Catching a glimpse of the Puglian city of Ostuni from the road from Brindisi airport is a thrilling experience. Even if you’ve only heard of it, the Città Bianca is unmistakable: a maze-like medieval hilltop town made up of a cluster of whitewashed houses with the odd historic tower jutting out alluringly, hinting at the endless stone steps, tiny alleys and romantic arches that await within. Rather appealingly when travelling in times of Covid, the paint that gives the city its distinctive white hue allegedly proved an effective disinfectant in the 17th Century, minimising the effect of the plague.
But it’s the only red building in Ostuni’s historic centre that’s creating a buzz at the moment: the newly renovated Palazzo Rosso, which recently became Paragon 700, a historic, head-spinning boutique hotel that’s a feast of period features and exhilarating interior design.
Pascale Lauber and Ulrike Bauschke know an architectural gem when they see one. In 2016, their Ostunian friend took them to visit the Palazzo Rosso, the former home of Ostuni’s first mayor, Don Paolo Tanzarella, who held secret pro-Risorgimento gatherings within its plush walls. Lauber and Bauschke were in Puglia for pleasure, not business, but the historic palazzo, abandoned for more than 40 years, proved irresistible.
Years of restoration later and Ostuni has itself a new hotspot. The painstaking project involved restoring the vast stone vaults, fireplaces, original majolica tiles (which now gleam on the floor of the hotel bar) and religious and neoclassical frescoes. The locals are reportedly very happy that the palazzo has been returned to its former glory, and Bauschke says she still gets messages of thanks from the city’s inhabitants.
For visitors to the city, the hotel is, there’s just no better word for it, a paragon of holiday pleasure; a pool, city and beach break rolled into one. There’s a pristine salt water pool (the only one in the heart of Ostuni) surrounded by ridiculously comfortable loungers and a walled garden resplendent with orange trees and Tuscan-style pillars. Underground, an ancient water cistern has been transformed into a deeply relaxing spa complete with a Himalayan salt chamber, but it’s upstairs that the most memorable magic awaits.
“Look up” are Lauber’s words of wisdom when it comes to exploring Paragon 700 Boutique Hotel & Spa, and guests can hardly help but take it. Each of the 11 rooms has a unique character, but the shared elements are remarkable: monumental light fixtures adorn the soaring ceilings, sprawling beds are topped with custom-made headboards from South Africa, and furniture sourced from antique fairs all over the world is artfully dotted around.