Marittima di Diso, Puglia
Beautiful and original converted convent in southern Puglia offering guests a very unique experience, with super gardens and stunning pool.
Arrival day: Any Car hire: Recommended
The Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli is the home of Athena McAlpine, an Irish born Greek, educated in England, who has lived in London, Florence, New York and Paris.
In 2002 she married Alistair McAlpine, the Lord McAlpine of West Green, builder, collector, writer, patron of the arts and former Treasurer and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher.
He was also responsible for building and developing the Cable Beach Resort in Broome, the Parmelia Hotel in Perth and the Sydney Inter-Continental, Australia.
In the same year of their marriage, Alistair and Athena moved to Puglia where they lovingly restored the 500-year-old Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, an ex-Franciscan monastery, making it their home and a dramatic setting for their extensive cross-cultural collection of textiles, ethnography and tribal art.
Located on the outskirts of the village of Marittima, situated by the sea, on the Adriatic coast of the Salentine peninsula, on the tip of the heel of Italy, the Convento is just about as far south-east as you can travel in Italy.
Abandoned by the monks at the end of the 19th century, for the first half of the 20th century it was used as a tobacco factory, gradually decaying into a more derelict state until it fell into the ownership of a local scrap merchant who won it in a card game and used it for his livestock and old farming equipment.
It was in this wretched condition that Alistair McAlpine found it and sensing its potential bought it.
Not long after its restoration, the McAlpines decided to share their sanctuary with a wider circle than just friends and family and began welcoming paying guests as well, turning it into a very special Bed & Breakfast indeed.
Visitors from all over the world and from different walks of life have knocked on the large double doors of this rather austere and forbidding building and stepped into this unusual oasis.
Once settled within the Convento walls, guests roam its rooms and corridors hung with textiles and art from Japan, Korea, Africa and India; admire the paintings of Sidney Nolan and the drawings of Aboriginal artists; walk barefoot on Moroccan carpets and browse through the library containing over 14 tonnes of books; explore the gardens or simply sit on the Ethiopian benches in the courtyard filled with rare ferns, cactus and succulents, listening to music watching the swallows swooping in and out of the arches of the cloister...
Guests sleep on hand embroidered linen sheets, under Welsh blankets in the colder months or traditional handwoven Salentine bedspreads in the warmer months.
Food is served in Afghan ceramic bowls and local pottery, fruit on African and Indian platters made of wood or stone. The tablecloths are made from lengths of West African fabrics and the napkins from bolts of linen or hemp sourced in France, Eastern Europe or Southern Italy.
For although much of this collection has been described as museum quality, there is nothing about the Convento that suggests the roped-off, please do not touch atmosphere of a museum.
This unique backdrop breathes life into all these objects. The way they are arranged and used makes them more accessible and gives them fresh purpose.
Always happy to share their home, stories and knowledge of the local area with their guests, the McAlpine’s long oak dining room table has become a scene of lively and animated conversation and it should come as no surprise that breakfast is served until 1pm!
Sadly, Alistair McAlpine died in January 2014.
Athena continues to live at the Convento. Beautifully supported by a wonderful team of staff, they work together, looking after and curating its collections, tending the garden and welcoming and caring for the guests.
The largest beds all have end boards... they measure 1.8m wide x 1.9m long.
Please email or phone +44 1223 460100 for prices.
Please email or phone +44 1223 460100 for availability.
Linda Plazonja USA, MorsoSoggiorno
Our trip to the Convento was extraordinary; the guests were completely awestruck by the unique beauty that surrounded them. It was a very special trip, and we were so pleased to have Athena join us for yoga and a few meals. Thank you for all you did to make our time there seamless. October 2019
It was an absolutely unique experience .. Not only a marvelous place to stay ,... The most kindly and helpful host :) made our stay even better ..
Glenn Stanaway, Australia
We had a marvellous time at Il Convento - it is, indeed, a special place. Athena and Pierluigi were marvellous hosts. The gardens, I think, are looking more and more beautiful as each year goes by. We were in the Mexican room for a week and that was bliss. I can't praise everything too much and we do intend to return. We also had a car this time and did much exploring around the area - the location is actually next to so many beautiful places to see that somehow manage to avoid being too busy even in the middle of summer. Please pass on our thanks to Athena and wish her well.
Anne Langkilde Lie Kaas, Denmark
We had the most fantastic time at Il Convento. Its absolutely the most beautiful place we ever stayed. Food and service was great. Rooms were lovely. Everything was so inspiring. We will definitely return!
Susan Baxter, California USA
Il Convento is never far from my mind! We stayed with friends who are very dear to us and who we see often. There have been so many times when we talk about the unique experience of Il Convento; the breathtaking beauty of its landscape and art; the incredibly delicious food prepared and cooked by Pier luigi and his mother; the interesting guests who gathered for morning conversation, coffee and a beautiful breakfast spread; and of course Athena, who was always so warm and welcoming. It was magnificent and we plan on booking the whole place out with the same friends and more in the future! Can’t wait to go back. July 2019
Adriana Gelves, New York
My stay at Il Convento was the highlight of my summer. Such a special place. I was impressed with the attention to detail not only in the design, carefully curated objects but in the service with the most delicious home cooked meals, and hospitality. Words can't describe how incredible my stay was. Am so fortunate to have been able to experience it and grateful to Athena, Pierluigi and entire staff for making my stay so memorable. I am looking forward to my return!!!
Aaron and Talia Jacobson, San Francisco USA
It was fantastic. Athena was a wonderful host and it’s an incredible experience. Wish we could move in :)
Anton Van Niekerk, South Africa
Our stay at the Convento was awesome, thanks so much. What an incredible experience! Such an exceptional and beautiful property and the service was impeccable ......... it was really like being at one's own holiday home. We were also truly spoilt by the fact that we were the only guests for the first four nights. I was very happy about the opportunity to meet Athena, such a privilege! I am already saving for the next time ......... :-))
Based on articles and photos that I had seen, staying at IL Convento was at the top of my list...therefore, my expectations were very high...the reality exceeded my very high expectations...IL Convento, the staff, the meals, the suite were exceptional...the collections are extraordinary...the grounds were exceedingly beautiful...the special treat was connecting with Lady Athena...more raving is possible...adored the stay immensely!!! May 2019
Doreen Kilfeather, Dublin
Our stay at Il Convento was the highlight of our summer. Every single moment of the experience was a joy. The convent itself - its colours, textures, shapes and forms - the artwork - the pieces collected with such obvious joy and curiosity - and the light that fell upon all those pieces and made it all feel like one was part of a theatrical tableaux - a real life one. As a photographer I was inspired - but not only that - as a human being it was such a nurturing experience. I found Athena to be the most delightful host - I could have stayed for weeks chatting with her. She could not have been more welcoming and made the convent instantly feel like home. Our dining experiences were unreal - lunch in a little hidden away spot in a garden of floral abundance, candlelit dinner in a setting that would rival the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet and a picnic packed for us to bring to an off the beaten track little gem of a beach recommended by Athena. Apologies for the ridiculous amount of superlatives in this message - but honestly, how can one spend time in such a special place and not run out of them - there aren't enough words. Many thanks for making our travel plans so easy. I look forward to revisiting again and again.
Isabelle Stichelbout, Belgium
Our stay at the Convento was just wonderful! We enjoyed a lot! No comments to be made!
Alice Nelson, Western Australia
We absolutely loved our stay at the Convento and haven't stopped raving about it since we left! We travel a great deal, but both agreed that it was one of the best travel experiences of our lives. We would love to get back there some time in the not too distant future so I am sure I will be in touch again.
Barry Robison, New Orleans USA
For me it is very easy to write commentary re. Il Convento. It has held a special place in my memory since the first time I stayed 11 years ago. The environment within the walls is so very special, it is peaceful and relaxing as is the location in the lovely Salento Campania. To be a short stroll through the olive groves from one one of the most beautiful coves in the world and to swim every day in the warm waters of the Adriatic was magical. A well deserve rest from a hectic existence. Being with Athena again after such a long absence was an incredible experience. She is a marvelous host and now friend. Her staff are friendly and accommodating, nothing was too much to request. The food and wine, fresh and wonderful every night. Her collection of guests were interesting and the conversations around the pool, lively…..Always! We made new friends, who we stay in touch with…… and that is the magic of Athena……. connecting people. Il Convento is like no other place…Unique, uncomplicated, bursting with sophistication. My partner had never been to Puglia before and he fell for the rugged beauty. We are in process of buying a wonderful home in the nearby town of Tricase. Needless to say we are very excited to be making Salento our future home and seeing Athena more often.
Mott Hupfel and Sara Goodman, New York
We absolutely loved it there, everything was perfect. I literally cannot think of anything I would change. I sincerely hope we will be back. I joke with Sara that I’d like to live there. If she ever wants to sell........
Mrs Lee Broder, USA
Everything was wonderful at both properties (also stayed at Canne Bianche Beach Hotel & Spa). Both resorts were lovely, the information and help we received from Essential Italy was great. We will highly recommend your services, and will use you in the duties. Thank you so much for helping to make our vacation so special.
Sue Hudson, UK
We so enjoyed the food at the Convento that we did not eat out at all anywhere else during our 3 days there. Absolutely superb. The swimming pool was one of the nicest we have ever used and the place was like a fantastic film set. Everyone was so delightful. Be prepared to be amazed!
Samantha Roddick, UK
We absolutely loved il Convento and Athena – we made some lovely new friends the food was delicious. It was raw rustic stylish and extraordinary. We will be encouraging all our friends to go.