancient city by foot, before making her way back to Bari for her return flight.
The driving on this itinerary was minimal (to avoid Mr. Bunny grumbling too much), with an emphasis on relaxation, gentle sight-seeing and luxurious pampering.
La Peschiera (Perhaps the Best Luxury Hotel in South Italy)
Bunny’s first night in the Puglia region was spent in an amazing 5-star hotel: La Peschiera. Bunny had drooled over pictures of La Peschiera for years but could not really justify the sky-high price tag without a valid excuse.
So she had to play it smart. La Peschiera is part of the Small Luxury Hotels collection of which Bunny is a member. Having accumulated enough SLH stays under her belt, Bunny was able to request a complimentary SLH stay at La Peschiera. To her great delight, this request was promptly granted and she ended up staying in this wonderful place free of charge. Hurrah!
It was an easy drive of 55 mins from the Bari airport to La Peschiera. The property is not very easy to spot from the road but once inside, everything falls into place effortlessly. The Bunnies were met directly at the parking lot and their luggage was immediately whisked away to their room.
The welcome at the reception was very friendly, and Bunny was pleased with her first impressions of this stunning property. La Peschiera has a beautiful location right by the sea and it even boasts a private beach.
As Bunny’s stay was complimentary, she did not expect to be upgraded (as would usually occur with a normal, paid SLH stay) but that’s exactly what happened. She was soon escorted to her fancily named Sunshine Sea View Room with Terrace.
Sunshine Sea View Room with Terrace
The room was absolutely fabulous! It was simple, spacious and elegant, all about white space, crisp linens and thoughtful details.
The bed was super comfortable and there was not one, but two full bathrooms, one with a shower and one with a bathtub, depending on your fancy. Both had lovely toiletries, and the best kind of fluffy towels and bathrobes.
The room was located right next to the sea, with a fantastic semi-private patio with sun beds, a table and chairs. It was a thrill to be able to swim in the Adriatic Sea directly from your own patio.
It was also wonderful to fall asleep to the rhythmic sounds of the sea at night. In fact, the Bunnies agreed that they had not slept this close to the sea since their stay in an overwater villa in the Maldives. Mosquito screens on all the windows ensured a lovely breeze in addition to the soothing sound of waves.
The sight of a Nespresso machine in any hotel room always makes Mr. Bunny happy and La Peschiera was no exception. Bunny herself was more interested in the lovely hand-written note from the hotel manager and a bottle of Prosecco on ice, which appeared in the room as a welcome gift for the Bunnies.
La Peschiera’s Saleblu restaurant is a lovely candle-lit affair with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the sea for those days when the weather is too rough to sit outside. The venue is known for its excellent seafood so Bunny was a little worried about their vegetarian offerings. She had emailed the hotel in advance and was reassured that vegetarian food would not be a problem.
The Bunnies enjoyed lunch and dinner in La Peschiera’s restaurant and both meals were excellent. The lunch menu included sufficient vegetarian items and, for dinner, Bunny was able to negotiate a special vegetarian menu in advance.
The service was formal but excellent and the wines were very good if expensive.
Curiously, only the menus handed out to men included prices. Bunny usually finds this kind of practice pretty patronising but she was in such a good mood and in such a gorgeous environment, that she silenced her inner feminist for once and let the incident slide.
Sauna and the Pools
La Peschiera, as the name might suggest, is restored from a former fishing reserve. Although no hint of fish lingers at this luxurious place, this history explains the many swimming pools dotting the premises. For its 13 guest rooms, Bunny counted seven different swimming pools! She very much approves of that ratio.
A Finnish sauna by the pools was a nice touch and a surprise, especially for such a hot weather region. Bunny visited La Peschiera at the end of September and found the pools a bit too cold for extended swimming sessions, so the sauna was more than a welcome addition.
Breakfast on the Patio
At La Peschiera, breakfast is served at the lovely seaside patio of your room, at a time requested by you. Bunny loved this touch!
She made her order the night before and everything was organised in an immaculate way and the order was followed to a tee. She noticed that delicious Italian coffee tastes even better when enjoyed on your own sunny patio by the sea in a comfy bathrobe. Who knew.
The service at La Peschiera was excellent throughout Bunny’s stay.
Bunny finds that snobbiness is sometimes a problem in places this fancy, but La Peschiera staff was anything but. They were professional, friendly and easy-going, displaying good rapport even with grumpy, difficult customers such as Mr. Bunny.
Now isn’t that a beautiful expression: Adults Only. Bunny likes!
This is the policy at La Peschiera and rightly so. The white-washed environment is perfect for a romantic couple’s getaway, tranquility, elegance and luxury - everything that children would only ruin.
Short but Sweet
Bunny’s stay at La Peschiera may have lasted only 24 hours but she left like it was a perfect mini-break. Upon leaving, Bunny asked Mr. Bunny if he would have anything to complain about. “Cannot think of anything”, said Mr. Bunny. This must have been a first!
From the Seaside to the Caves
From their relaxing stay by the sea, the Bunnies continued towards their next destination: Matera.
But first, a lovely little stop along the way.
Alberobello is a small Puglian town known for its trullo buildings - whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular stop on the Southern Italy touristic route.
Alberobello was an easy 30-minute drive from Monopoli, and directly on the Bunnies’ way to Matera, so naturally they had to make a stop there.
They followed the signs for the trullo zone and spent a couple of hours hopping around this cute little place. Alberobello was busy with tourists, with a hint of a Disney-like atmosphere in the air, and plenty of hawkers and souvenir sellers to boot. If you ever find yourself in desperate need of a trullo hat, this is the place to buy it, Bunny says.
Although Bunny is usually not too keen on very touristic locations, she did enjoy her short stop in Alberobello. It was a very pleasant place to stroll around, take pictures and eat some gelato before hitting the road again.
From Alberobello, it was another easy drive of approximately one hour until the cave town of Matera.
Located in a remote corner of Italy’s Basilicata region, just past the border with Puglia, Matera is one of the oldest continually inhabited towns in the world, known for its cave dwelling systems called Sassi. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993 and Bunny thinks it might just be one of Italy’s best (almost) hidden gems.
Interestingly, Matera and its cave-dwelling population used to be a source of shame for Italy. When the reality of the squalor and disease-ridden life in the caves was brought to the attention of the larger population in the 1950s, the Italian government moved most of Matera's population to a new, modern part of the town.
The network of caves remained in the old city. Since the 1980s, people started returning and many of the caves have since been transformed into stunning boutique hotels, restaurants and art spaces.
The town has long been popular with Italian tourists but foreign visitors are also slowly starting to find Matera. In 2019, Matera will be the European Capital of Culture.
The best way to explore Matera is on foot. Bunny loved hopping around aimlessly, getting lost and stumbling across gorgeous little squares, narrow labyrinth-like alleyways and fascinating courtyards. The ancient sections of the city comprise two Sassi - Sassi Barisano and Sassi Caveoso - and you can spend anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days exploring both.
Matera also has a number of stunning rock-hewn cave churches. In fact, the scenery in and around Matera is so biblical that it’s where Mel Gibson chose to film The Passion of the Christ.
Bunny visited the biggest of the rupestrian churches, San Pietro Barisano, and Santa Lucia alle Mave, with frescos dating back to the 12th-13th century. Both were fascinating and well worth a look.
If you are planning to visit more than one church, you can save money by buying a combo ticket, Bunny says.
Hiking by Car
Matera is located on one slope of a rocky ravine. On the other side of the ravine, the hill is punctuated with small, simple caves that Bunny had planned to explore during her time in Matera.
Unfortunately, the hiking path that used to allow visitors to cross the ravine was closed for security reasons. Bunny concluded there was no way to cross the ravine by foot after numerous failed attempts to do so.
Instead, the Bunnies made their way to the opposing hill by car (boo!) when leaving Matera on their last day. The Murgia plateau across the ravine has fantastic views (and panoramic photos) of Matera and a number of walking paths to follow if you feel like hiking a bit.
In Italy, you rarely have trouble finding delicious vegetarian food. Bunny usually doesn’t even try to look for vegetarian restaurants as she knows any Italian restaurant will be just fine for her.
However, in Matera she stumbled on Fior di Cucuzza purely by chance. It was an excellent vegetarian restaurant, with freshly made, tasty food, delicious craft beer, a lovely atmosphere, and plenty of vegan options as well.
The Bunnies liked the food so much that they returned on the following day as well.
Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita
As much for the city itself, Bunny wanted to stay in Matera for the magnificent cave hotel that had been on her bucket list for a while: Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita. Having previously stayed in a lovely cave hotel in Cappadocia, Bunny had high expectations for the experience.
The hotel had provided the Bunnies with GPS coordinates of its location and those worked perfectly. Driving and parking in the labyrinth-like Matera would have been a nightmare, so the Bunnies were very happy to hand the car over to the hotel’s valet parking service upon arrival.
Sextantio La Grotte Della Civita is a small hotel, with 18 cave rooms, a reception and a rock church that serves as the breakfast room. A decade-long, painstaking restoration has turned the ancient cave complex into a spectacular boutique hotel with simple decorations, an alluring atmosphere and authentic candles lit around the property.
Upon arrival, the Bunnies received a short introduction on the history of the place and were taken on a small tour of the hotel.
When you first open the door to your cave room, you are guaranteed to have one of those wow moments that you just have to share on Instagram right away.
The caves are beautifully restored, with minimalistic decor, simple wooden furniture, luxurious bathtubs, and indoor lighting achieved with real candles.
All modern amenities are there, from hairdryers to luxurious bedding and lovely toiletries. The simple stone floors are equipped with a heating/cooling system which carefully regulates the temperature for your comfort.
There are also lush bathrobes, although the cave could have done with more towels. Bunny's room had a separate shower, but not all of the rooms have one. The shower was housed in an excavated tuff stone recess and the WC was a few steps lower than the room, all beautifully candle-lit.
There is not a lot of in-room privacy in terms of shower and bathroom facilities so stay in the cave with your partner, rather than with your mother-in-law, Bunny says.
A basket of fresh fruit was waiting for the Bunnies in the room, which was a very nice touch for weary travellers. There was also a small minibar for thirsty guests. In addition, complementary tea could be ordered and delivered to the room at any time upon request.
The only thing Bunny missed in the cave was a proper arm chair or sofa for those lazy afternoon moments. She did not even notice the absence of a TV, particularly since the Wi-Fi worked flawlessly.
How often does one get to bathe in a gorgeous free-standing bathtub in the middle of a beautifully restored ancient cave? In candle light with a glass of red wine at hand? It is priceless, Bunny says.
This is exactly what you get at Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita. Almost all of the cave rooms have bathtubs, but make sure you request one.
Not all cave rooms are created equal. Check the hotel’s website for pictures and a map of room locations to pick the one that suits your needs best. Bunny wanted a room with a shower, in addition to the fabulous bathtub, and was very happy with cave #15 where she stayed.
Every evening the hotel serves cocktails and appetizers on the terrace overlooking the Murgia National Park across the river. It was a lovely place to indulge in a few drinks before venturing into town for proper dinner. Mr. Bunny would like to note that it was cheaper to order wine by the bottle rather than by the glass.
Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita does not have a restaurant for dinner although you can arrange a private dinner. A wedding was taking place during Bunny’s stay, so that option was not available, but she was happy to go into town for dinner anyway.
Breakfast is served in the hotel’s old cave church, dating back to the 13th century, and it is a delicious affair with a wide assortment of local cheeses and fresh food, served with excellent coffee. Service at breakfast was so-so, but all was forgiven once coffee was served.
Bunny’s three-night luxury break in Southern Italy was everything she had hoped it would be.
Relaxing in the exclusivity of La Peschiera by the Adriatic Sea, checking out trullo dwellings in Alberobello and staying in the bucket list worthy cave hotel in Matera was a winning combination for her.
Two full days in Matera was enough to explore all the nooks and crannies of the old town but she could have easily spent more time there, as well as by the coast in Monopoli. Then again, there never seems enough time whenever Bunny is in Italy!