Modern architecture meets traditional charm at Montaltini, a modernist holiday home in Puglia
Words Helen Baron
It wasn’t until we’d been parents for a year or so that we learned how to ‘do’ family holidays properly.
Before our first child arrived, any worries about future travel plans centred on flights – would our daughter-to-be scream and annoy fellow passengers? Would she wriggle and fight to be free of our laps?
In the event, we still travelled a lot in her first year, and the flights were rarely a big deal. Even a long-haul trip to LA with a newly walking thirteen month-old – eager to toddle up and down the aisle for the full 11 hours – was, ultimately, bearable. By that time, of course, we’d figured out the real key to holiday happiness when you have little ones in tow: the right accommodation.
Our first trips during the summer following our daughter’s birth were shorter hops to Marseille and Provence, where we (naively) stayed in small hotels highly regarded for their luxurious amenities and air of stately repose. That is, until we pitched up with a nap-hating six month-old already possessed of a firm grasp on the power of a well-timed shriek. We felt terrible every time she cried or complained, and resolved to do things differently in future – from that point forward, it would be private lets all the way. When our second daughter arrived, shortly before our first turned two, it cemented our certainty – which was why we found ourselves enlisting the help of the experts at The Thinking Traveller when planning our next family holiday.
We wanted a destination that was conveniently accessible, naturally beautiful, blessed with an air of authenticity and – importantly – that offered a choice of private accommodation that didn’t compromise on design or comfort. Our consultant’s answer was immediate: Puglia, the southern Italian region famed for sprawling olive groves, white hilltop towns, tumbledown walls of creamy stone and magnificent beaches. Happily, Puglia is also blessed with a large number of new and historic villas, masseria and trulli, built or renovated to the highest standards – and often with family life in mind.
Heedful of our love of contemporary architecture, the Thinking Traveller recommended Montaltini, a modern property close to the coastal town of Monopoli, designed by Luca Zanaroli Architects.
An elegant L-shaped building comprised of two old-stone wings joined by a black cubic lodge, Montaltini features four spacious double bedrooms as well as a separate guesthouse in the form of a traditional, cone-roofed trullo. Set in gardens scattered with centuries-old olive trees, the house is framed by cacti-bearing gravel beds, a pale concrete terrace and an infinity pool surrounded by sun-bleached decking. We fell in love with the photos and were even more impressed by the real thing: only an hour’s drive from both Bari and Brindisi airports, situated along a dusty gravel track among almond trees laden with fruit – extremely well-connected yet with a pleasing sense of privacy and calm.
The villa was also ideal for our children, then aged 8 months and 2 and a half: large enough for our elder daughter to explore and enjoy a little freedom; small enough that we could always keep an eye on her. Her sister, not quite crawling yet, enjoyed playing at the pool’s edge under the shade of the olives while the adults enjoyed long meals prepared in the outdoor kitchen and eaten at the huge al fresco dining table. The villa, which sleeps ten adults, was the perfect size for two or three couples or small families to share; we had an entire wing to ourselves while friends took the remaining rooms. The bathrooms were fit for a luxury spa, while the designer furniture (much of it with a Seventies Milanese vibe redolent of Luca Guadagnino’s movie I Am Love) proved remarkably resilient to all the rough and tumble an excited toddler could throw at it.
The languid September days were spent lazing beside the pool or visiting local towns including picturesque Alberobello, famed for its winding streets and central huddle of white trulli, and Monopoli, with its imposing historic centre serenely overlooking the bluest sea. The beaches – even those close to town centres, are still possessed of a ‘golden age’ charm (think The Talented Mr. Ripley) and there are several large coastal nature reserves within an hour or two’s drive for those seeking a little more ruggedness or isolation.
A highlight of our trip was a four-course meal at the villa, provided by two local cooks with a definite flair for Puglian classics: unforgettable pasta and irresistible tiramisu. But while the food was superb, the villa itself was ever the star of the show: its clean, geometric lines and minimalist sophistication ingeniously integrated into the surrounding landscape. Indeed, the house and garden became a frame through which to look out onto the timeless country beyond, and we loved showering al fresco in the pool showers, out of sight below the garden, looking out across the groves as the rosy glow of dawn gave way to another blazing morning. Later we would sit out together beside the pool, the children playing as we watched the sun fall and the moon come up behind the twin cones of the trullo.
There is a traditional Puglianese tongue-twister that runs, ‘Si ce n’amma scì, sciammu’ncinn. Si nun ce n’amma scì, nun ce ne sciàm scénn’. It means: ‘If we have to go, let’s go. If we don’t have to go, let’s stay.’ Alas, we couldn’t stay at Montaltini forever. But we’ll definitely be going back.