This is an excerpt from the book “Apulia”.
Photo © maudel15
In Salento’s Masserie Puglia: a sea that’s as blue as a sapphire, but also landscapes that are scorched by the sun and dotted with charming granges.
From simple farmer dwellings to the country abodes of the nobility, their continual evolution has helped maintain their splendor. A journey then into the culinary tradition that plays on simplicity in order to conquer even the most demanding of palates.
THE MANY FACES OF THE MASSERIA
Salento’s masserie or granges assumed their present appearance in medieval times, when enormous estates were divided up into smaller rural blocks known as massae, which were administrated by a massaro.
These places provided the setting for poverty and exploitation, and at the time were used as an instrument for controlling the areas by governors.
The basic structure was always more or less the same: on an estate of no more than 500 hectares of land given over to sheep farming or cereal cultivation, the residence was developed around a central courtyard, with the farmer’s residence, the dormitories for the farmhands, the cowsheds, stores and occasionally even the apartments of the owner of the estate.
Masseria San Domenico – now an hotel
Towards the XVII century, the masserie were given a new lease of life in the form of country residences for noble owners who lived in the city. The poor country dwellings became embellished with Baroque decorations, in a showy contrast with the simplicity of the original architecture. The real peculiarity of these granges lies in their double-faceted nature: they are not just country dwellings but also fortifications for defending the area.
The area of Salento has indeed always had to deal with the serious problem of pirates, and the masserie (no longer just stores for food stuffs but also ostentatiously furnished residences) had become the object of continued assaults. Thus watchtowers were erected along with drawbridges and thick walls with arrow holes; in the main building, the top floor was isolated from the rest as it served as a refuge in the event of attack.
All of these precautions have permitted these granges to reach the present day virtually intact, even maintaining their agricultural activities into the first half of the XX century. Now, they have mostly been converted into private houses or accommodation for the increasing number of tourists coming to discover this corner of Puglia.
A journey through flavors and traditions
Salento is a land worth discovering at a leisurely pace if one is to get the most out of its attractions and appreciate its most significant aspects.
An excellent starting point is the town of Nardo’, in the province of Lecce. Its historical center boasts a number of Baroque Salento jewels, but the surrounding countryside is of primary interest with about one hundred masserie.
Photo (C) maudel15
Some of these have been restored, bearing witness to farm life of days gone by such as masseria Brusca, which is still dedicated to dairy produce and sheep farming. Others stand out for the refinement of their architecture, such as masseria Giudice Giorgio which features Byzantine, Baroque and Renaissance elements.
Naturally these places hold a wealth of delicious surprises in store for visitors: not just fish-based recipes that are typical of coastal villages, but also dishes that are traditional of inland areas.
What were once the protagonists of poor peasant dishes, the simple country ingredients form the basis for delicious recipes which many of the masserie, now offering farm holidays, serve up to their guests. It is worth tasting the ancient chicory and broad bean soup, perhaps with “niete” or “paparine” added (chard or poppy plant leave). Or else meat such as stewed diced horse meat, or the little snails known as “moniceddhe” in this area.
All of which is accompanied by wines with a great deal of character obtained from vines of Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera, Aleatico or Primitivo. Heading back towards the province of Brindisi, one comes across another area full of masserie, namely the area of Fasano. Many welcome guests with a vast selection of local products, from the extra virgin olive oil to citrus fruit marmalades, different flavored rosoli and cheeses, with the experience obtained over hundreds of years guaranteeing the authenticity and quality.
Where to stay in Lecce
There are hotels, apartments, villas and B&Bs available, check it out and make a reservation here.