“Look, a trullo!” Just pass Bari and the landscape will be dotted with cone-shaped buildings. One, then another, then an entire coast where wheat fields sprout. Everyone talks to you about Alberobello, but in reality the trulli are everywhere! Abandoned and collapsed under the weight of stones, or restructured and brought back to life, they are somewhat the emblematic symbol of this part of Puglia. The history of the trulli is that of the Valle d’Itria, a poor land that has faced tourism late in the day… and doing it in an exemplary way.
Day 4 Putting Puglia on tourist maps
The Valle d’Itria lies between Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca, on the hills in the interior. From a tourist point of view it also extends to our first destination, Fasano, the municipality with the highest concentration of five star and luxury resorts in the region. It began with a wealthy lady, Marisa Lisi Melpignano. Looking at her friends’ Scottish hunting estates, which over the years became country relais, convinced her husband Sergio to do the same with his sixteenth-century farmhouse in the Savelletri countryside. In 1996 Masseria San Domenico opened and everything changed – they tell us about it aboard a converted electric Fiat Panda as we skirt the 18-hole golf course which is just one piece of the puzzle that has redefined and set the standard of hospitality in the area. Over the years they arrange old country houses and convert them to hospitality destinations but on the family lands they build Borgo Egnazia above all: an entire tourist village made up of rooms, villas, private villas, swimming pools and restaurants that are a concentrate of all the best that Puglia has to offer. Immense, elegant, very original because it is an artifact, but where you can breathe more Puglia than outside. Everything is done locally by artisans, from the staff to the food, from the trattorias scattered throughout the village to the starred restaurant, from the experiences for the guests to the smiling hospitality, it’s all pugliesissimo… but five-star. The operation is so pharaonic that Indian weddings arrive complete with elephants, Madonna vacations and Justin Timberlake was married here: Borgo Egnazia ends up in magazines all over the world. The whole of Puglia, naturally, ends up in magazines all over the world for the first time and soon after becomes a classy destination. While we sunbathe in the pool next to a (famous) footballer and in the square (fake) they prepare the pizza oven and the big screen to watch the game, it seems almost obvious that the real luxury is that made of stone walls, blue sky, red earth, waterfalls of purple bougainvillea, orecchiette and focaccia from Bari… in reality, it’s a new perception of luxury and not for everyone. Champagne and caviar? Classic method from Susumaniello grapes and sea urchins. While elsewhere tourists invest in magnets and junk in the Itria Valley, the hospitality of the area is born as an adult, taking its first steps in the right direction.
Day 5 Affordable and curly luxury
Without the fake Borgo, the real Puglia would not have been re-evaluated. Everyone tells us about it, even the young owner of the Canne Bianche hotel, right on the beach of Savelletri, whom we meet the next day. Where there was a reed bed by the sea, now there is a Small Luxury Hotel all white, stone-colored, airy and Apulian chic. Luxury accessible to 1/3 of the Borgo ticket but exactly in line with the general philosophy. There is the swimming pool, the spa, the access to the sea so direct that you practically dive into it and for lunch you can eat under the pergola: raw, grilled fish, cavatelli with seafood, simple and delicious. This area of Puglia is one of the few where raw fish is traditional, mussels are preferred to oysters, sea urchins are served in buckets (literally, plastic) and the best place to eat them is under an umbrella. Here in the area the fixed stop is Alba Chiara, a kiosk with plastic chairs and umbrellas that over the years has integrated ice creams and Peroncine with classy wines. Locals, gourmets and tourists go there, looking for understated luxury. Because travelers who can afford to buy everything, it turns out they want only the best, even if it costs only 3 euros per plate. Strictly disposable.
Day 6 Trulli, anodized aluminum and private pools
After two days of luxury overlooking the sea, we head a few kilometers inland, a kingdom of cured meats, roast bombette, villages and trulli. The trulli that at the beginning of the journey were a novelty are EVERYWHERE. The trulli were built by the laborers of the area until the eighteenth century, with a primitive form of construction, completely dry, without mortar, to circumvent the taxes imposed by the Kingdom of Naples on real buildings. Today they are found abandoned, incorporated into 1950s houses from which a cone with a pinnacle emerges, in clusters of trulli that have become entire villas. For those who are foreigners, trulli seem exotic, but here every family more or less has one and lives in it after having adapted it to modern needs and even mounted an anodized aluminum window. They were nothing special, then the British and the Germans arrived. They saw the potential of slow luxury tourism in the trulli, and bought left and right. Thanks to The Thinking Traveler who rents top holiday homes in Puglia, Sicily and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, we discover a world of wealthy families who much prefer the privacy of a rental home – with five bedrooms, a pool, a dream kitchen and every possible and imaginable comfort. We meet one of their hosts, Mauro Santoro, from Bari who moved to Milan and re-transplanted to Puglia to renovate and rent elite trulli. He tells us of the thefts of pinnacles and stones, of trullariums that they restructured by modifying the original buildings and of the difficulties of respecting these fragile treasures to make them live again, without pouring concrete. We sleep in a room created in an eighteenth-century trullo, take a shower in the former sheepfold and swim in the pool naked at dawn immersed in the countryside. We estimate that after all, a week in mid-season costs €5000… divided by 10 it is a decidedly democratic luxury.
In the homeland of bombette
Instead of enjoying the trullo and trying the Dolce Far Niente which is the claim of Mauro’s company, we go eat the legendary bombette: slices of pork seasoned and stuffed with cheese, folded into a bundle and skewered. They are cooked in the typical stove, which is not a gas stove, an oven or a barbecue but a kind of fireplace in which the meat is placed upright on the hot stone. The legendary “stoves” that have become a tourist attraction here were born from butchers with kitchens, where the meat was sold for take-away, to be eaten at home and in the aluminum tray. Well before the boom of specialty restaurants. The Santoro family, father Giuseppe, mother Piera and my two friends, sisters Angela and Micaela, aka @lesantorine, tell us about it. From the butcher in the city center they now produce Capocollo di Martina Franca PGI and other artisanal cured meats on a large scale and are the influencers of the area. We go around the factory with them, learn how to make bombette in the butcher’s shop and then go for an aperitivo in the village. The bombette seem to have been born over 40 years ago in the Romanelli butcher shop in Martina Franca, but now the kingdom of the bombette is Cisternino. It is beautiful, lively, and now full of restaurants that fill up in the evening. “In the nineties the Bar Food organized a jazz festival (Pietre che Cantano) in the square and people bought bombette and ate them standing up. It all started like this, with the historic butchers Zio Pietro, the Rosticceria De Mola (no longer existing) and the Antico Borgo di Piero Menga “.
The future is Vogue
In Cisternino, however, in addition to genuine bombette, Frisellanna just opened (a sign of the times). Frisellanna bears the signature of Anna dello Russo, originally from Bari, creative director of Vogue Japan and a reference name in the international fashion system. “They searched for a location for years until they found the only courtyard in the city and turned it into a friselleria with a cocktail bar ”the Santorine tell me. Why here? Because she lives between Tokyo, Milan and Villa Villa Colle, nine trulli with a swimming pool that you can peek at while watching property porn through her Instagram profile. We sit down to have a drink made with sea water, tequila and tomato and eat a frisella. They are open, but the historic stoves are not because there is a game tonight and football is not controlled.
The Italian superstition wants the gestures that brought luck to be repeated, and so everyone sees every game repeating the same rites. Angela and Micaela go home, Luca and I enjoy the TV room with double sofa and giant screen in our trullo. We feel too much at home and begin to fantasize: “Well, you could rent with friends”. “I could also remove the TV from the living room to make the guest bedroom the TV room, what do you say?”. One night was enough: you can remove a man from the trullo, but you can no longer remove the trullo from a man.