Italy, Puglia: Feast on fine food, wine at Puglia's luxurious farmhouse hotels

Walking into the lounge and dining area of Masseria Trapana it's hard not to get the feeling that you've somehow fallen into the glossy pages of Tatler or Vogue. It helps that there are copies of both placed just so on a table off to one side (along with Conde Nast Traveller and Vanity Fair, natch).

It really is that immaculate, as if the designer, stylist and photographer have just left. It's all pale beige and buttery stone, solid red rugs, feature walls, beautifully vaulted ceilings, carefully placed objets and white furniture positively begging to have Angelina Jolie draped all over it.

As someone who only needs to walk out the front door to attract dirt it's all a bit disconcerting but, you know, I'll just have to suck it up.

Not so long ago this building was little more than a pile of stones, a 16th-century farmhouse complex that had fallen on hard times and then pretty much fallen in on itself. Not that it was alone in this state of affairs – such neglect was the fate of many traditional Puglian masserie.

Eight hundred or so years ago Puglia was the southern European kid that everybody picked on. Successive waves of invaders arrived from pretty much every direction. Greeks, Moors, Normans, Barbary pirates, Turks and Uncle Tom Cobley all invaded, pillaged or generally gave Puglia a wedgie.

It got to the point where the local landowners gradually converted their farm buildings into fortified strongholds – the masserie – behind which both owners and workers could retreat in relative safety.

But after falling out of favour for many years, the last few decades or so have seen a resurgence of the masserie as entrepreneurs realised that the buildings' original bones were still good.

One such was Australian hotelier Rob Potter-Sanders, who fell in love with Masseria Trapana when it was little more than a ruin and undertook a two-year labour of love to turn it into the luxurious five-star boutique hotel it is today.

Potter-Sanders, who fell for Italy while washing dishes in Tuscany at the age of 22, says that the key to buying the masseria was the existence on the property of an old chapel to Santa Barbara that in turn sported a newish altar dating from 1967: "I was born in 1967 and my mother's name is Barbara. There are also gum and wattle trees here, so you could say the masseria chose me."

Advertisement

At first glance, there's a touch of the Spanish hacienda about it. Set in the sun-blasted countryside just a 15-minute drive from the city of Lecce it looks, with its heavy wooden door set in a thick white exterior wall, very much like the fortress it was once.

Inside, however, is proof that appearances can be deceptive. There is a large central courtyard around which sit 10 luxuriously appointed suites with yet more vaulted ceilings, four-poster beds, cool stone floors and vast al fresco bathtubs.

Around the outside of these are six interconnecting walled gardens bursting with citrus trees, hammocks, a pool and a croquet lawn if that floats your boat.

Masseria Montenapoleone, an hour's drive north along Italy's stiletto heel and just a 20-minute drive from the striking white city of Ostuni, is same-same but different. Sitting atop a rise with panoramic views of the nearby coast, the original owners dug down rather than up to escape marauders – hence the unexpected and beautifully eccentric underground cave suite.

As such it's less evidently a fortress and much more a farmhouse. It also functions as one, surrounded as it is by ancient olive groves and the fields where it grows the organic olive oil, fruit and vegetables that are used in the kitchen and to such cornucopian effect at the buffet breakfast.

The rest of the masseria is spread out in a series of elegant white buildings with red trim that house the reception, bar, restaurant and 15 eclectic rooms furnished with repurposed, well, pretty much everything that can be repurposed. Think old gramophone horn as a lampshade, for instance.

Scattered around the grounds are bales of hay, ancient household implements, old trucks, a bright yellow-and-sky-blue horse-drawn carriage and bright clusters of flowers and cacti that look like paint splashes against the whitewashed walls.

Quite apart from the food, which is excellent and should be taken by the poolside at night while listening to the resident frog chorus as they have sex, this is a place that rewards a simple stroll around the grounds. Here you'll find cascading clouds of purple bougainvillea, pots of scarlet flowers, palm trees, fields of poppies and, at the very rear of the property, a small vegetable patch and a fenced-in area shared by a gaggle of goats, ducks, pigs and a couple of bad-tempered turkeys.

Keith Austin was a guest of Southern Visions Travel.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/italy

southernvisionstravel.com

STAY

Masseria Trapana is a 30-minute drive from Brindisi airport and about 15 minutes from Lecce. It has 10 luxury suites and one private villa. See trapana.com/en

Masseria Montenapoleone is just inland from the Adriatic coast near Torre Canne (midway between Bari and Brindisi) and a 20-minute drive from Ostuni. See masseriamontenapoleone.it/en

FLY

Puglia has two international airports at Bari and Brindisi. If you are starting your trip in the northern/central part of Puglia and finishing in the south, consider arriving into Bari Airport and departing from Brindisi.

Alitalia offers several connecting flights per day from Rome Fiumicino and Milan Malpensa or Linate. See alitalia.com

Other scheduled carriers include Swiss, British Airways and Lufthansa

See swiss.com

See britishairways.com

See Lufthansa

TRAVEL

If you prefer to see the countryside you can make your way to Puglia by train. The trip from Rome Termini to Bari Centrale takes four hours or five-and-a-half hours to Lecce. See trenitalia.com

If flights to Naples are more convenient, the driving time from Naples to Bari is three hours. There are ferry connections between the Puglia coast and Croatia and Greece.

TOUR

Southern Visions Travel are experts in creating bespoke travel experiences in southern Italy. They specialise in culinary and active experiences, especially cycling, but will design a holiday around your wants and needs. See southernvisionstravel.com

Comments