I am a great believer that one cannot have too much Italy in one’s life. It is a fact and I accept it in almost a religious way. What I love about Italy is the regional diversity – reflected in the scenery, fashion and, of course, food. I know the country reasonably well – I must have been 10 times or more, but I also accept that I probably need to go back 87 times, to be precise, to make sure that these were lasting impressions… just because.
For most people, Rome is the city of their dreams (and do not get me wrong, I love it), but I also have a lot of love for Milan, which most people don’t. I finally found my way around Genova, in the west, after a couple of visits, but I may have left my heart in Barolo, in Piemonte. But guess what, I will find it in Venice when I return later this Summer (and come back to London on the iconic Belmond Orient Express, to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary).
Puglia has a very special location – if you picture the Italian map, which we all know looks like a boot, Puglia is the region located in its heel. Remote (as in not the easiest place to get to), underrated but simply stunning.
I recently had the opportunity to spend 5 days in this part of the world, following the invite of luxury villa company Passepartout Homes, who manage and operate a great portfolio of handpicked properties around the world, and some stunning ones in Puglia.
Day 1 – Wednesday
We arrived at Brindisi airport just after lunchtime (our flight with Alitalia was actually quite good, but our car rental experience inspired a recent post conveniently titled: ‘Why is car hire the worst part of the travel experience?’) and could not wait to get to our villa. After a stop in nearby Martano (where we met the concierge company who would escort us to the villa), we had arrived to our little Puglian paradise.
The first thing we did was explore our Masseria which had a very interesting layout. The U-shape you can see on the photo above actually helps explain it very well – the property was split into 4 self-contained areas, which made it perfect for sharing, whilst retaining hotel-style privacy. On the left, you had an area with 2 double bedrooms and a bathroom, which was occupied by the lovely Ashley from The Lazy Travelers (and her husband Jeff). In the middle (behind the arches), the area occupied by yours truly and Mr. O, which had the master bedroom, a second bedroom and a fab bathroom, and on the right hand side of the U, the common area of the house, made up by a fantastic kitchen and living area.
When we got to the kitchen, we were surprised by the lovely welcome basket which included supper staples (i.e. if we didn’t want to go anywhere, we could actually cook a meal). Needless to say, the first thing we did after we unpacked was to go to the nearby supermarket (which was fantastic, I have to say) and stocked up on essentials: water, fruit, burrata cheese, ham, prosecco and wine). We were planning to spend a lot of time at the villa, especially during the day and after returning from dinner and this was a great idea.
The villa, which has 5 bedrooms, sleeps 10 and it was only a bit later that we realised where the ‘final’ bedroom was – and we decided that as my friend Mary Anne and her husband Jason came all the way from California to spend some time with us, they should have it: didn’t their little abode look fab? It also came with a hot tub outside!
For our first night, we stayed in – but we did not cook. We took the villa owner’s recommendation and enjoyed a fantastic welcome dinner cooked by a professional chef, Simone, who came in at around 6pm to start prep, and left after 10pm. We had a lovely meal, produced of strictly local ingredients and the wine we had bought earlier was perfect. It was the perfect welcome, and the best way to start our Italian holiday.
Day 2 – Thursday
On our second day, it would be fair to say we did not do a lot. It is what you are supposed to do when you come to this part of the world. Everyone slept late (I was so proud of my American friends clocking up respectable double digits) and we just spent the day by the pool. We had bought some lovely food – I have to say, our bruschettas may make some locals jealous and just spent the afternoon sunbathing. One thing worth mentioning: Italian time goes very quickly.
One of Passepartout’s local partners is an entity called Apulia Promotion, who had kindly organised a very special activity for us – to visit an aloe vera plantation (and beauty product factory). We weren’t 100% sure what to expect, but we had a very enjoyable couple of hours with Luigi and Domenico, the founder and brains behind Natura & Benessere. We first visited the beauty product plant, which was very interesting (and different!!) and then headed towards their property, the Naturalis Bio Resort, where we saw and learned more than we would ever dream of about Aloe Vera. We also loved our surroundings and were totally captivated by Domenico’s enthusiasm and passion. We also adored the products, which we brought home.
Dinner took place at a very local place (which came highly recommended by everyone we spoke to), called “La Porta Antica” in Sternatia, which was 10-15 mins away. This is a place where we spoke our best Italian ever (very very very limited) and had a fantastic dinner. We were also very surprised by the menu prices, so I was introduced to a new game: guess the total bill. The person who gets the closest figure, doesn’t pay, and the others do. At €125 for 6 (seriously, do the math and yes, it included wine and we couldn’t move), I won.
So we celebrated with prosecco back at the villa.
Day 3 – Friday
On the Friday, we decided that the beach was calling our name. And under 10km away, we headed to an area called Bagni Alimini. The beaches did look stunning and we could not believe how warm the sea was at the end of June.
We purposedly avoided the weekend, just in case, and had a great day out. We even got to see some local Italian talent (look closer at the photo below. I could not resist).
The beach is organised by various beach clubs and we were recommended Bagno Lucia, which were good and had a delicious yet very simple restaurant. I have to say I am glad I did go slightly off-season as obviously there was a lot of space between the sun loungers – something I am sure will not happen in July/August based on the photos I have seen.
After a lazy and late lunch (of course), we went back to the villa and changed. Something very special awaited: wine tasting.
Italy and wine go hand in hand – and one company I really like is The Winerist. I know the founder well and I was keen to explore a bit more about the local delicacies. So they organised a scaled down version (due to our time restraints, we had to go to the beach!!) of a wine experience which led us to a small town, past Lecce, called Squinzano.
As we focused purely on the wine, we headed to a stunning Palazzo where we not only learned about it, but also got to sample… a lot of it.
We spent two hours with the team, and tasted not only the wines you see above, but also did some olive oil tasting (and you can see Ashley on a video doing a perfect demonstration of the correct way of doing it), but incredible nibbles and bite sized food.
First things first: a bit of knowledge. Negroamaro and Primitivo are the 2 main local grape varietals which produce stunning red wines. Interestingly, from what I understood, Primitivo is genetically Zinfandel, known to be one of the unique USA grapes.
We had planned to go to dinner closer to home, but actually to one of the region’s top restaurants, but we were having so much fun in Squinzano, we just stayed longer. It was a special day for the town (patron saint day) so there was a great vibe. And wine, of course. So we just sat down, relaxed and made some new friends.
Back at our villa, we enjoyed a bit more prosecco and developed a new skill: sabering prosecco bottles with a normal knife. I know it sounds weird, but you will have some videos to see in just one minute, ‘beara witha me-a‘ (read with Italian accent).
Day 4 – Saturday
Our last full day, and we knew what we had to do – just stay home and enjoy our last full day at the villa.
We went on another food shopping expedition and actually prepared a great lunch. We had a state-of-the-art BBQ (and an expert BBQer, Jason), so we just stayed in and prepared a very tasty meal.
And before we knew it, it was time for one last dip in the pool and change again. And head to town. And eat some more. Am I complaining? Absolutely not! But before we went, we did a little educational video of how to open the bottle of prosecco. Because we want to share the wisdom.
We were in for a treat – a culinary experience with Silvestro Silvestori, from The Awaiting Table.
We headed to Lecce, which was around 30 minutes away and were very pleasantly surprised with the city centre (we had driven past it a few times and were not *so impressed*). We met Silvestro at the main square and went on a little walk around town towards the market.
I love visiting markets (and very rarely resist buying something). Peaches and other summer fruit were in full season and the smells were incredible.
From the market, we headed towards Silvestro’s house – and wow, we were in for a treat. All in all, we spent almost 5 hours with him – and loved every minute of it. This ‘school’ provides very interesting experiences – from a dinner course (which we took part in), to a full day, or a week. There is something for everyone. In our session, we made pasta, and then split the various tasks of the main and dessert courses between all of us. My job was to remove pips from olives – and I may have eaten a few, oops.
Our day ended back at the villa where we finished off the rest of the prosecco. It has been a fantastic trip indeed.
Day 5 – Sunday
We were up bright and early for a 9.30am flight to Milan and then on to London. Take note – flight times change a lot on Sunday and connections are much longer than on weekdays. So we had 5 hours to kill in Milan – and staying in Linate (which is quite an uninspiring place) wasn’t really an option. So we headed to Eataly, which has recently opened a new store in Milan. Small detail: if you google directions, look up ‘Eataly Smeraldo’ as there are 2 in Milan and one is just a little shop.
I love the concept and it was the perfect place to spend a couple of hours – getting there from the airport took under 20 minutes, and we had not only a great lunch, but were also able to buy dinner which we took home with us on a plane.
And with this, it was time to say arrivedecci to Italia once again. We loved loved loved loved loved Puglia, and we only saw a tiny bit. Which means we need to go back for more. And oh we will.
Disclaimer and Fact Box: A huge thank you to Passepartout Homes who provided with us a stunning villa in Carpignano Salentino, to The Winerist for a great wine experience and The Awaiting Table for an unforgettable cooking experience. I would also like to thank Apulia Promotion, who organised the visit to Natura & Benessere and Naturalis Bio Resort.
STAY: The Masseria Il Trullino, part of the Passepartout Homes costs from €3500 per week and sleeps 10 adults (do the math, seriously). A dinner organised by a private chef in the comfort of your masseria costs from €50pp excluding wine.
DRINK: Our wine experience The Winerist costs between €40-120 per person depending on the spec and duration of the programme, which is customised to each client.
EAT: Our culinary experience, including unlimited wine during the meal with The Awaiting Table costs €95 per person.
GET THERE: I wasn’t spoiled for choice – the best option was, without a doubt fly from London Heathrow to Brindisi (close to Lecce and more precisely closer to Carpignano Salentino, where our villa was located), via Milan with Alitalia. The connections were good (but tight, and note, there is no concept of ‘Flight Connections’ at Milan Linate, you need to exit the airport and go through the main security queue again). The other options would be to fly Ryanair direct from Stansted (no, grazie), or British Airways (or Easyjet) to Bari, which would mean a 2.30h drive or more when we landed (plus the additional driving time to London Gatwick).