A south­ern re­gion form­ing the heel of Italy’s “boot,” Puglia is known for its dis­tinc­tive “trulli” con­i­cal roof­s­tone huts. Tourism Tat­tler cor­re­spon­dent

Tourism Tattler - - CONTENTS - Adam Jacot de Boinod ex­plored the re­gion.

The par­adise of prov­i­dence. That’s how I felt about Puglia in Spring. So fer­tile for its dry, hot cli­mate. So up­lift­ing with its masse­ria, the white­washed farm­houses with their sin­gu­lar but solid shapes and spa­cious court­yards. I first stayed at Masse­ria Le Car­rube – the pas­sion­ate project and per­sonal phi­los­o­phy of Valentina De Luca and her cousin. Four years ago it was a run-down farm­house but now there are 19 guest rooms, a din­ing room fea­tur­ing an olive press which once was pulled in a cir­cle by a horse and the ‘sala man­gia­toia’, the room where horses were once fed, com­plete with its orig­i­nal trough. All very life-en­hanc­ing and sen­su­ally stim­u­lat­ing. A stay of five days in Puglia was long enough for me to visit many of the lo­cal at­trac­tions and his­toric towns. On reach­ing Os­tuni, ‘the white city’, from the west her ci­tadel has a dra­matic precipice straight down from its white­washed walls. The town is typ­i­cal of the Mediter­ranean with ges­tic­u­lar, an­i­mated spir­its clap­ping hands and wav­ing arms; laun­dry hang­ing out over the streets and nar­row an­cient pas­sage­ways.

Next along is Al­ber­o­bello with its great­est con­cen­tra­tion of ‘trulli’ from their golden age of the 19th cen­tury. These white lime­stone con­i­cal dwellings with key­stone vaults are white­washed with many lay­ers. They were con­structed both as store­houses and tem­po­rary field shel­ters and also as per­ma­nent houses. Be­ing built of small stones, they fit their nar­row set­tings. White­washed sym­bols adorn some of their roofs, typ­i­cally in the form of ei­ther a cross on a heart pierced by an ar­row, rep­re­sent­ing Santa Maria Ad­do­lorata, ‘Our Lady of Sor­rows’, or a cir­cle with re­li­gious con­no­ta­tions. I then stayed at Masse­ria San Domenico.

Owned by the same fam­ily-run group as Masse­ria Le Car­rube, Borgo Eg­nazia and Masse­ria Cimino, it’s five min­utes from the shore and you en­ter it along the most dra­matic of drives, a long av­enue lined with fra­grant jas­mine bushes which frame an­cient olive groves set in rich, fer­tile and vi­brantly brown earth.

The ho­tel at­tracts many for its ‘spa-ta­lasso’ and neigh­bour­ing golf course. The spa makes full use of the ben­e­fits of sea­wa­ter and there’s a sandy beach at La Fonte. It’s all per­fect walk­ing and cycling ter­ri­tory: flat yet scenic. The im­pres­sively vast out­door swimming pool con­tains sea­wa­ter at a nat­u­ral tem­per­a­ture that works well with the rock for­ma­tion in which it is partly set. I sensed the real glory of the masse­ria’s spa­cious­ness from sev­eral pic­turesque views; from the bar, from the pool­side restau­rant and from the out­door court­yard where break­fast was served. There’s a lib­er­at­ing sense of space both in­side and out. The main build­ing was once em­ployed by the Knights of Malta to ward off Ot­toman at­tacks with its 16th cen­tury watch­tower, now the pri­vate quar­ters of the owner Marisa Melpig­nano who re­alised her dream by ac­quir­ing it in 1980 as a hol­i­day home then to in­vite friends be­fore then recog­nis­ing it for its greater hos­pitable po­ten­tial.

The ho­tel is keen to pro­mote the healthy ben­e­fits of the lo­cal pro­duce: what they call the ‘Mediter­ranean Diet’. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of all the food habits adopted in the re­gion, char­ac­terised by the pres­ence and cul­ti­va­tion of olive trees. It’s a tetrad of bread, cheese, oil and wine demon­strat­ing a strong com­mit­ment to ar­bori­cul­ture. The ho­tel’s spa pro­motes it­self with Plato’s quo­ta­tion that “the wa­ter of the sea washes away all of man’s pains and sor­rows”. To the unini­ti­ated there’s plenty to marvel at. The pack­ages of 2-3 days, de­signed to pro­mote well­be­ing and hap­pi­ness, of­fer scrubs and detox­ing, oil wraps, jets and face masks with sea­wa­ter and crushed sea­weed pro­vid­ing their sa­line and min­eral ben­e­fits. All highly restora­tive. All very bal­anc­ing. Back in the fields, by late April the farmhands were sow­ing seeds down pre­cisely lined rows and har­vest had al­ready been gath­ered into hun­dreds of im­mac­u­lately rolled golden bails of hay. Puglia in spring had ‘trulli’ en­chanted all my senses! About the author: Adam Jacot de Boinod was a re­searcher for the first BBC tele­vi­sion se­ries QI, hosted by Stephen Fry. He wrote The Mean­ing of Tingo and Other Ex­tra­or­di­nary Words from around the World, pub­lished by Pen­guin Books.

Adam had sup­port in ex­plor­ing Puglia from Clas­sic Col­lec­tion Hol­i­days, chep­stow­cars.com, gatwick­ex­press.com, and pri­or­i­ty­pass.com.

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