VIA Magazine met with two art gallerists who fell in love with Puglia while on holiday and bought a historic palazzo of their own, just outside the center of Lecce.
Like many travelers that set foot in Puglia for the first time, it’s hard not to fall in love, especially with the incredible potential of the land, its historic towns, charming architecture, and pristine beaches. It is for this reason, the meeting point between ancient tradition, local lifestyle, and international entrepreneurship, that Apulian hospitality is capturing much attention around the world. Salento, in particular, is seeing a rise in new locations and hospitality concepts popping up in historic hearts and the sleepiest of towns. Perhaps the only place a seasoned traveler has forgotten on their travel list is Puglia.
A Dimora and a Distillery
We arrive in San Cesario di Lecce in the evening and the 19th-century palazzo is illuminated, flaunting original architectural features, alerting passersby of a new kid in town. Beyond the hunter green door is Distilia Dimora Salentina. Owners Lilia and Lorenzo Rossi greet us with warm smiles, eager to show us around this ultimate hideaway for travelers. Alongside their Guest Relations Manager, Elisa, they begin telling the story of the palazzo.
It all started when they amusingly passed by and saw a ‘for sale’ sign while on holiday in Salento; the estate agent showed them the property and the mega-project began. The star-vaulted ceiling that stands out immediately was painted by Sicilian artists Genuardi-Ruta. The name Distilia reflects Lilia’s resolute temper and the heritage of the once-glorious distilleries of this Apulian town; in fact, the very herbs used to create the well-renown crafted liquors are the names of the apartments.
We visit the apartments as the duo walks us through the story behind the choice of materials, particular corners, signature antique furniture, and the restored floors. They have taken on quite a project that took one year to purchase and two years to complete; and even after all this work, they share with us their plans for more. It’s a property owner’s syndrome that we’ve seen before – it’s love, in essence. They want to give every last drop of creativity and thought, to enchant visitors and make them feel at home. This is particularly true in Puglia, an ancient strip of land whose potential is still not fully realized.
Seven apartments, seven distinct lifestyles
We visit the five apartments, each varying in style, size, and features – from handpainted linen to antique headboards, from vintage lighting to upholstered lounge chairs. The entire space is one living and ever-evolving art collection, an expression of the couple’s lifelong experience as gallerists, with a love of design and appreciation for history and style. Guests have the chance to sleep in an exquisite bed created by Osvaldo Borsani and Arnaldo Pomodoro in the Angelica apartment, or on the Scarpa’s bed in Genziana; hang your clothes in one of Giò Ponti’s vintage wardrobes while staring at the golden wall decorations in the Calendula suite.
The seven apartments are named after the herbs once used at several distilleries of ‘Lu Paise Ranne’ (‘The Great Town’ in old, local dialect) to produce liquors, whose living heritage can still be appreciated on a visit to the post-industrial Distilleria De Giorgi.
All this precious art is met with smartly-designed comfort for guests with thoughtful amenities and storage space, too. The palazzo is spacious and airy and offers a sense of inter-apartment privacy despite the connecting doors and pathways.
This is the kind of place for intimate group buy-outs, where you can linger in your pajamas in each other’s apartments, wander the spaces with zero interruption and live the spirit of Puglia. Close enough to Lecce, a short drive to the beaches of the Ionian and Adriatic, and a handful of charming towns.
The Genziana Rooftop Suite
As we are led to the rooftop Genziana suite for the night, we pass the back garden to find a lovely outdoor pool embraced by a green lawn, sun loungers, and views of a neighboring citrus grove. Our rooftop suite is private, far from the others, but close enough to oversee most of the property from above. We climb the illuminated outdoor staircase (a work of art, too), and the entire view presents itself to us: like the scene of a movie the surrounding buildings are almost drawn, random palm trees and plants reach for the sun, with patches of historic architecture peeping out. Sharing this stage is the patio furniture, bursting with color and character, such as the old-school roundtable and colored chairs or the metallic ‘accident’ bench, dented as if a building brick fell out from the sky and landed on it. There is just so much space around to explore, relax, sunbathe, practice yoga, or dine al fresco – wander barefoot or stay with your slippers all day long.
Blessed with full-size windows and uninterrupted views, our apartment, Genziana, boasts a tasteful balance between vintage with contemporary. Designed as an open space, the apartment offers two access points (from the bedroom and the kitchen) with an open kitchen and dining area – fully equipped with dishes, cutlery, and cookware – while the lounge and bedroom connect and feature hidden walk-in closets and the washroom. This freeflow apartment has no distractions whatsoever; none of the apartments have a television ensuite, either but there is WiFi available.
“Contemporary luxury promises personal freedom; and what is Apulian luxury if not waking up in a lofty bed surrounded by frescoed ceilings, sliding into your flip-flops and following the scent of fresh ground coffee and croissants to the café next door? Every day has a unique rhythm and it is yours for the taking.”
Palazzo Life with all the Services
As far as services, the pool and gardens are available at leisure with minimum interruptions by staff; dine-in options are available, too, or you can venture to explore Apulian cuisine in the nearby towns. The cherry on the cake is certainly the spa; imagining the space as a group or family buy-out, holiday and wellness come together in perfect harmony. A masseuse is available on request with a wide range of treatments.
A retreat to the art-minded comfort of Distilia can likely turn into a staycation. A sanctuary where you can unwind on the rooftop, breathe a mystical note of the North African winds, inhale the fragrances of exotic plants, and watch as the sky dances from pale blue to a fiery pink canvas. Venture beyond the palazzo walls and you’ll find local shops, bakeries, artisan studios, the local distillery which is a must-visit, and coffee bars – all of these offer a glimpse into local life in San Cesario di Lecce.
Places like these are what make Puglia so magical because they oblige new owners to respect the history, integrity, and character of the building while remaining open to the visionary’s insight and experience. When it works, it’s a beautiful and harmonious combination.
How to Book
Book a holiday at Distilia Dimora Salentina
Code: VIADISTILIA to receive complimentary access to the spa with your booking (entry for two)
Phone: +39 320 724 7520
On Instagram @distilia_dimora
Editorial note: thanks to Elisa De Pascali for sharing her poetic insights.