Puglia has been under the spotlight in the last couple of years, described as the “to-go destination” for your summer holidays. But what makes it that special? Why everybody is talking about it?
We have tried to understand what is behind this great success. Is it the warm hospitality of its people? Or the good food you can eat basically in every single small restaurants? Or the white sand beaches with crystalline waters? Or the endless lands with centuries-old olive trees?
Well, of course we wanted to give an answer to this question and we have to say that all the above mentioned points are valid, but there is one thing we really fell in love while we were there, and we think this might be one of the reasons people fall in love when they get there: the amazing Puglia’s masserias. A masseria is a typical building in the Puglia countryside – most of them have been built between the XVI and the XVIII century and initially used to be large farms to house both landowners and peasants. The oldest ones are also fortified, since in that period people in the countryside had to protect themselves from the Turkish invaders. In the last 15-20 years, most of those buildings have been renovated and turned into luxury boutique hotels.
In our view, the best masserias in Puglia are in the area between Savelletri and Ostuni. In order to get there you can land either in Bari or in Brindisi and then rent a car to drive there (about 45min drive). This area is also particularly nice, since there are many fantastic places around you can visit while you are there: Ostuni, Polignano a Mare, Alberobello, Martina Franca, Cisternino are all great places worth a visit (I think we will need another post to describe this wonderful places…)
Anyway, let’s focus on which masserias we liked the most while we were there…
First one is Masseria Torre Coccaro, in Savelletri. This is a fortified masseria from the XVI century, now turned in a 5*L boutique hotel. This is a great mix of tradition and luxury. The masseria still keeps its original style with white walls and dark red windows and doors. Suites and rooms are very nice and spacious – they are furnished in a traditional style, in the tones of grey and white, with a luxury but still minimal design. The white stones on the floor are a distinctive characteristic of this region and the linen sheets will keep you fresh during the warm nights (which can become very warm in Puglia). The only thing we might say on the negative side is the fact that it appears some of the rooms have not been renovated for a couple of years and might need some refreshing touch anytime soon.
Breakfast is very good, with a variety of international and local choices and a lot of homemade cakes and pies, freshly made on a daily basis from the pastry chef Martino – I would suggest you try at least a couple of those – they will remind you of the cakes your mum prepared for you when you were young. Also, the restaurant Egnathia at night will serve you typical dishes from Puglia with local ingredients – seafood and fish are both very popular here, so get spoilt by some tasty langoustines or orecchiette (a popular pasta here in Puglia).
As a guest of the masseria you will have free access to Coccaro Beach, a private beach club owned by the same family who owns the masseria. The sea is very nice here and you can spend the entire day here with a nice break for lunch at the restaurant, which serves fresh fish every day (which can be served also under your umbrella if you prefer). During the summer they also organize some very nice jazz music nights here – it is a relaxing experience to listen to some good music while you are drinking a refreshing cocktail in the breeze of the Puglia seaside…
The second masseria is the sister of Masseria Torre Coccaro and is located just very close to the first one. It is called Masseria Torre Maizza, and it is another 5*L boutique hotel. What makes Torre Maizza different from Torre Coccaro is a different style, a bit less “traditional” and slightly more luxury-focused. The masseria is located next to the Coccaro Golf Club, with a stunning 9-hole golf course surrounded by olive trees. Suites and rooms are very nice here as well, and all of them have a small terrace to get some fresh air while you are reading your book at night under the stars. The Torre Maizza suite and the Palm suite also got a heated private swimming pool.
The restaurant Le Palme serves dishes which mix very well Puglia tradition with a more innovative and cosmopolitan taste. During the summer ask for a table outside under the pergola, with a view on the “agrumeto” (citrus grove, similar to the one you can find in south of Spain or Morocco), which leads you to the spectacular heated swimming pool. This is the area where you can spend hours without realising that time is running. To get to the swimming pool you have to pass through the agrumeto and then get through a very old door which will lead you to a colonnade adjacent to the swimming pool. When you get there, take your lounge chair, sit down under the warm sun and forget everything else. You do not need anything more in your life.
Nice thing they do here are cooking classes where they teach you the secrets of the grandmas from Puglia to cook very typical dishes like focaccia, orecchiette, taralli, and so on… And if you do not have time to do that, you can try all of these delicious food at the restaurant at night or at breakfast, where you will find an immense choice of typical Apulian food – try the mozzarellas which are very famous here, especially the “nodini”, small mozzarellas which resemble to some “little knots” (that is where they got the name from).
If you are staying here you have complementary access to Coccaro Beach Club, as we already mentioned in the Torre Coccaro paragraph.
If you take the car from Torre Maizza and drive further south for about 20mins towards Ostuni, you will get to the last two masserias we would like to talk about today. The first one is Masseria Le Carrube, a relatively recent addition to the Puglia scene. Masseria Le Carrube is part of the Masseria San Domenico group, one of the pioneers of the luxury hospitality business in this part of Puglia. We love the style of Le Carrube, which is very minimal and at the same time very authentic. When you arrive, you will get surrounded by white, white and… still white. At the end of the day, you are just 6km away from the white city, Ostuni.
Only 8 rooms and 7 suites here. Rooms are not huge, but very stylish and with few very nice original furniture. Outside you have 2 swimming pools, one of which is heated – when you get into the blue water of the swimming pool you will be dazzled by the white stones which will surround.
The restaurant Le Carrube is very nicely located in a big room where you can still find an original stone-mill. They serve vegetarian food for both breakfast and dinner. They propose healthy recipes with a lot of attention for people with intolerances – and they use fresh produce from their own vegetable garden as well as from local farmers.
One note to add about this place: it is great if you are just looking for some relaxing days in the Puglia countryside (still relatively close to the seaside) but do not expect the level of service you can get from a five star hotel. Also, there are not many activities organized here, so not ideal if you are looking for sport or outdoor activities. But, at the same time, it is just so beautiful – so if you are looking for a secluded place for a few days, this is the place.
Last but not least Masseria Il Frantoio – this is also located very close to Ostuni. It is an original masseria from the XVI century and it is now boutique hotel and biological farm. The style here is very different from the previous three places: here almost everything is original, so sometimes it can appear old-fashioned and not very trendy or sophisticated. But the atmosphere you get here is somehow unique.
One thing you cannot miss here, even if you are not staying at this hotel – the candle light dinner in the courtyard. They use their own fresh produce here for all the different courses (you get 7-8 for the full dinner) and everything is cooked by a few great ladies, following the same recipes and traditions of the old times. And at the end of the dinner you can choose which liquor you want to drink to digest – they have about 20-30 different “rosolii” ( a typical liquor from Puglia) they do themselves using local ingredients. This is absolutely a not to be missed experience if you travel to Puglia. You can also buy some of the products here, such as olive oil, jams and liquors.
Now that you know these four place we are sure you cannot wait to travel to Puglia this summer. Which one to pick for your holidays? Our favourite one is Torre Maizza but I have to say all of them are just great. And as we said, no matter where you are staying, please book a table for dinner at Masseria Il Frantoio – you will not regret it.