The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY DAVID MEAGHER

Puglia is hot right now – and we’re not talk­ing about the weather, al­though in sum­mer the tem­per­a­tures are con­sis­tently above 30C. Given the re­gion’s hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of coast­line, it’s a part of Italy that has al­ways been pop­u­lar with Ital­ians on sum­mer hol­i­days. And al­though it is still one of the rel­a­tively undis­cov­ered gems of Italy, the rest of the world is catch­ing on. Travel mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers la­belling it “the new Tus­cany” have brought it to the at­ten­tion of hol­i­day mak­ers look­ing for a less ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive to the Amalfi coast on the other side of the coun­try; and direct flights to Bari, the re­gion’s cap­i­tal, have made it an easy getaway for sun-seek­ing Euro­peans.

The south­ern Ital­ian re­gion – in the heel of the boot – is as flat as a pan­cake and dot­ted with gleam­ing white farm­houses and olive groves as far as the eye can see. Thanks to the area’s rich soil, prox­im­ity to the sea and hot sum­mers it pro­duces some of the coun­try’s most

de­li­cious food. Puglia has tra­di­tion­ally been Italy’s poor­est re­gion, where most of its pop­u­la­tion still live off the land and it’s only in re­cent years that in­ter­na­tional tourism has played a role in the re­gion’s econ­omy.

A word of warn­ing about Puglia: you need a car to get around. It’s a big re­gion and you have to be care­ful not to try to do it all or you will spend most of your hol­i­day driv­ing. An­other word of warn­ing: it’s not Italy’s most pic­turesque re­gion. Un­like, say, Tus­cany, the view from the high­way is rather un­pre­pos­sess­ing. On one side there is flat coun­try­side and on the other is the coast, which is largely pop­u­lated with a row of bland con­crete block apart­ment build­ings. As you drive along you may won­der, as we did, why you came here.

But this is a part of Italy that has vir­tu­ally pi­o­neered a new type of hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion: the masse­ria ho­tel. Masserie, or farms, all over Puglia are be­ing trans­formed into lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tion while, in many cases, still op­er­at­ing as farms. These are re­sort-style ho­tels that are more or less self-con­tained des­ti­na­tions. One is Masse­ria Torre Maizza be­tween the town of Fasano and the fish­ing vil­lage of Savel­letri. The ho­tel is owned by Vit­to­rio Muolo and his fam­ily, who also own the nearby Masse­ria Torre Coc­caro as well as the Coc­caro Beach Club and a hand­ful of other prop­er­ties un­der the ban­ner of the Apu­lia Col­lec­tion.

The main build­ing of the Masse­ria Torre Maizza is a for­ti­fied 16th-cen­tury farm­house. Sur­rounded by huge an­cient olive trees, it was orig­i­nally cre­ated as a watch­tower to guard against Sara­cen in­vaders, then be­came a farm where pil­grims would take refuge. It opened as a ho­tel in 2002 with 30 rooms and suites in a new build­ing be­hind the orig­i­nal farm­house de­signed by Muolo and us­ing lo­cal ar­ti­sans and ma­te­ri­als. The sur­round­ing gar­dens are lined with bougainvil­lea, pome­gran­ate trees, jas­mine, myr­tle and hi­bis­cus. A large heated out­door pool is reached via a walled cit­rus gar­den and there is an ad­ja­cent golf course for those who need to walk off all that food. Ho­tel guests also have ac­cess to the Coc­caro Beach Club which is about a fiveminute drive away and op­er­ates like an ex­ten­sion to the ho­tel (drinks and food can be charged to your room).

But this is Puglia and food is a pas­time as much as a nec­es­sary part of life. The ho­tel can or­gan­ise tours of lo­cal pro­duc­ers, some of which can be reached by bi­cy­cle. A visit to a nearby an­cient olive farm is a fas­ci­nat­ing way to dis­cover the art of olive oil pro­duc­tion, and for a truly au­then­tic Ital­ian culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence en­rol in the ho­tel’s cook­ing school. You’ll learn to make spaghetti as well as orec­chi­ette, knead bread, bake fish, make panze­rotti with moz­zarella and tomato and fin­ish it off with ri­cotta cheese tart. Then you eat it all for lunch – buon ap­petito. masse­ri­ator­re­

Clock­wise from left, the Masse­ria Torre Maizza’s pool terrace, the golf course, the Coc­caro chapel, plums in the or­chard, a ju­nior suite deluxe, the restau­rant, an an­cient al­tar and the Coc­caro beach club

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