The heel's had a reboot: Borgo Egnazia is the place to sample some of the best food in Italy

Caroline Phillips visits Puglia's newest village resort.

A Jesus lookalike is sitting in his shop sanding poplar wood. Hand-made wooden marionettes and tambourines hang from the ceiling. He has covered his walls with leftist newspaper cuttings. "This street's full of fascists," he confides. "I'm the only true Communist here." His shop doesn't have a name, although it's been here 36 years. "Just call it 'the shop by the cathedral'."

I'm in the city of Ostuni, Puglia, in Italy's stiletto heel. Across the road is a junk shop packed with Madonna statuettes and 19th-century olive jars. I'd love the owner to email me some photos of his stock. He looks bemused. No, he doesn't have internet access. "Io antico," he declares. "(I'm an antique.) He and his shop encapsulate something special.

Puglia is a huge region with a 500-mile coastline. On arrival, my first impressions weren't great. From Bari it's a 45-minute drab, flat drive south-east along the coast to my destination of Borgo Egnazia, near the fishing village of Savelletri. En route, I drive past endless light industrial buildings and a flat-roofed breezeblock suburban sprawl.

Puglia looks poor, and it is. It's also a place where traditions run deep, where socialist bureaucracy and Communism are still entrenched. Helen Mirren and Mickey Rourke may have holiday homes here, but it's still unpolished and reasonably undiscovered. It's also where people from Rome and Milan spend their holidays, setting up chairs on rocky beaches to bake themselves a carcinogenic mahogany.

Puglia's charms become more evident as I get closer to Borgo Egnazia. Suddenly the air is scented with figs and oregano. Fields are encircled by dry-stone walls and burst with tomatoes, aubergines and centuries-old olive trees.

If you decide to hug an olive tree here, you'll need to hold hands with three men, so thick are the beautiful gnarled trunks. For a while there was a brisk black market in them – around £8,000 each – as trees were smuggled out for fashionable gardens in northern Italy. "We're Italy's largest manufacturer of olive oil," a local waiter proudly tells me later. "There are three million olive trees, nearly one for each inhabitant of Puglia." A goodly number of these trees stand like ranks of sentries looking after Borgo Egnazia, which lies in 40 organic acres within a 250-acre private estate beside the Adriatic.

Borgo Egnazia is not quite one of the seven wonders of the world, but it's close to it in resort terms. Borgo means "village" in Italian and it's modelled on traditional Puglian ones. It looks as if it's been there for centuries, but it opened fully only last spring. There's also a creamy, dreamy Moorish palace, actually based on a fortified masseria but with a striking contemporary interior. I wander down paved alleyways with quaint names such as Via Madonna, under arches and past the piazza to the townhouses made of vanilla-coloured tufo (local sandstone). There are also private villas, like ambassadorial residences on the town's edge. The whole thing cost a cool €150m, took 10 years to develop and six to construct.

It's the brainchild of Aldo Melpignano, a former investment banker. He owns Borgo Egnazia with his family, who come from nearby Fasano. I take my sun hat off to anyone who builds a village. But especially one that showcases architecture influenced by Puglia's multiple invaders, uses only local materials and artisans, and provides the backdrop for French Vogue fashion shoots. Aldo has reinvented the heel: it's Puglia rebooted.

If a place could speak, Puglia would say: "Write about my incredibly warm people and the best food in Italy." Certainly the friendliness of the locals epitomises everything I love about this country. It's also a hot destination for gourmet travellers, with fertile land that produces some of the best vegetables in the world, plus fresh seafood drawn from the Adriatic. Its cuisine comes from a recipe book written over the centuries by the region's conquerors – Greeks, Romans, Goths, Normans and Spaniards – but it's all based on peasant food.

They're big on fish and olive oil here, even baking and frying with the extra-virgin variety. I go to beach-shack restaurants such as La Cambusa in Savelletri, a short bike ride from Borgo Egnazia. It has Billingsgate-sized displays of the morning's catch, and lobsters on beds of ice planning their escape. At Pescheria 2 Mari restaurant – also in Savelletri – I'm plied with platters of raw octopus, squid, clams and slivers of swordfish; sashimi requiring nothing more than lemon and a greedy mouth.

Masseria Cimino is an agriturismo (in other words a farmhouse where you can stay and eat) and is a quick walk across the golf course from Borgo Egnazia. Here, antique farm implements decorate the walls and acres of home-cooked food are on the tables: taralli (like delicious olive oil shortbread), freshly made orecchiette pasta (the region's speciality) and fresh, baked sea bream.

Mario Musoni, the Michelin-starred executive chef of Borgo Egnazia, is also big here. A leading light in the Slow Food movement, he believes in zero food miles; most of his produce comes from the estate. To try Mario's delicate summer truffle risotto is to understand why the Italian press dubs him the "King of Risotto".

"This is my invention," he says, giving me pistachio ice cream drizzled with olive oil. It is delicious.

I don't just dedicate myself to widening my girth. I also cycle to the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Egnazia, along lanes fringed with cacti, the salty sea breeze in my face, the sun on my back. The crypts and acropolis are set picturesquely beside the Adriatic, with pots and skeletons in the museum.

I also visit Alberobello, "the capital of trulli": those rustic houses with conical roofs. In Alberobello's market they sell three types of green bean (one as long as spaghetti), curious melon-shaped cucumbers and artisan-made burrata (moonballs of double cream and mozzarella). And I stock up on tomatoes (€5 per kilo). "I grow them myself and dry them in the sun with salt," says the stallholder, as he offers me six different types of olive.

And then there is Ostuni – the White Town – where my unkempt shopkeeper crafts his wooden puppets. I visit the Byzantine-style cathedral and marvel at the citadel. But, frankly, I spend just as much time in its specialist food shops. Aside from the wonders of Borgo Egnazia, it's the culinary offerings that impress me most. Puglia, the heel of Italy? Mouth, more like it.

Travel essentials: Puglia

Getting there

* Bari is served by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Gatwick and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Stansted.

Staying there

* The writer travelled with luxury travel specialist Scott Dunn (020-8682 5040; scottdunn. com), which offers seven nights at Borgo Egnazia, Puglia, from £1,750 per person based on a family of four sharing a Grand Garden Villa with a private pool on a bed and breakfast basis. The price includes return flights with British Airways and transfers, based on a June departure.

More information

* Italian Tourist Board: 020-7408 1254; italiantouristboard.co.uk.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit