Sunday, November 27, 2011
The Masserias: Puglia's Fortified Farms
PUGLIA, Italy--You arrive over a road whose pavement is, shall we say, rustic, as it traverses a grove of ancient olive trees with trunks so twisted they could be posters for a menacing horror movie. You bluff your way past the gate (honk, wait for it to open; US border security should be so lucky!) and pull into the parking lot of the Masseria Torre Coccaro, one of several dozen masserias, historic farmhouse properties on the lowlands facing the Adriatic.
Pirates were once a real threat along the coast, so the farms and villages tend to be based a few kilometers inland. There's a Fort Apache or Alamo feel to these masserias, many of them refurbished as four- and five-star hotels for tourists, with plenty of banquet space for local weddings and conventions, sometimes with golf courses attached, often with a stretch of private beach (reached by shuttle bus).
Not all are genuinely old, though. Borgo Egnazia (in the photos at top & bottom) is a two-year-old movie-set of a village built, literally from the ground up, with the local beige-white limestone. The owner, Aldo Melpignano, is said to have designed the Borgo himself, adding a cluster of villas surrounding the central "fort.." Local designer Pino Brescia decorated the expanses with vast quantities of unexpected objects (bottles, keys, laddders, old newspapers, twigs and branches, candles, birdcages). Marble hallways lead to cavernous rooms with high-tech lighting (which I couldn't figure out), high-thread-count sheets, and phones that rang on their own in the middle of the night. The Borgo's spa catalog ("Vair") is a study in psychobabble, with two dozen treatments getting their own names in ancient dialect ("Loma Kian") and descriptions ("..inspired by Orthobionomy"; "....will help you fall like raindrops on your back...to reconnect to your emotions." Not cheap, eather: a manicure is nearly $100.
Okay, I'm not the target market. Unfair to complain. Point being, though, that Puglia may be the far southeastern tip of Italy, only 25 miles across the Aegean Sea from Greece and Albania, but it's thoroughly modern when it comes to upscale accommodation and luxury services.
Note: My trip to Puglia was sponsored by the Italian Travel Promotion Council in conjunction with Italy's Natonal Tourist Board.