Introducing Sicily: a fantastic new Villa Plus destination

Fascinating ancient ruins, beautiful beaches and awe-inspiring Mount Etna… Sicily has all the hallmarks of an unforgettable villa holiday. And that’s why we’ve just added it to our great range of destinations! To celebrate the launch, let’s take a look at what the largest Italian region and Mediterranean island has to offer.

Ancient history and charming towns

Italy has no shortage of historical wonders and Sicily is no exception. To begin with, there’s atmospheric Siracusa (Syracuse) on the south-eastern coast next to the glittering Ionian Sea. This ancient city is famous for its captivating archaeological park where you can step back in time and discover ruins like the monumental Greek theatre and intriguing Ear of Dionysus.

The southeast is also home to Val di Noto, one of the island’s 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. After the area was destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1693, charming new towns were built with striking Baroque-style architecture. Visit Noto, the most famous of them all, to climb the bell tower of Chiesa di San Carlo Borromeo and soak up the unrivalled rooftop views.

Active volcanoes and beautiful beaches

No trip to Sicily is complete without a visit to Mount Etna, the highlight of the island’s natural landscape. The largest active volcano in Europe, this spectacular peak stands over 9,000 feet high on the east coast. To reach the summit and marvel at the dramatic surroundings, jump in a cable car, book a 4×4 jeep excursion, or – if you’re an adventurous sort – hike from the base station!

For a more relaxing way to admire the island’s beauty, take a trip to one of the gorgeous beaches all around the coast. The small resort of Fontane Bianche, in the south east, is known for its fabulous stretch of powdery white sand and dazzling clear waters. Or head to nearby Calamosche, a quiet little sandy bay in Vendicari Nature Reserve that’s flanked by two rocky headlands and perfect for a spot of snorkelling.

Delicious food and delectable drink

With its Arabic, French and Greek influences, Sicily’s cuisine has something to delight all taste buds. Snack on Arancini, the famous rice balls bursting with ragu, pistachio nuts, cheese and spinach. Feast on a bowl of Pasta alla Norma, the island’s signature pasta dish featuring a rich and delicious sauce made with aubergine, tomatoes and salted ricotta. Or indulge in some infamous Cannoli, deep-fried crispy pastry tubes filled with creamy sweetened ricotta.

And then wash it all down with a glass of wine from one of the island’s vineyards. You’ll find plenty across Sicily growing its most well-known grape varieties, including the flagship red Nero d’Avola. Visit a few to admire the glorious views, enjoy some tastings and pick up a few bottles to take home as a reminder of your trip. Not that you’ll forget it in a hurry!

Tempted to spend your next villa holiday in this magical Italian island? Check out our brand new range of Sicily villas and be one of the first to book.

4 of the most photogenic spots in Puglia

The heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia is bursting with historical treasures, glorious beaches, natural wonders and pretty coastal towns. Here are four places in this fantastically scenic region that you and your camera won’t want to miss.

  1. Castel del Monte

The striking medieval castle of Castel del Monte is one of Italy’s best-known cultural landmarks. Sitting atop a hill in Andria, this perfectly octagonal fortress was built by Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The castle’s white and pink limestone walls look like marble from a distance, which makes for some amazing photos against the blue sky. And you can climb up Tower 6’s spiral staircase to capture great aerial shots of the courtyard as well as panoramic snaps of the surrounding countryside.

2. The trulli of Alberobello

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A picturesque small town in the Metropolitan City of Bari, Alberobello is a place like no other. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its centuries-old trulli – distinctive conical-roofed limestone dwellings that look straight out of a fairytale.

The town has over 1,500 of these unique buildings split across two areas: the more popular Rione Monti, and the quieter and smaller Aia Piccolia. A guided tour will give you plenty of chances to get some enviable pics, but why not book a night’s stay in one for the full trulli experience?

3. Alberobello market

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It’s not just magical architecture that makes Alberobello a great place to get snap happy. The colourful weekly market is a feast for the eyes too, and the ideal way to taste of the town’s traditional life.

From 8am every Thursday morning, the day when the local shops are shut, you’ll find traders selling all sorts of wares: from delicious local cheeses and fresh herbs, to handmade wicker items, clothing and towels. The market is spread throughout the centre and Largo Martellotta, but head to Via Barsento Street, dedicated to food vendors, for the most photogenic scenes.

4. Grotte di Castellana

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Love natural phenomena? Then take a trip to Grotte di Castellana, one of the best attractions in Puglia. Just a short drive from Alberobello, this spectacular limestone cave complex is 90 million years old and draws visitors from all over the globe.

You won’t be able to put down your camera during a guided tour through 3 kilometres of incredible stalactites, stalagmites, canyons and crystals, all given imaginative names by early explorers. And just when you think it can’t get any more picture-perfect, you’ll end up in Grotte Bianca (White Cave) – a breathtaking chamber with the most dazzling alabaster in the world.

Want to point your lens at Puglia’s fantastic attractions on your next villa holiday? Take a look at our great range of villas in Puglia.

Three places to stay in Puglia, Italy: the insider’s guide

Italy’s Puglia region is occasionally overshadowed by Tuscany and Campania, but with its gorgeous buildings, beautiful coastlines, fine cuisine and hilltop towns, holidays in the region are as memorable as they are enjoyable. To help get your trip on the go, here are a few of the best places to stay in Puglia, Italy.


Many people visiting Puglia will put Bari at the top of their lists of potential places to stay. Yet look a little further afield and you’ll soon discover other hidden gems, like Noci. The city is within driving distance from Bari and still captures Puglia’s beauty, without being at the centre of a throng of tourists.

It was built during the Norman era and comprises quaint cathedrals, white-topped houses and no shortage of gorgeous Italian viewpoints. Once you’ve explored, take the time to drive into Bari, Puglia’s capital. The port city is known for its young population, lively atmosphere and housing some of the remains of Saint Nicholas (aka Father Christmas) in its beautiful Basilica di San Nicola.

Wander through museums, galleries and shopping districts, then enjoy fresh fish, seafood, excellent olive oils and vegetable salads like nowhere else on earth. The Mercadante Forest, a popular spot for hiking and cycling, is located close to Noci. Head here to get to know Puglia’s rural side. Once you’ve done so, relax by the pool of your plush self-catering villa before planning your next trip out.


Image by Kars Alfrink, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

This Italian commune is situated in the province of Apulia and is known for its nearby nature reserves, enthralling architecture and, of course, sumptuous wine bars. It’s also within travelling distance of the city of Altamura, which sits perched on Puglia’s hilly Murge plateau and makes for an excellent day out.

The city dates back to the Bronze Age and boasts a Romanesque cathedral, a fascinating archaeological museum and the nearby Lamalunga Cave, where a 130,000-year-old calcified skeleton was found in 1993.

A huge draw for foodies, however, is Altamura’s world-famous bread, which is sold across wider Italy, too. Pane di Altamura is made from durum flour and is renowned for its thick crust. It’s best enjoyed dipped in some local olive oil.


Image by Andrea Passoni, used under CC License (CC by 2.0

There isn’t anywhere quite like Alberobello, so if you’re seeking a one-of-a-kind getaway then look no further. Situated 35 miles southeast of Bari, this hilly town is famous for its trulli, stone huts with distinctive conical roofs bearing daubs of white paint.

In Alberobello the trulli are divided between two areas – the quiet, residential Aia Piccola area, and the more touristy Rione Monti area, where you can visit shops and a museum dedicated to these unique buildings. It’s best visited during the summer months, when the music festivals and balmy weather make it an even dreamier destination.

Regardless of where you stay, holidays in Puglia open you up to a whole horde of attractions. Stay in one of the busier areas and enjoy top-tier sites on your doorstep, or unwind away from the hustle and bustle while taking in scenic Italian delights.

Browse Villa Plus accommodation in Puglia and take the first steps to a holiday you’ll never forget.

By Isabella Perkins, a freelance travel writer best known for writing about self-catering holidays. Her writing tends to have a family focus, and she is in the middle of writing a new travel guide due to be published next year.

How to Eat like a Local in Puglia

Travelling to foreign countries opens so many doors. You can experience exotic climates, uncover cultural attractions and – perhaps most importantly for the foodies out there – you can dine exciting foreign cuisine. Here at Villa Plus, we’ve started a new project – Eat Like a Local – which shows you how to do just that.

We’ve partnered with a bunch of the UK’s best cookery schools to give you five recipes which’ll really give you a taste of Italy’s Puglia region. When you’re on a self-catering holiday in Puglia, you’ve got the chance to whip up some of the region’s most revered dishes – all from the comfort of your villa’s kitchen! Read five cookery school-approved recipes learn how to really Eat Like a Local.

L’atelier des Chefs – squid ink linguine with parsley

This London-based cookery school recently earnt TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence, partly due to their exquisite level of expertise when it comes to cooking.

L’atelier des Chef’s squid ink linguine with parsley

Here’s head chef Chris Marriott’s take on a classic Italian dish…


500g linguini
Coarse salt
1 squid ink sachet
500g baby squid
1 garlic clove bulb
A bunch of washed, flat parsley
Black pepper
6 pinches of fleur de sel
100ml dry white wine
2 tomatoes
1 shallot
Olive oil


  1. Separate the squid’s body from the tentacles and head. Remove any cartilage, rinsing the squid tube under cold water to remove grit. Slice the body into half-centimetre thick rings.
  2. Peel and finely chop the garlic, remove the parsley leaves from the stalks and then finely chop them. Peel the tomatoes, cut them in half then remove the seeds and dice the flesh. Peel and finely chop the shallot.
  3. Boil a large saucepan of salted water, add the linguine and cook for six minutes.
  4. Heat some oil a frying pan on a moderate heat and fry the squid for four minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic and parsley. Cook until the squid is golden brown then remove it from the pan. Add the shallots and deglaze with white wine.
  5. Put the squid ink in the pan along with the linguine. Cook until al dente, adding a little water if necessary. Return the squid to the pan to warm through. Serve up, topping the linguine with fresh tomato and a sprinkling of parsley.

Stay up to date with L’atelier des Chefs on their website and Instagram.

Beverley Glock Cookery School

Food writer Beverley Glock’s Buckinghamshire cookery school uses locally sourced, seasonal ingredients to make dishes you can easily repeat in your own home.

Beverley Glock Cookery School – aubergine parmigiana

Here’s how to make succulent aubergine parmigiana – the Beverley way.


Olive oil
1 large onion
2 garlic cloves
1kg fresh plum tomatoes, skinned and chopped
3 large aubergines
500g mozzarella cheese, ripped into pieces
100g flaked parmesan cheese
1 bunch fresh basil
Sea salt and pepper


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan, then fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat until soft.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper before putting a lid on and leaving to simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to gas 3/170 degrees Celsius, then slice the aubergines in slices roughly 1cm thick.
  4. Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil, then fry them on a frying pan or griddle until they’re golden brown. Drain them on kitchen roll.
  5. Line a deep casserole with one layer of aubergines, followed by one of tomato sauce. Sprinkle with seasoning, basil leaves, torn mozzarella and parmesan flakes. Repeat for two to three layers.
  6. Cover with a lid and bake for between 45 minutes and one hour until the cheese is golden and melted on top with a bubbling tomato sauce underneath.
  7. Serve with crusty bread and green salad.

Stay up to date with Beverley on her blog and Twitter.

Exeter Cookery School

In 2000, Brits Jim and Lucy Fisher moved to France and set up their cookery school, CookinFrance. Following its success, they decided to move back to the UK in 2016, setting up Exeter Cookery School, sharing their passion for all things gastronomy with the county of Devon.

Exeter Cookery School – orecchiette with ragu sauce

Orecchiette, or ‘little ears’ as they’re sometimes known, are a hallmark of Puglian cuisine. They’re often served with a gutsy tomato-based sauce, just like this ragu…

Ingredients – ragu sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
500g beef or lamb mince
6 ripe vine tomatoes, diced
The juice and grated zest of half an orange
1 sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Half a glass of good dry white or red wine

Ingredients: orecchiette

300g plain flour/ strong bread flour or durum wheat flour
2 medium eggs
5 egg yolks
1 level teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Flour for dusting


  1. Warm the oil in a roomy saucepan, then add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Sweat for five to ten minutes over a gentle heat until the onions become translucent.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the mince in a little oil in a big frying pan until brown, stirring occasionally and breaking up the clumps
  3. Add the mince to the onion mixture then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for at least two – but preferably four – hours. Add some water from time to time if the sauce looks a little dry.
  4. Once its cooked, taste and add more salt if necessary.
  5. Tip the flour onto the work surface and make a large well in the centre. Pour in the eggs, egg yolks, salt and olive oil. Use either your fingers or the tines of a fork to bring the flour into the eggs until you have a stiff – but not too sticky – dough.
  6. Sprinkle both your hands with flour, then knead the dough for about five minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. Wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge to rest for half an hour.
  7. Pull off a tangerine-sized lump of dough, the re-cover the remaining pasta. Shape into a 1cm thick ‘snake’ then cut into 1cm pieces.
  8. Use the tip of a table or butter knife to smear the piece of dough on the un-floured worktop, maintaining a firm pressure at all times. The dough should roll up with its concave facing you. Pull this off the knife and turn it inside out, before sprinkling it with flour and setting it aside. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  9. Allow the orecchiette to dry for 30 minutes before cooking in plenty of boiling, well-salted water for three minutes (or until cooked through).

Keep up to date with Exeter Cookery School on Twitter and check out their website here.

Lemon & Soul Cookery School

Based in Hampshire, Lemon & Soul offer a range of classes to suit all ages, abilities and taste buds. The owner, Katarina Broadribb, draws influences from her Slovakian heritage as well as a large number of other countries.

Lemon & Soul Cookery School – ragout with wild mushrooms

Whet your appetite with Katarina’s recipe for ragout with wild mushrooms…


500g beef brisket
350g pappardelle
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 fennels, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1 carrot, diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
150ml full bodied red wine
150ml beef stock
4-5 tablespoons tomato puree
25g dried wild mushrooms
Sage, bay leaf
Parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the brisket in one piece till seared. Set aside.
  2. Heat more oil in the pan and soften the fennels, leeks, onion, carrot and garlic for 12-15 minutes or until soft. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 130 degrees Celsius and place the meat, sautéed vegetables, tomato puree, sage and bay leaf in a large tray. Cover with red wine and stock, cooking for a further three to four hours until the meat is tender.
  4. Remove the meat and shred using two forks.
  5. Soak the mushrooms in a small bowl for at least 10 minutes and add to the tray with vegetables
  6. Cook the pasta until it’s al dente, season to taste and stir through the pasta.

Follow Lemon & Soul on Twitter and get exclusive recipes from their website.

The Cooking Academy

Founded by Kumud Gandhi, The Cooking Academy teaches people how to prepare and cook worldly foods in both creatively and professionally, while also teaching pupils the health benefits of each and every dish. Classes range from small, family-friendly sessions to corporate training for hospitality workers.

The Cooking Academy – bacon, tomato and olive orecchiette

Red meat and tomatoes are a staple of Puglia’s cuisine, and as you can from this recipe, the essence of many dishes.


4 slices of bacon, cut into inches
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
½ a tablespoon chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 can chopped tomatoes
Handful of black olives
400g orecchiette pasta
Grated parmesan for serving
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook for around four minutes, or until it begins to brown.
  2. Add the chopped onion, cooking until soft for 3-5 minutes. Throw in the crushed garlic and chilli flakes, cooking for a further minute.
  3. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Bring the sauce to the boil, reducing to a simmer and cooking for a further 15 minutes or until the liquid is slightly reduced.
  5. Meanwhile, boil a large pan of water and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and return back to the empty pan.
  6. Add the sauce to the pasta, cooking over a medium heat and coating the pasta in sauce. Add olives and heat them up for a few minutes with the sauce.
  7. Serve with grated parmesan.

Keep up to date with The Cooking Academy on Twitter and check out their website.

Puglia: places to visit on a self-catering holiday

Rich in fine architecture, heavenly beaches and culinary delights, Puglia is the very definition of a dream destination. This Italian region forms the heel of the country’s boot-like shape. Naturally, it enjoys all the local flavours and ingredients that Italy is known for, and this makes it ideal for a self-catering holiday.

With so much to see and do, you’ll want the flexibility that self-catered accommodation provides. That way, you’ll be able to discover more of this stunning part of Italy. Without further ado, here’s the best places to visit in Puglia that you really don’t want to miss.


San Nicola
Image by Emanuele, used under CC License (CC by 2.0

Here we have a beautiful port town simply full of memorable experiences. Visit Bari Vecchia, the medieval old town, and watch its residents making orecchiette pasta. This pasta, typical of Puglia, is incredibly well suited to self-catering holidays. With a bag of orecchiette and a few simple ingredients, you can whip up a tasty and traditional dinner in a matter of minutes, leaving even more time to explore.

The Basilica di San Nicola holds the final resting place of Saint Nicholas, the man who became the model for Santa Clause, and is well worth visiting. After this, relax at the Pane e Pomodoro beach or get cultured at the Teatro Petruzzelli opera house, the fourth largest theatre in Italy.


Altamura is an old city, featuring Roman and Gothic architecture, and a must-see for anyone visiting Puglia. It’s also home to (arguably) some of the tastiest bread in Italy – focaccia, frisella (crunchy, oven baked wheat dough), puccia (stuffed pizza dough) and ‘Altamura bread’ (traditional Apulian bread). Buy a few different varieties and make a mouth-wateringly tasty packed lunch. As you wander the streets of Altamura, be sure to visit the fascinating Altamura Cathedral – a Roman Catholic structure dedicated to the Virgin Mary.


This fairy-tale-esque town is made up of over 1000 Apulian, cone-shaped huts that were built entirely with stone. These houses, known as trulli, have limestone roofs, giving them a rustic – but wholly photogenic – appearance. Close to here, you’ll find Castellana Caves. Take an insightful guided tour through the caves and travel more than 60 metres below the ground – if you’re brave enough!


Roman Amphitheatre
Image by CucombreLibre, used under CC License (CC by 2.0

Puglia holidays aren’t complete without a visit to Lecce. Often referred to as the ‘Florence of the South’ because of its dramatic baroque architecture, this city is packed with iconic sights. The Roman Amphitheatre here is one such attraction, and it occasionally plays host to plays and concerts, gifting you an idyllic chance to bask in its glory. Wonder around the town, then stop off at a bakery and buy a slice of pasticciotto, one of Lecce’s signature delicacies.

Not far from here, there’s Otranto, a town best known for being the setting of Horace Walpole’s pioneering gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. The history of the city’s real castle, however, certainly rivals Walpole’s story – visit for yourself to see why. Dedicate a few hours to unwinding at the Maldives of Salento, too. These sandy strips are renowned far beyond Italian borders, and are perfect for a spot of sunbathing.

Want to read up about more Villa Plus destinations? Take a look over at the blog.

By Arianne Fabrice, a travel journalist who specialises in the popular resort destinations in and around Europe. Having worked for some of Paris’ premium travel mags, she’s recently moved into English-language publications.

The best sandy beaches in Puglia and where to find them

Imagine a gorgeous cocktail of stretching coastlines, serene beaches and culture-rich towns and villages. You’ve just dreamed of Italy’s Puglia region.

People come here in search of tranquil days spent lazing under the sun and often end up falling head over heels for the views, warm sands and lovable ambience that’s characteristic of the area.

The best sandy beaches in Puglia, when twinned with a leisurely holiday rental, work to epitomiseluxury at its very best. Here’s a few must-visits…

Pescoluse, Leuca

Image by Pietro and Silvia, used under CC License (CC by 2.0

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Pescoluse beach was situated on a remote Caribbean island rather than at the heart of Europe. The transparent shallows here are perfect for swimming, particularly if you’re travelling with young children who would not suit deeper water.

Run headlong into the Ionian Sea to cool off, before ambling back to the sands and catching some rays. You can get to Pescoluse from most parts of Puglia and the beaches themselves are a short drive from the town of Ugento. They’re mainly frequented by locals, although you’ll also find pouches of tourists sunning themselves and enjoying the scenery.

Pane e Pomodoro, Bari

This much-loved gem is on the cusp of the port city of Bari. You’ve got all the advantages of being near wider civilisation – think ice creams and slices of delicious Italian pizza whenever you’ve got hunger pangs – while at the same time being right at the shores of the Adriatic Sea. It’s also got a bar if you want to keep yourself refreshed with a tipple while you sunbathe. Head here early in the morning to avoid the crowds and heat of the later afternoon.

Baia delle Zagare, Gargano

Image by Enrico Hell, used under CC License (CC by 2.0)

Sometimes you might need to travel a little to reach the best sandy beaches in Puglia, but spots like these make every second of the journey worth it. It’s made up of a kilometre-long stretch of sand which overlooks two pearlescent rock formations jutting out of the sea. Baia delle Zagare is flanked on all sides by a national park, the Riserva Statale Monte Barone, which is also a must-see.

Bring your camera and capture the rich contrast of colours which make up both the beach and the surrounding area. Once again, this beach is within driving distance from Bari and Barletta and can be easily made into a fun daytrip.

Purple Beach, Monopoli

If you’re into plush sunspots shared with relatively few people, head to Purple Beach. There’s only 50 or so sunbeds and parasols available, giving you all the more reason to head down early and reserve a spot. At times it gets a little livelier here, with music and a younger crowd keeping the party going throughout the evening. Soak up the atmosphere before retreating back into Monopoli for some exquisite Italian cuisine. Monopoli’s central location makes Purple Beach accessible from most places in Puglia.

The region’s beaches help to put this area on the map. Whether you’re after a secluded shoreline or a vibrant cityside spot, you’ll find something to treasure in this Italian jewel.

Keep your eyes peeled for Villa Plus properties in the region, but in the meantime, why not look at the different types of holiday rental on offer elsewhere?

By Isabella Perkins, a freelance travel writer best known for writing about self-catering holidays. Her writing tends to have a family focus, and she is in the middle of writing a new travel guide due to be published next year.