CHECK IT OUT LA FIERMONTINA, LECCE, PUGLIA

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

On Mon­day, an el­e­gant, res­o­lutely con­tem­po­rary bou­tique ho­tel opens in Lecce’s old-town quar­ter in south­ern Italy’s Puglia, a re­gion rapidly find­ing its way on to hol­i­day hot lists.

The 16-room La Fiermontina has been de­vel­oped by Paris-based Gi­a­como Fier­monte, who has a par­tic­u­lar con­nec­tion to this beau­ti­ful city, which is of­ten called the Florence of the South be­cause of its rav­ish­ing baroque ar­chi­tec­ture. His grand­mother An­to­nia was born in Puglia and her brother Enzo mar­ried the US so­cialite Madeleine As­tor.

In 2000, Gi­a­como stum­bled across a 17th­cen­tury house and ad­join­ing land within Lecce’s an­cient town walls; he en­listed the help of lo­cal ar­chi­tect An­to­nio Annicchiarico (whose clients in­clude the Her­mes fam­ily) to de­sign a con­tem­po­rary ho­tel around the shell of the build­ing’s her­itage core. Soft lo­cal sand­stone and tra­di­tional pi­etra di Trani floors fea­ture in the monas­tic but thor­oughly chic bed-cham­bers with their soar­ing vaulted ceil­ings; sev­eral have fire­places or small bal­conies. The spare in­te­ri­ors are the work of French de­sign firm Charles-Philippe and Christophe; the cus­tom tex­tiles and fur­ni­ture, in soft tones of wheat and char­coal, are Ital­ian; the bath­room prod­ucts are or­ganic; and the note­wor­thy art, in­clud­ing pieces by Le Cor­bus­ier, Char­lotte Per­riand and To­bia Scarpa, are taken from the Fier­monte fam­ily col­lec­tion.

The stone walls sur­round­ing the swim­ming pool and sculp­ture gar­den are soft­ened by an­cient, gnarled olive trees, ef­fec­tively link­ing the ho­tel to the cob­bled streets of the old town.

DON’T MISS: Ex­plor­ing the beaches of up-and­com­ing Sa­lento, the south­ern tip of Puglia and the very heel of Italy’s boot. DINING IN: Lo­cal chef Si­mone Solido presents re­fined, con­tem­po­rary Pugliese fare, which in­cludes loads of veg­e­tar­ian an­tipasti and dishes such as corec­chi­ette alle cime di rapa (pasta with young turnip tops). Try the ravi­oli pizzi­cati and, for dessert, tiramisu La Fiermontina or pas­tic­ciotto, a tra­di­tional Lecce pas­try filled with custard cream.

DINING OUT: You are spoiled for choice in this lively town. The ho­tel rec­om­mends Mamma Elvira’s Enoteca or Shui for an aper­i­tif. At Pescheria con Cot­tura, choose your own fish from the coun­ter­top. The tiny Il Poeta Con­datino serves tra­di­tional cui­sine and has a small ter­race. La Torre di Mer­lino prom­ises the town’s best pizza. Trat­to­ria di Nonna Tetti, on Pi­azzetta Regina Maria, serves rustic lo­cal fare. And for ice cream you can’t go past Natale on Via Trinch­ese.

ASK THE CONCIERGE: Head to Pi­azza Sant’Oronzo at noon when a record­ing of tenor Tito Schipa (born in Lecce in 1888) plays from a gramo­phone placed on top of Palazzo del Mu­nici­pio.

CHECK­ING IN: Rooms from €200 ($290), plus taxes. More: lafier­mon­tina.com.

ALSO TRY: Drift House, Port Fairy, Vic­to­ria; Miss Clara by No­bis, Stock­holm.

CHRISTINE McCABE

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