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Sometimes we haven’t been there, done that. When a friend called asking for tips on Mykonos, we couldn’t help her as our information from some 20 odd years ago (backpacking after college) was just a little out of date. Then we remembered a friend of a friend, a very chic woman who has a house on the island for over 20 years who was more than willing to help. This is what Daytripper is all about - word of mouth from trusted sources.
Hotel Info: I steer friends to stay at three different hotels depending on what they are looking for. Santa Marina has a private beach, quite decent and there’s a large pool. It’s not far from town and it’s the most similar to a resort that we have on Mykonos. Cavo Tagoo is not on the beach, but it's across the street from the sea. Everything is very white, a design and décor that works for grown ups (I wouldn’t stay here with young kids.) There's a pool but I suggest you go to different beaches every day. It’s also pretty close to town. If you want to stay in town, there is the Belvedere Hotel; it's a small boutique hotel with a stunning Nobu restaurant. You can then go to beaches during the day and not have to drive at night, a good plus after a late night dinner and dancing.
Best Beaches: I love Agios Sostis, though it’s not organized, by which I mean there’s no umbrellas, etc. But, there’s a tiny taverna called Kiki's that doesn’t take reservations, everyone waits, EVERYONE. Lia Beach is 30 minutes from town, it’s organized with umbrellas and there’s a taverna on the beach. The water is lovely. If you’re looking for something low key, Kalafatis Beach is a great place to enjoy the water - it’s very local with a taverna that’s just OK.
Lunchtime Beach Eats: Spilia is a restaurant on the beach in a cave. It's great-- really fab--you must book ahead of time. Definitely go. On Ftelia Beach, Alemagou is the coolest restaurant, another don’t miss. It’s not the nicest beach on the island, but people still swim there. Nammos on Psarou Beach is a complete scene...it’s like St. Tropez’s Club 55, but on steroids... totally full on. The water is beautiful and it is something to experience--at least once during your stay. On Kalo Livadi, an organized beach there is a good taverna as well. I love going to Fokos Beach; it’s a mix of locals and cool people, the closest to what Mýkonos was many years ago. There are no loungers’ or umbrellas, but there is a simple taverna that we like very much. The owners spent a lot of money refurbishing Panormos, there’s a good restaurant and you can arrange beach seating. Finally, Scorpios restaurant is very cool…almost too cool… great food, great vibe, very cool peeps, must book. Must go.
Puglia, the ”heel” of Italy’s boot, is having a travel moment, yet it still feels undiscovered and unspoiled. Life remains simple and relaxed. Sunny weather, endless olive groves, miles of coastline, whitewashed villages and incredible food are just a few of the many draws. Stay at a Masseria for an authentic experience. Many of these ancient fortified farmhouses, unique to southern Italy, have been converted into lovely B and B’s.
The Borgo Egnazia is part of the San Domenico group that also includes the nearby Masseria San Domenico, another high-end property with a private sandy beach. Brand new this season is their latest addition—Masseria Carrube right outside of Otsuni with all the access to the facilities and beach club at the San Domenico. The 16th century farmhouse has been converted into a stunning 19-room boutique hotel and the on site restaurant is 100% vegetarian.
Masseria Coccaro is known for its period charm, beautiful swimming pool, excellent cuisine and cooking classes it’s very family friendly. Their sister property, Masseria Torre Maizza is quieter with a no kids policy during the busy season.
Puglia can get very hot and crowded during the peak summer months. It’s best to visit late spring or early fall.
Start: We landed in Bari, after an early morning flight from Rome and spent an hour or so exploring the old historic center, where women still roll orecchiette, Puglia’s typical pasta, outside of their homes on Bari’s narrow windy streets. Visit the Basilica di San Nicola and get lost in the crooked streets and passageways where laundry hangs from the balconies and kids run through the alleys playing ball with their friends. We were tempted to stay for lunch at Osteria delle Travi Il Buco or at Al Pescatore, but we had reservations seaside in Polignano a Mare at Il Bastione. (Approximately a 40-minute drive) Sitting on the panoramic terrace pondering what to order on the seafood centric menu we didn’t regret our choice. Afterwards make sure to explore the town, one of our favorites in Puglia. (We had been hoping to eat at Grotta Palazzese, scenic and sexy in a grotto overlooking the water, but it was too windy.)
Surprise Stay: We were disappointed when our first choices of Torre Coccaro and their sister property, Torre Maizza were booked. (Friends had stayed and loved it!) But, Helen of Essential Italy, who handles all the reservations for Il Convento, our second stop, told us that while not as “swish”, Masseria Montenapoleone had a lovely location (just a short drive from the coast near the town of Pezze di Greco), charming and comfortable rooms, plus superb food and a passionate owner --Giuliano. So we booked, albeit with lower expectations. Turning into the long driveway lined with olive trees; at our first sight of the white and red main farmhouse we were all hooked. Giuliano showed us around and …well, we were all hooked! We went for a walk through the gardens passing the chickens, the fig trees, and rows and rows of ancient olive trees and…yes, we were hooked! We left wishing we had a few more days and hankering to return. Sometimes not knowing what to expect is magical!
The Masseria: After years of abandonment Giuliano and his family have restored Masseria Napoleone carving out 15 rooms and a stunning salt-water pool. They maintained its unique rustic charm and rural characteristics filling the rooms with handmade furniture and lace curtains. It’s all very eclectic and yes slightly eccentric. Montenapoleone is still very much a working farm—an organic agriturismo where guests are welcome to pick the fruit in season right from the garden. There’s a cozy breakfast nook and terrace set with a full buffet spread every morning. We were lucky to arrive for the twice a week BBQ, where at a large community table we dined with guests from Belgium, Stockholm and Louisiana –a fun, lively international dinner.
Don’t miss: Take a cooking class while at the Masseria and learn how to make homemade pasta using produce just picked from the garden.
Activities: Explore the nearby towns of Martina Franca. Locorotondo, and Cisternino. In case of rain a visit to the caves in Castellana is a good alternative. The white city of Ostuni is a must visit—eat at Osteria del Temp Perso. Giuliano and his staff can steer you in the right direction.
Skip: We had heard from a few people that Alberello was a disappointment but felt that it was a must see—after all it’s a Unesco World Heritage site and home to hundreds of Trulli; the ancient stone dwellings with conical roofs. We found it touristy with souvenir stalls lining the approach to the old village. We were sorry we hadn’t listened to our friends.
Local Eats: Giuliano is very knowledgable and can recommend restaurants in the area. Helen offered us her suggestions—“If you want to go a little upmarket have a look at La Maddelena in Savelletri. The position is lovely, with the sea lapping beneath your feet and the seafood is excellent. Another very close to Montenapoleone is Il Cortiletto, for excellent, simple Pugliese food. In Cisternino there’s a good enoteca with a restaurant in the main high street called Il Cucco – again super food and an excellent wine list. “
Puglia has garnered a lot of press these last few years as a hot travel destination; yet--for now--it remains a less traveled and authentic region in Italy, where olive trees dominate the landscape and small villages populate the hills. The simple things prevail—sun, sea and delicious food. Masserias and small hotels add to the charm and in one week we slept in a farmhouse, a cave and a former convent. That convent, Il Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, located on the tip of the heel near the Adriatic coast is one of the most unique properties in Puglia, the home of Lady Athena McAlpine and an incredible 8 room B&B.
Il Convento provides free laundry service during your stay, a big plus, especially if it’s in the middle of your trip. We all left with fresh clothes for the remainder of our vacation.
You can fly into either Bari or Brindisi. Il Convento is a two-hour drive from Bari and one hour from Brindsi.
Combine your trip with a stay at a Masserria closer to Bari and explore the charming towns such as Poligano a Mare, Otsuni, and Martina Franca. We traveled on from Il Convento to Matera, on the border of Puglia in Basiliciata. The town, one of the most dramatic and atmospheric places we have ever been is a "wow" and a must visit. Sleeping in a restored natural cave at Albergo Sextantio was memorable and surprisingly luxurious.
Check In: We arrived in the late afternoon at Il Convento after driving through the small town of Marittima di Duso, a sleepy little village where we passed mostly old people strolling down the narrow streets. Our GPS had us going in circles, till finally one of us spotted a sign for the church of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, just on the outskirts of town. Standing outside the church, we knocked on the small side door next-door, still unsure it was the right place. The door swung open, Athena warmly greeted us and the experience began. For a stay at Il Convento is an experience, entering the inner courtyard transports you immediately to another world--blink you might just think you’re in Mexico, Cartagena, or India perhaps, rather than in Italy. Immediately it’s as if you’re at a friend’s grand villa rather than a guest at a hotel.
History: Il Convento, a 15th century Franciscan monastery, was in complete ruin when the late Lord Alistair McAlpine and his wife Athena bought the property. They lovingly restored it, furnishing it with collections from their extensive travels. Every nook holds another treasure such as Moroccan carpets, Indian ceramics, tribal art, and everywhere books—stacks and stacks of incredible books.
Wake Up: This is non negotiable. Go for a run (or walk) down to what we referred to as ‘the swimming hole.’ We were up early, and so for the three days of our stay this became our morning ritual. As it was late September we pretty much had the place to ourselves, apart from an older gentleman who seemed happy to see us each day, smiling and nodding warmly. The water is clear and beautiful, the spot beyond picturesque and it is an ideal way to start your day. Pierluigi, Il Convento’s in house chef, told us that in the summer months each inch of rock is covered with people sunbathing. There is something to be said for late spring or early fall travel!
Mangia: Breakfast is spread out on the dining room table, an abundant array of delicious breads, pizza focaccia, homemade jams and jellies, yogurt, plus fresh fruit and juices. Pierluigi is in the kitchen, happy to make you eggs as he plans the day’s menu; soon off to the market or his mother’s garden to get provisions. Breakfast is communal and its fun to converse with the other guests, sharing highlights of each other’s trips to nearby towns and restaurants.
Relax: It’s tempting to never leave Il Convento during your stay. There are so many places to read, cozy corners, hidden nooks. The pool is beautiful and perfect for lounging. Pierluigi will make you an incredible lunch utilizing different spots around the property. And our lunch was lovely; an assortment of cheeses and cured meats, fresh raviolis, stewed zucchini, rocket with cherry tomatoes. During the day guests are invited to help themselves while Pierluigi is out shopping for dinner. Wander into the kitchen for something sweet (the biscuits are addictive) or an afternoon Aperol Spritz.
Don’t Miss: Make sure to explore the beautiful grounds; we especially enjoyed the rooftop succulent garden. Also on the rooftop there is a yoga room that can be booked for massages or a private yoga sessions.
Dinner: Though there are towns and restaurants within driving distance, trust me, you wont want to leave. Have a pre dinner drink in the cloistered courtyard; magical at night with the candelabra’s lit and classical music playing. It’s just you and the stars. Beautifully set tables around the garden (weather permitting) or in one of the small dining rooms are set just for your group. Pierluigi is a very good cook; everything is local, simply prepared and delicious. Dinner ends with sips of the house made grappa infused with fruits and spices, let’s just say we tried quite a few.
Excursions: Athena can supply you with maps and suggestions for exploring the nearby towns and beaches. One afternoon we headed to the seaside town of Otranto, a short drive along the coast. The Cathedral is a must! We all agreed the 12th century mosaic floor was remarkable, unlike anything we had ever experienced in a church. The chapel of the dead behind the altar is eerily filled with bones and skulls of 800 martyrs who refused to renounce their Catholic faith. The small Chiesa di San Pietro is another worthy stop to see beautiful Byzantine frescos currently undergoing preservation. Stop for a gelato at Gelato Naturale and if you choose to stay for dinner grab a seat at popular Ristorante da Sergio. Another day we headed to Baroque Lecce, often referred to as the “Florence of the South’. Wander the narrow streets where it feels like there’s a Baroque-era church at each turn. Highlights include the Basilica di Santa Croce, Centro Storico and the Duomo di Lecce. Don’t miss lunch at La Zie, an extremely popular trattoria specializing in home style cooking. Each dish that came out of the women only kitchen was delicious; this was authentic, rustic food and one of our best meals in Puglia. Another day, Athena suggested lunch by the sea. A dramatic drive along the coastline brought us to Lo Scalo in Marina di Novaglie. After lunch you can travel further down the coast where there are many small beaches where you can rent chairs and enjoy a swim.
Not For Everyone: Il Convento is a very special place and we all loved our stay. However, if you can’t be without your Wi-Fi, then Il Convento is not for you. There are no phones, televisions or Internet, encouraging guests to relax and slow down. (We have to admit, we did wish they had Wi-Fi, and eagerly logged on whenever we left the property.) All of the rooms are uniquely decorated, and all have a private bathroom. However, the rooms on the second floor do not offer bathrooms ensuite instead they are located across the hall. There is no air conditioning, not a problem when we visited in September, but during the hot summer month’s fans are provided if needed.
Reserve: To book a stay at Il Convento speak to Helen Forbes at Essential Italy who handles all reservations for Athena. Helen is extremely well versed and well traveled throughout Puglia and can recommend Masseria’s to combine with your stay, along with restaurant and sightseeing recommendations.
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Los Angeles native, Emily Ellis Fox is the force behind Materia, an online Mexi / Cali concept store featuring beautiful handmade and vintage products from both sides of the border. (Plans are in the works for a brick and mortar LA location.) Emily believes,” the spaces we inhabit are a reflection of our values, our adventures and ourselves. That what we surround ourselves with has spirit. And that, through seemingly small gestures, we can elevate our everyday.” She brings that same philosophy to her travels, immersing herself in a place, a culture. Last fall she spent a week just off the coast of Sicily in Panarea, the smallest and most well known of the Aeolian Islands. Here she shares all her discoveries, so you too can have a perfect day, weekend or week in picturesque, dreamy Panarea.
Panarea is only operative from mid-May through mid-October. Aim for the “low” part of that season (June and September), avoiding July and August when crowds, prices, partying and temperatures soar.
There are no cars on Panarea, so make sure to arrange luggage transport with your hotel or rental host ahead of time. Golf carts can be hired for rides to the beach or elsewhere, should you not wish to walk.
Also missing from the island? Pharmacies. Make sure you pack essentials such as sunscreen and bug spray. Mosquitoes do come out at night, although their bites look worse than they feel.
Snorkel gear can be bought or rented in town and is a must for boating days. It also helps in avoiding jellyfish, as they abound. Their stings seemed mild, but caution is advised nonetheless.
For those hoping to hike Stromboli via Panarea, note that it requires spending one night away from the island. Sunset treks are guided and not for the faint of heart, so reach out to hiking companies for advice on necessary gear and whether the volcano is active during your travel time.
Why Go: Panarea is a study in contrasts: clear seas lapping against dark cliffs, beloved by a tony crowd despite its stubbornly un-tony accommodations and home to sunny laid back vibes even while perched under an active volcano's shadow (Panarea boasts the best view of nearby Stromboli’s smoke show). It's precisely these contradictions, however, that make Panarea so seductively appealing--civilized yet wild, beautiful yet tough, unassuming yet full of vitality.
Logistics: Panarea is accessible only by boat, with ports of departure in Sicily (Milazzo, Palermo) and mainland Italy (Naples, Reggio Calabria). Ferry schedules vary depending on time of year making OK Ferry a vital resource for determining timetables and buying tickets in advance. For our mid-September trip we flew into Catania, Sicily. From there, it’s a bus or van service for the hour and a half trip to Milazzo’s port. Another 90 minute hydrofoil ride and you’re finally in Panarea.
Stay: We checked into Hotel Cincotta, a pro tip for those in the know. Located next to the infamous Raya (see below), it’s half the price but no less romantic--with classic Mediterranean architecture, sea views and a private balcony in every room. Nothing in Panarea can truly be called luxurious, so embrace the slightly old school aesthetic: there’s charm here in spades. A delightfully helpful staff, plus an enviable spot in town, upscale restaurant, seaside pool, great bar and a complimentary breakfast overlooking Stromboli add up to true value that can’t be beat.
More Options: Hotel Raya is the spot that made Panarea famous--and still the top pick for honeymooners looking to splurge. It's known for their bar with magnificent views, a well-heeled crowd and an owner who practically invented bohemian chic. That said, be advised that they take the “bohemian” part seriously and have refused to make upgrades that would alter its three star rating. For families, consider skipping a hotel altogether and rent a villa instead through vrbo or airbnb. Opt for one in San Pietro or between town and the beach (that's likely where the kids will spend most of their time.)
Beach: Cala Zimmari is Panarea's sole sandy beach, flanked by hills of cacti and in view of yachts offshore. A half hour walk from town, it’s located in a decently sized cove where you can rent an umbrella and chaise. At the end of the beach, climb a hill to visit neighboring Cala Junco (or just observe its picturesque qualities from below). At the top is a smattering of Bronze Age ruins, while below is a quieter rock “beach” without amenities.
Boat: Boat rental kiosks dot San Pietro’s port and we favored Diego, a Panarea native with comparatively fair prices. While there are multiple models to choose from, you only need a basic motorboat: it’s spacious, comes with a cooler and has an ample canopy for shade. Test your sea legs by circling the island first, stopping at whatever coves and scenery suit your mood (Cala Junco at one end and La Nave at the other are both stunners). But the real draw is the islets offshore: Lisca Bianca (made famous by Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura), Dattilo and Basiluzzo. If you have time, allot a day for each of these two routes. There’s plenty to explore.
Drink: Aperitifs are as much a part of the culture here as any meal. Embrace the ritual with an Aperol spritz (the island's pre-dinner drink of choice) and accompanying antipasti. Il Bar del Porto is the island’s unofficial gathering spot: Located on San Pietro's dock, it's the ideal place for people watching and a glimpse of ferries rolling in. Nearby at the Raya, a picture-perfect crowd equally matches the picture-perfect views of Stromboli. Sunset may be molto romantico here, but after dinner is when the party really heats up. While its sceney nightclub is active solely in August, the more laid back bar stays open all season.
Eat: Snag a window seat at Da Adelina, where a changing menu is determined by what the fishermen and foraging chef have found fresh that day. With a location overlooking the port and Stromboli, its candlelit ambiance is magical. Da Pina, on a vine and lemon covered terrace, serves the type of cuisine you dream about once home. Perhaps the most expensive dining experience we had, the perfectly prepared seafood was well worth it. For a change of palate, Da Antonio il Macellaio is known for its steak and cozy wine-bottle lined dining room. Non meat-eaters will find its salads and pastas to be some of the islands best. In "high" season, pizza is served on the terrace, straight from an outdoor oven. For an affordable option, fun and lively Da Francesco overlooks the port, seemingly always full. Lower prices don't mean lesser food or views--both stand on their own, especially the seafood pastas. Sweet lovers will enjoy L’Elica’s gelato offerings, while the best granita can be found at Il Bar del Porto.
Provisions: For beach days and boating excursions, we put together a picnic from Panarea in Forno, a small bakery in San Pietro. Choose from freshly baked bread, homemade slices of pizza, Sicilian salad and their specialty: the pepita (fried dough stuffed with local veggies and cheese). A small market next door carries all other needed essentials: water, wine, cold beer, cheese, fruit and crackers. Don’t miss the olives behind the counter here, as they’re the tastiest we've ever encountered.
Shop: Plenty of tourist-driven shops abound, filled with sarongs, straw baskets, caftans and Sicilian ceramics. But a few spots stand out from the crowd. At Moda Mare, design your own leather, suede or beaded sandals, custom-fit to your feet. Best of all, they're ready to pick up day-of. Across the way, Boutique Raya is the spot for those hoping to bring the hotel's bohemian aesthetic home. Opt for a necklace or handbag sporting the hotel's signature silver stingray. Down the hill, the Ibizan espadrille company, Manebi, set up a pop-up store last year filled with fashion-forward styles. And while molded plastic and rope beach bags may or may not be your thing, they're on the arm of every Italian who steps off the ferry. Get your fix at O-bag, the island’s outpost of this well-known brand. DT365 note - our friend Julie stopped in Panarea last summer and raved about Buganville, it was her favorite shop on the island!
Just One Day: Many people visit Panarea as a day trip from Sicily or in combination with some of the other Aeolian Islands. With only a day, skip the beach. It’s lovely, but the most dramatic scenery is found offshore. Gather snorkel gear and picnic supplies early, then head down to San Pietro’s dock. Once on your boat, steer towards Datillo—the morning light against its sheer cliffs is positively cathedral-esque. Next visit Lisca Bianca and its small neighbor Bottaro. The strait created between these two is a swimmer's paradise and perfect for lunch. You could easily spend an afternoon here, but intrepid adventurers will head towards Basiluzzo, the furthest and largest of the islets where choppier waters mean fewer boats. The reward is a close up view of Stromboli and the most extraordinary lava patterns around. Back at Panarea, wash up, and then explore San Pietro, pausing at Moda Mare to have custom sandals made. After wandering the streets, pick up your new shoes and head to Il Bar del Porto, where it's time for an aperitif. People watching is a sport here, so enjoy your vantage point as the sun-kissed dinner crowd files in. For food, you’ll want a reservation next door at Da Adelina. Then make your way to Hotel Raya and perch yourself towards Stromboli, in hopes of a fireworks show. Whether or not there's a dance party underway, grab a prosecco, go barefoot and sway to your own beat. Completely relaxed by now, you'll feel utterly far from the "real" world. Enjoy it. Appreciate it. You're dancing within view of a volcano on the Mediterranean. Life doesn't get better than this.
Note: To get the best sense of the island, it's worth staying at least a weekend. For its full charm (and ultimate relaxation), stay longer; we enjoyed six days without budging.
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