Gilda Siena likes to talk – so much so she is known among her guests as “the chatty woman”.

In the decade since she bought a 19th-century building once inhabited by Venetian nobility in the Salento area – at the southern tip (the heel) of Italy’s Puglia region – and made it into boutique hotel Palazzo Siena-Home & More, this aspect of her personality has led to many friendships.

Proof of the affection felt towards her can be gleaned from the message book and thank you letters and cards received from around the world. Among her favourite guests are the Swiss man who she nicknamed “James Bond” for his flash white sports car (which looked a tad out of place in the hamlet of Specchia Gallone, especially alongside her Mini Metro); the interior designer from London; the couple who asked her to witness their wedding; and the six lesbians from Canada who she hung out with by the pool, chatting and laughing.

“Those women were such great fun,” said the 61-year-old. “The most beautiful thing about this job is getting to know people.”

But this year, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, there are few people to chat to.

“It is a strange year, and sad to see something that was so lively now so quiet. We were like one big family,” said Gilda, whose two daughters help her manage the business when they can.





Gilda in the palazzo kitchen



Gilda in the palazzo kitchen

Although tourism has been returning to Italy since the country reopened its borders in early…

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