Entering the walled courtyard of the 16th Century restored farmhouse, Masseria Trapana, near Lecce in Puglia, I am greeted by a very Italian-looking host with a deep, olive complexion. Yet the accent is distinctly Adelaidean.
Rob Potter-Sanders has spent two years restoring what once was a ruin, into a world-class nine-room hotel; which is a testament to his extraordinary determination and design flair.
“I needed therapy when it was all over,” he jokes to me after dinner, over a glass of the house limoncello.
With metre-thick walls, heritage considerations and a limited choice of raw materials, simplicity was the default design solution.
With Trapana’s light-filled interior hewn of limestone and giant timber beams, the space needs nothing more than armchairs and sofas in airy linens and light features made by local artisans – think lobster pots re-imagined as over-sized pendants – to create the essence of cool cosmopolitan style.
Amongst the silvery green olives groves, ancient stone walls and almost biblical landscape of Puglia, known locally as Apulia, in Italy’s infamous “boot”; lie astonishingly beautiful masserias.
They are generally fortified dwellings that can be bought for very little but then require major renovation and repurposing, a task for those with a deep passion for restoration. A number are now owned by luminaries from the fashion, film and art world, like Francis Ford Coppola, who are creating a tourism industry in this part of Italy which may one day rival the more glamorous Amalfi Coast.
In the meantime, it is the authenticity of the experience in Apulia that is so appealing. You can live among locals, or like landed gentry in these boutique masseria hotels, and they are all a comfortable drive from each other.
At Trapana I lie in a hammock reading under the orchards bows heavy with fruit – lemons, mandarins, nuts, plums, and figs – it’s how I imagine Eden must have looked and smelt. From the other side of a stone wall, I hear the low hum of the gardener’s mower as he carves prefect stripes in the croquet lawn.
Later, a fire is lit in the old olive press and we sit around on oversized cushions and drink Aperol. Guests exchange introductions; all nine rooms are occupied by Australians we discover. Christine Manfred, the renowned chef is there researching the area for food and wine tours she is hosting next year, and fashion designer, Collette Dinnigan and her husband Bradley Cocks are renovating a masseria of their own they tell me.
Again, you find clever Australians at the forefront of new travel experiences everywhere.