Otranto harbor
Planning a summer trip to Puglia? These three tips will help you avoid a hotel disaster.

I don’t like to write bad reviews. I am a very reasonable person when it comes to service mishaps, booking mistakes, etc. In fact, I am the type that rarely speaks up when something isn’t quite right during a vacation. I grin and bear it, do my best to avoid conflict, and file the irksome issue away in my mind as a “teachable moment.”

But I also don’t like to feel had. Nor do I want others to go through the frustration and shame that my family and I went through when we stayed at a hotel in Puglia a few summers back.

Otranto harbor
The beautiful harbor of Otranto, Puglia, at sunset

From the moment we arrived, the place didn’t feel quite right. It was located down a dusty road, one underpass too far from the Otranto harbor. The hotel signs were in disrepair, the driveway was unpaved, and there was a pit bull roaming the parking lot.

Maybe this was one of those cases in which the outside didn’t match the inside? Barely.

We got out of our cars to check in. The proprietor quickly emerged to greet us with kisses and compliments, the loud, exaggerated kind usually reserved for someone trying to distract you from a huge, dirty elephant in the room. She was wearing a captain’s hat. Other guests finishing up breakfast were visibly cringing as they watched us, the newest residents of “Hotel California,” get our orientation.

Ours was a group of 10, so we booked two large apartment suites. La Capitana led us to one of the apartments then broke the news that she didn’t have enough suites on site and that the other room was not on the property but a short drive down the road. Odd, we thought. But we let our relatives take the first suite and we offered to stay at the other off-site apartment.

“You know how to take the reservation. But you don’t know how to hold the reservation…”

To make a long story short, the off-site apartment turned out to be someone’s actual apartment. There was an old calendar on the wall, there was no toilet paper in the bathroom, someone had ashed in the sink, and an old pair of shoes had been left on the back stoop.

We inspected the kitchenette – it was an apartment, after all – opening the drawers and cabinets to see what was there. Then, we opened the freezer and THERE WERE BUGS IN THE FREEZER.

Reader, we complained. To the proprietor, to the site we used to book the place. Alas, it was late afternoon and it was hard to break our booking when the rest of our party was staying at the actual hotel in a normal suite. I think we ended up staying the night, but I don’t remember.

Honestly, I’ve tried to put this hotel stay out of my head for a while. Then I realized that I could use the embarrassing, enraging experience to help others who may be planning a trip to Puglia.

Lesson 1: Book Early — Really Early

When we first started looking for a place to stay in Puglia in the summer, it was already late spring. When I contacted a Puglia travel expert for advice, he laughed in my face. “You should have started looking last summer.”

Italy is a very popular destination year-round, but I had never had problems finding a last-minute place to stay during any season.

“So are you telling me there’s not one house to rent in all of [Puglia]?”

Puglia called my bluff. While the region has been popular with summer travelers for years, it is still considered “up and coming” in terms of accommodations. Masserie (farmhouses) and trulli, as well as seaside hotels, are still being renovated as developers try to keep pace with travelers, both domestic and foreign. In short, the best places go quickly so book as soon as you know your itinerary.

Lesson Two: If Booking For a Large Group, Get Professional Help

Another mistake my husband and I made was trying to take charge of booking accommodations for a group of 10 – two families of four and one set of grandparents.

We weren’t a massively large group. But given that we needed two family-sized rooms and/or suites, when most hotel rooms are built for two, we had trouble finding enough of what we needed and finally had to settle. We would have liked to have booked a house for the 10 of us. But, as I mentioned in Lesson #1, we waited too late.

When I say get professional help, I don’t mean a therapist. Though, you may need one of those, too, if logistics prove too daunting. Of course, I mean get the help of a travel agent or travel specialist, such as Southern Visions Travel.

Lesson Three: Don’t Let the Hotel Pool Be a Deciding Factor

We narrowed down our choice of places to stay based on room availability but also because of the hotel pool. It made sense at the time: we were families with small kids, so we wanted to have the option of the pool.

A Puglia summer vacation entails time at the beach. So right away, our need for a pool seemed extra. On most days during our Puglia vacation, we went to the beach and rented chairs at a stabilimento. After having soaked up the sun all day, we were too tired to go to the pool.

In this case, a better option would have been to pay more for a pool-less hotel close to the beach instead of a hotel with a pool a short drive from the beach. This is also a something that could have been worked out by paying heed to lessons #1 and #2.

Wait…What About Those Bugs?

I started out writing this post as a screed against a certain hotel. But I decided to remain gracious and not name names.

However, if you are planning a trip to Otranto, Puglia, and want to avoid booking the same hotel that we did, feel free to get in touch. No one should have to go through the same experience.


The ladies of the Italy Roundtable also wrote on the topic of “bugs.” Read their contributions below:

Jessica – What bugs you about Italy?
Gloria – Tuscany through seasons (and bugs)
Rebecca – Of Flowers and Bees, Butterflies and Dreams: Il Lavandeto di Assisi
Alexandra – Bugs that look like jewels at La Specola

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