Hallelujah to Puglia: This rugged region of Italy has heavenly hillside villages, unpretentious beaches – and Sundays are still holy

A few years ago, Apulia was called the new Tuscany. It was absurd then and still is today – even if Italy’s sales have become increasingly polished over the past decade.

Still, I tend to think that Puglia’s growing popularity is precisely because it hasn’t become too polished – as some of us like it to be.

Saturday afternoon at Savelletri Beach feels miles away from the Côte d’Azur or any of the finer coasts. There aren’t many British tourists either, but rather working families relaxing in an unconscious Italian way.

Many of the moms are big and all the men seem to be wearing tight speedos that leave little to the imagination. Great grandfathers puff cigarettes while playing cards; Teenagers parade in search of other parading teenagers; Children scream in the waves – and I see at least two lifeguards sitting blissfully on sun loungers.

I spent a lot of time in Puglia in my twenties and it has changed less than I feared. There are still many family-run alimentari (grocery stores); people go to church on Sundays; Widows wear black until a year after their husbands join the mighty army of heaven, and all enjoy the division between North and South. Heart rules head – and they drive like crazy.

Mark Palmer, who spent a lot of time in Puglia in his 20s, is delighted to note that despite its growing popularity it has not become ‘over-polished’. Above is the ‘big’ town of Ostuni

We stay ten minutes inland from the Adriatic coast on the flat plains near Fasano in a fairly new, exquisite 24-room property that doesn’t feel like a hotel called Masseria Calderisi. It’s not technically new, but the summer of 2022 was the first full season, thanks to you guess what.

In the past – and it dates back to 1658 – each masseria (which literally means “big farm”) had its own church, farm buildings, stables, a fortified tower, a courtyard and many orange, lemon, linden and almond trees.

Calderisi has it all, making it perfect for being a designer-run outpost without pretending to be anything.

The atmosphere is understated luxury, with crumbling whitewashed walls, driftwood tables and chairs, signage designed by local artist Enza Fasano, muted colors, subtle lighting, pillows by Pierre Frey, and, grazie mille, no room for posers or inflated egos .

All of this would have happened without the chutzpah of a German couple named Max and Jutta von Braunmühl, who bought the Masseria in 2017 (they got married down the road at the posh Rocco Forte Hotel) and poured a lot of love and money into it.

Jutta designed most of the interiors and did a fantastic job. It is like a small town surrounded by olive groves, some of which are almost 2000 years old.

I don’t like welcome notes that tell me how to feel, but I find it hard to argue with the one here that says Calderisi offers an opportunity to “reconnect to your own rhythms in your own time”. With a 50-minute massage in the small spa behind the reception, I free myself from all rhythms.

The Masseria is the antithesis of a mass market resort centered around a massive swimming pool. Here everything revolves around the town square and the large, beautiful swimming pool is hidden outside the walls by the vegetable garden. A touch of the Caribbean emerges at the pool with its wooden bar hut. And in the evening, drinks are served as in a Moroccan medina on the roof of several whitewashed outbuildings, while a German musician mixes music and accompanies his playing with bongo drums.

Picturesque: Alberobello pictured is famous for its trulli - whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs

Picturesque: Alberobello pictured is famous for its trulli – whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs

There is a shuttle bus to the beach – and there are plans to give the Masseria its own beach club next year. If you want a big dose of baroque, Lecce is 90 minutes away. And you really should try – because it’s a masterpiece, dating back to at least the 3rd century BC. BC, complete with the ruins of a 25,000-seat amphitheater.

Ostuni, a beautiful whitewashed old village (don’t miss the 15th-century Gothic cathedral) on a hill, is about half an hour away by car, as is Alberobello, known as the capital of the Trulli Landes, which has whitewashed stone houses with conical roofs.

And don’t forget Fasano itself, with its pretty central square and chic shops. One night we have a spectacular meal at La Locanda di Martume, a family business that costs no more than £25 per person.

We also go to Locorotondo, another white town, but not before we are stopped by the police. We have no idea why; maybe too fast.

Relaxing: Mark enters Masseria Calderisi, a

Relaxing: Mark checks into Masseria Calderisi, a “beautiful” hotel near the town of Fasano

Masseria Calderisi has a

Masseria Calderisi has an “understated luxury” vibe – expect crumbling whitewashed walls, muted colors and subtle lighting, reveals Mark

The stern young policeman starts speaking in Italian and I answer in English as if I don’t speak a word of his language, even though my Italian is perfectly acceptable. We have a weird exchange that goes nowhere, so he shrugs, then laughs and says, “Come on, go, Inglesi!”

Locorotondo, famous for its abundance of churches, is located on a hill and offers a panoramic view of the Valle d’Itria. A market has taken over the city for the day and every conceivable stall is here, one of which is devoted almost entirely to coffee machines.

I strike up a conversation with a man from whom I buy six pairs of socks for three euros. I ask him what he thinks of Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

He also shrugs (an Italian shrug is more demonstrative than a shrug in any other country) and then gestures wildly in that sweet Italian way when you’re not sure if they’re going to hug you or kill you.

It doesn’t matter who is prime minister. Nothing ever changed. Nothing!’

We had heard a lot about Polignano a Mare and its beautiful pebble beach cove Lama Monachile which is about 45 minutes up the coast during our visit so we set off in our hire car after getting directions from the hotel reception on where to go Can park walking distance from the beach.

Mark visits the town of Polignano a Mare and its beautiful pebble beach bay Lama Monachile (above)

Mark visits the town of Polignano a Mare and its beautiful pebble beach bay Lama Monachile (above)

Homemade pasta with seafood in Polignano a Mare

Homemade pasta with seafood in Polignano a Mare


Double rooms start from £354 for two people on a B&B basis. EasyJet flies from London Gatwick to Bari or Brindisi from £81.86 return. The transfer takes less than an hour and can be arranged through the hotel, masseriacalderisi.com.

We find the parking lot but have nowhere to park – and when we finally do, the machine doesn’t work, so we abandon the mission and head back to Calderisi before preparing for Ferragosto’s party, which turns out to be the grand finale. be.

We ask one of the smart young people at the reception that Ferragosto’s party offers.

“It has something to do with the Madonna,” she says.

It doesn’t (although it was made to coincide with the Assumption of Mary). Rather, it comes from Feriae Augusti, the festival of Emperor Augustus, who made August 1 a day of rest after weeks of hard work in the fields during harvest time. It then became customary for the workers to wish their employers “Buon Ferragosto”.

It is a public holiday and is celebrated every August 15. The hotel comes with panache in the spirit of Ferragosto. Amid a special celebration, the 12-piece Zagor Street Band appears for a virtuoso performance and returns for an encore while desserts are served.

Standing ovations are announced. But our big round of applause doesn’t just go to the band. It is for this fascinating Masseria and for glorious Puglia as a whole.

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