COAST WITH THE MOST
PUGLIA’S MASSERIE ARE FARMSTAY DONE THE LUXURY ITALIAN WAY, OFFERING SUNSHINE, SEA AND SOME OF THE BEST FOOD IN THE COUNTRY.
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. masseriatorremaizza.com
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