Prime location, center of the old city, sea views, an alley that’s a reprieve from the blasting summer heat, and a local family run bed and breakfast. Dimora Santo Stefano is an ideal stay when in Polignano a Mare. And the best part? It’s too good to be true, but this Polignano a Mare hotel is actually extremely affordable.
You can stay in a lavish seafront room in a Polignano a Mare hotel or you can hide in a more intimate, homey, and affordable structure in the center of l’antica citta, the old city. When it comes to getting to know local people and their culture at their core, bed and breakfasts are the bread and butter. My first introduction to Polignano a Mare was through Rosa Stramaglia and her daughter Monica Salomone and their Bed and Breakfast Dimora Santo Stefano, translated to abode Santo Stefano. At the heart of l’antica citta, this family run bed and breakfast feels like you’re stepping into someone’s Apulian home.
Tucked away in a small alley Vico Santo Stefano just steps from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II is the Stramaglia and Salomone family’s abode. String lights draw you into the end of the alley where you find a small, intimate courtyard filled with plants and bistro tables and the family run bathing suit store. It’s small, it’s quaint, and yes, if it weren’t for the small sign hanging above the door that reads Dimora Santo Stefano, you may mistake it for someone’s home. We’re greeted by Monica who gives us a run down of the Polignano a Mare hotel and a lay of the land. She pulled out a map and shared all her recommendations and suggestions before showing us to our room on the first floor (and thank god it was on the first floor!).
After giving us recommendations, we didn’t hear from the staff for the rest of our stay unless we went searching for them–and I mean this in a good way. It was as if we lived in our own home. I didn’t feel observed at all times like I sometimes do in grander hotels. The staff was always down in the courtyard at the reception if I needed them, but otherwise they let us go about our stay carefree.
The charming historical building was entirely restored with tuff. It’s a vertical building with rooms one on top of the other. Bed and Breakfast Dimora Santo Stefano has many steps, think houses like the ones in Amsterdam with super small, steep steps. Given how steep and vertical it is, I only recommend this Polignano a Mare hotel for people who can handle lots of steps. The Bed and Breakfast has 9 rooms, each named after a different color. We stayed in turchese or turquoise.
We booked the smaller of the 9 rooms. When we stepped in it was small yet simple. A small table here, a clothing wooden rack there, and just a splash of color on the lamps and paintings. The room was carefully furnished with Apulian items, but wasn’t overdone. From restored family antiques, to market finds, and even artwork painted by Rosa herself. Each room has unique pieces that bring together the story of Bed and Breakfast Dimora Santo Stefano.
A classic example of this is the old wooden coat hanger as decoration on the clothing rack in my room. The room had wi-fi, a small tv, air conditioning, shower, bidet, hairdryer, local soaps, and a small balcony overlooking the courtyard. The rooms position is ideal for the summer time since a wonderful breeze comes through the shaded limestone alley. The breeze feels like a wave of cold water hitting your face when you open the window.
Monica had given us a few local recommendations for dinner. Of course, we could’ve gone to the overrated and oh so instagrammed Grotta Palazzese..but how many pictures have you already seen of the cove? If there is one lesson I learned from my trip to Dubrovnik, it’s that just because a restaurant looks stunning, does not mean it necessarily has out of this world food. Plus, it was a super windy night and we would have froze to death in the grotta. Had we stayed an other night or two, I would’ve considered it. But given the limited time, I went straight for Monica’s local recommendation: Antiche Mura. And boy, it did not disappoint. Listen to the local recommendations Monica and the staff have to give, they will not lead you astray.
The next morning we woke up and headed up to the rooftop for our first, highly anticipated breakfast in Puglia. As we made our way up, small things here and there made the journey up a homey experience. From the small handpicked artwork, to the golden kitchen sign, to the sailing lanterns hung up along the way.
COVID Rules and Regulations?
During your stay, you and all the staff have to wear a mask when walking up and down the stairs to and from your room to the breakfast nook on the roof. However, once in your room, once outside, or once seated in the breakfast area (all socially distanced by 6 feet), you can remove your mask.
Now if there is one thing I regret, it’s not grasping and understanding how to eat breakfast in Puglia the day I arrived. When I think back, I can’t help but laugh when I compare my eating habits from the first day I arrived in Puglia to the day I left. I wish someone had explained to me how to consume Apulian food on my first day in Puglia. You got to remember our eating habits up north are much different than they are down south. Up north where I’m from near Milan, you grab an espresso and croissant while standing at the bar and your off. But nonetheless, you live and you learn!
I remember sitting down and simply asking Maria to grab me a homemade raspberry braided croissant, a slice of yogurt peach cake, and a cappuccino (they offer American coffee too which is quite rare in Italy!). Basically, I ordered my usual go to breakfast: pastries. During COVID, in order to minimize risks and people moving around, the staff needs to get your food from the breakfast buffet.
I sat down and overheard the table next to me ordering. “I’ll have a little bit of mozzarella, some ricotta, some capocollo from Martina France, a slice of homemade cake (almost all pastries are made in house by Rosa, the owner!), some fruit, bread, and of course jam.” My mouth dropped open. How could one man eat all of that just for breakfast? And go in for seconds too! It must mean that they were going to skip lunch. Yet, the man proceeds to ask Maria if she knows of any local agriturismi or farms in the area that serve amazing lunches. I was stunned.
Polignano a Mare Restaurant: Antiche Mura
My mom proceeded to explain to me that when on vacation, Italians typically go all out on food. In fact, many return from vacation with a little bit of extra weight on too. I could understand the going all out (kind of)..but ricotta in the morning? Cheeses in the morning was something that never stuck with me…until I learned how to eat ricotta the right way on my last few days in Puglia. Man do I regret not knowing how to eat it earlier. Bed and breakfasts and hotels should give you a crash course on how to eat Apulian food the minute you take a seat at the table.
As I’ll come to learn, ricotta is a replacement for butter.
Spread some fresh ricotta delivered that morning from a farm nearby on toast and layer it with a thin layer of jam handmade from the Salomone family’s friends who own their very own jam business, and you’ve got a slice of heaven in your hands.
It was an extremely windy day, otherwise I would’ve had breakfast out on the balcony. I think the breakfast with a view of the deep blue sea is the highlight of our stay at Bed and Breakfast Dimora Santo Stefano. It really does have you hum in your mind the famous Volare..nel blu dipinto di blu song by Domenico Modugno, who was actually born in Polignano a Mare. Sitting on top of the rooftop balcony of this Polignano a Mare hotel, you really do feel like your flying on top of the blue sea.
My mother and I packed our things and left them down with Monica at the reception. We spent the morning walking around Polignano a Mare, visiting the Modugno statue, going to the grottos, catching the views of the famous Lama Monachile beach, and more. When we returned, we said our goodbyes and were off to visit the rest of the Apulian coast on our way to Matera in Basilicata. This simple yet homey stay at Bed and Breakfast Dimora Santo Stefano was the perfect introduction to a simpler, more laidback way of life in Puglia.
Rooms start at $74 p/night.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Bed and Breakfast Dimora Santo Stefano. All opinions remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.
>> Next: Essential Travel Guide to Polignano a Mare, Puglia
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