Embracing the sweet life in Southern Italy
"…visiting Villa Elia in Puglia, Italy. She opens the door to the rambling 18th-century masseria surrounded by olive groves and vineyards and beckons me inward. I follow her to the backyard via the living room, where collectibles lie scattered in haphazard elegance and furnishings evoke a bohemian chic. The staff cooks furiously from an open, old-fashioned kitchen.
So goes my introduction to the heel of Italy’s boot, the Salento. Part of Puglia, it comprises the southernmost region of Italy’s heel and juts out to divide the Adriatic Sea from the Ionian Sea, giving the area 500 miles of coastline. Popular with Italians from the north fleeing urbanity, Salento attracts those seeking an authentic Italy of yore. Its slower pace and earthy qualities ensure relaxing vacation days that entail shopping at local farms, taking long bike rides and one-lane roads, sampling wines and exploring hidden swathes of beach. Here, the majority of Italy’s olive oil is produced, and the area garners praise for prodigious red wines such as the Primitivo di Manduria and crisp, complex whites. Travelers here tour fortified cities like Otranto and Gallipoli, drenched in history, and they wander through architectural gems like Baroque Lecce. Water lovers find plenty to do with fishing, snorkelling and diving.
Though hotels abound in the sleepy Salento, I delve into the region with a stay that splits my time between an 18th-century palace and a modern villa crowning a cliff above the sea. I book my vacation with Think Puglia, a company with a portfolio of varied, family-owned residences. The owners have deep roots within the area, offering top-notch houses and estates not normally available to vacationers. One is Villa Elia, where Jude law once stayed. But the company’s collection ranges from tiny cottages ideal for couples on a romantic getaway to grandiose estates, which can accommodate multiple families. The houses are modern, medieval, vineyard-ensconced, beachside and beyond. Visitors can even rent a quirky trullo, Puglia’s indigenous, cone-shaped cottages.
As an added service, the entrenched company acts like a concierge, arranging transfers and sightseeing itineraries chock-full of insiderexperiences. Cooking classes, wine tastings and sunset picnics on a rooftop above a baroque square are just a few of the options.”