A Hidden Gem in Italy
“Who Knew the Heel of a Boot Could be so Pretty”
After visiting all the tried-and-true cities of Italy, it’s worth a trip off the beaten path to this hidden gem that sits at the heel of the boot of Italy in the southeastern region. Puglia (pronounced “pool-ya”), or Apulia, its lesser used Latin name, is best known for its whitewashed hill towns, centuries-old farmland, and hundreds of miles of Mediterranean coastline. Split into widespread regions, Puglia can best be explored by car.
Bari, the capital, is a lively port and university town while Brindisi is another harbor town sprinkled with Roman ruins and medieval castles, both with airports. Monopoli is an old fishing town with winding alleyways leading to the Adriatic Sea. Lecci is called the “Florene of the South” for its Baroque architecture, while Polignano de Mare is a pretty coastal town in a dramatic cliffside location where cliff-divers can take a plunge or the less brave can soak up the sun’s rays on the beach below. Ostuni, known as the “White City” is a fairytale like place to stroll around appreciating the architecture and shopping along the meandering pathways. And finally, Alberobello in the Itria Valley is most famous for the “trulli” white stone huts with unique grey cone-shaped roofs which are a UNESCO site. A trip to Puglia is not complete without a selfie in front of a trullo, the signature structures people most associate with this part of Italy.
Seeing the soul of Puglia can be done Italian style in a vintage car or vespa along panoramic roads, taking in scenic landscapes and historic villages while soaking up the local culture along the way. Viewing the contrasting colors from the earthtone farmlands to the sapphire sea colors of the Adriatic to the bright whitewashed villages is a visual sensory delight.
Agriculture punctuates the rhythm of life in Puglia. In fact, Puglia is known as the kingdom of extra virgin olive oil. The locals consider olive oil to be their gold. There are over 60 million olive trees planted in Puglia with about half being over 100 years old and about 5 million over 1000 years old. Additionally, Apulian wines are enjoying a newfound reputation with idyllic conditions for growing grapes with fertile soil and sea breezes, so vineyards are plentiful as well. Rose wines from Puglia are rising in popularity.
Puglia offers a variety of unique types of accommodation from boutique B&B’s to small independent hotels to trulli homes and masserias. These masserias are centuries old farmhouses in walled estates that have been repurposed as hotels, many with luxury amenities as well as gourmet food and wine offerings.
Masserias are a great choice to really get the feel of what local life was like here as a farm owner. Two masserias worth visiting are Il Melograno and Masseria Torre Coccaro.
Il Melograno meaning pomegranate, was the first Apulian masseria to open from the 17th century and has become a popular place to stay for visitors to Puglia. It is easy to reach, being equidistant from both Bari and Brindisi airports. This noble farmhouse retains a romantic atmosphere with 40 rooms surrounded by bougainvillea and citrus groves positioned in a labyrinth of whitewashed avenues. Over 120 olive trees, many over 1000 years old, are throughout the property. There are even two interspersed right smack in the middle of the dining room with the dark trunks contrasting the white tablecloths. The Mummolo Restaurant serves traditional Apulian cuisine with a modern twist. A hearty breakfast buffet with myriads of homemade pastries, breads, cheeses, honeys and local fruits starts mornings off right. The grounds include tennis courts, a spa and both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. The central square is a fabulous spot for hosting memorable Apulian weddings and events. Cooking classes are a must to learn how to recreate Apulian meals at home. The Tamerics Beach Club is a short shuttle ride away where the cool Adriatic sea breezes welcome guests to its shores.
Il Melograno’s sister property, Le Peschieria, an ancient Bourbon fishing reserve, is now a romantic couples-only retreat just 10 minutes away. It is an intimate and private setting with only 13 rooms all sitting beachfront with the waves lapping steps away. There are a series of 6 adjacent pools for guests only. The seafront Saleblue Restaurant is one of Italy’s most romantic settings awarded as such by Forbes Travel Guide. Fresh fish from the Adriatic Sea is the house’s specialty. Guests dine either indoors with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the sea or outdoors on a platform just above the water. This is an ideal honeymoon hideaway!
Masseria Torre Coccaro
This 16th century fortified farmhouse is now a family run resort within the grounds of the estate. Here guests truly experience the Apulian lifestyle. There are 24 guest rooms, 12 suites and 3 villas all set amongst the ancient olive trees in the countryside, yet near to their very own private beach clubs, Coccaro Beach Club and Le Palme Beach Club. Their Aveda Spa is set inside a natural cave offering olive oil treatments while outdoor yoga and pilates are taught amongst nature. The masseria’s restaurant serves fresh organic Apulian dishes in a delightful indoor setting or on the terrace overlooking olive groves. There is also an outdoor casual restaurant with a grill next to the pool. The property even has their very own chapel. So, if you are ready to say your “I do’s” Masseria Torre Coccaro is ready and waiting.
Puglia truly has many treasures to uncover. With centuries of history, UNESCO World Heritage sites, baroque architecture, the world’s best olive oil, gastronomic organic meals, fine wine, plus, the end of the Roman pilgrimage trail, we have only uncovered the tip of the Apulian boot of Italy.