Puglia enjoys a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers. As one of the hottest regions in Italy, it also has numerous bursts of lush greenery in the villages and surrounding villas. It must be the heat combined with the clean white and cream-colored stones under the bright sunlight that brings on a thirst for refreshment. Whatever the case, those splashes of greenery are simply a treat for the senses. Read more →
My first authentic taste of Puglia was at Masseria Provenzani, located north of Lecce in Casalabate. A masseria is a fortified farmhouse in the country that offers lodging. Masseria Provenzani was once a 16th century stronghold that was part of feudal properties belonging to monastic orders and still retains part of the original tower with the external staircase.
As I arrived with my group, a long driveway lead through the entrance and into a large courtyard. I found the ambience immediately unfamiliar, yet appealing. A spacious layout, splashed with bits of green and gayly decorated with vines, fruit and nut trees, gave me a taste of authentic country luxury. The fresh air and quiet solitude made it natural to unwind body and soul.
I stood inside the courtyard and admired the stately stone and brick architecture complete with wrought iron balconies. Pergolas arched gracefully with flowering bougenville and jasmine. A stairway in the center lead up to the terrace that provides a panoramic view of the Salento countryside dotted with olive groves.
A reconstructed old mill, a trappeto, stands inside the inner courtyard. It still has the animal-drawn monolithic grindstone and cast iron presses that were used for refining extra virgin olive oil.
Vine-covered pergolas line the long walkway that access several rooms. Once an old stable, the accommodations have been renovated but kept to their original design. My room was spacious and complete with a kitchenette and bathroom.
One of the delights of the masseria that we all gravitated toward was the cool and refreshing swimming pool. I loved the unique design and shape. Umbrella tables were also a welcome relief from the warm sun.
Around the masseria grounds are many old pots, archways and brickwork. A faded fresco filled a niche in the wall and vines wound up and across the stones.
Just off the kitchen is the garden where much of the food used in meals is grown and harvested. Beyond the garden are olive orchards.
Mamma Giulia, the chef imperial at the masseria, is never far from the kitchen. She sure knows how to fix delicious and authentic Puglian dishes without recipes. I especially admired how these meals have been learned and passed down through the generations. It was second nature to Mamma Giulia. We all had the chance to cook with her. What a mess we made…but it was so much fun.
The dining and sitting rooms are long and spacious with several wooden tables available for guests. Rustic interior stonework is accented with shelves of crocks along the walls under barrel vaulted ceilings.
A quiet walk and chat under the flowering pergola on a lazy afternoon easily leaves one in a state of contentment.
As can be expected, cats are never far from a kitchen. This masseria is no exception. This cat is one of several that love to mill around the kitchen door and lay about on the window sill. Of course, kitchen scraps often arrive at the door.
At Masserie Provenzani I felt away from it all and able to relax entirely. Whether imbibing in a swim and a lounge by the pool or walking the adjacent pathways among oak, carob or olive trees, it’s the perfect place to lose oneself only to find oneself again in a pleasurable state of harmony.
Italy, I know you well. Pretty well, that is. In all of my visits from across the pond, there was only one region that I had not yet discovered. Puglia, situated on the south-eastern tip of the Italian peninsula, right into the heel of the boot. I knew I would go one day and explore these ancient lands of olive groves and vineyards, a land steeped in history. I had developed a deep appreciation for southern Italy and I wanted to experience more of it. Puglia, in a sense, was the final frontier for me.
My opportunity came this last May when I finally made the decision, after backing out once, to fly to Venice and meet some blogger friends whom I had come to know through Twitter. Among them were Margie Miklas from Florida, and Ishita Sood who came all the way from India. Also accompanying us was Victoria DeMaio who leads 10 day group experiences in Puglia at an extremely reasonable price that is all-inclusive. I checked out her tour, Let’s Kick Up Our Heelz in Puglia! and signed on. From Venice, although Ishita would have to fly home, Margie and I would follow Victoria to Puglia.
With a firm resolve, I packed my bags and embarked on an unforgettable experience in Italy, one that I had least expected.
Puglia is stunning. I never imagined it to be like this. The truth is, I encountered warm and authentic people, delicious yet simple food, exotic weather, and ancient history with every turn. Victoria knew several of the local residents so we were introduced and immediately pulled into a circle of friends.
Although we stayed just outside of Lecce in Masseria Provenzani, we took day trips to beautiful white villages with charming walkways that meandered between tall buildings. A stop in Alberobello to see the trulli houses was a unique experience. We even had the opportunity to take a tour through one.
Masseria Provenzani, (southern term for agriturismo) our lodging for ten days, was lush with climbing Jasmine and blooming Bougainvillea that covered the long pergolas, providing a soothing retreat from the sun. I loved the ease of staying in one place instead of packing my bags and moving to another place like I usually do.
Cooking classes, taught by Mamma Giulia, were held at the masseria. We learned the art of Puglia bread making and dolci (sweet desserts). Of course, the delicious wine from the region flowed freely. We all knew that a chef is at her best accompanied by a glass of vino rosso or bianco.
We all kicked up a lot of flour and dropped bits of dough everywhere, but we laughed hard and enjoyed the tasty outcome of our efforts.
The Puglia Wine School, operated by Michele Pasero, was a lot of fun. Showcasing the wines of the region, we enjoyed tasting the delicious varietals.
We had the pleasure of spending the days with Daniela, our lovely young tour guide who shared Puglia’s history in a fascinating way. She had the ability to conjure up images of the past that kept me entranced the entire time.
Wineries were on the agenda, much to my delight. The ambience and tasting were unforgettable.
We toured a local olive farm and had a picnic in the orchard consisting of delicious traditional dishes of Puglia, prepared by local residents.
There was a delectable spread of dishes that ended with a large platter of dolci, or sweets. The difficulty was choosing one or two when I wanted to taste them all.
I had never met a cartapesta (paper mache) maestro until we made a visit to Carlos shop in Lecce.
Shops, stores, outdoor produce and fish markets, it’s all here in Puglia.
If not for Victoria and the encouragement from my friends, I would not have discovered Puglia’s exciting and unique attributes. I am so glad the I made the decision to go to Puglia with Victoria. There is no possible way I could have become so well acquainted with this region of southern Italy on my own. To think that I almost missed going makes me literally cringe. I truly had a fabulous time, and made many new friends.
Will I return to Puglia? I’m sure I will one day. I love the south of Italy more with each new visit. It is here that I have found the heart and soul of Italy. It is warm, unique, beautiful, tasty, and the kind of place that makes me want to linger.