Author: Fiona Tankard
If, in your mind’s eye, the word ‘Italy’ conjures up a scene of stone hilltop farmhouses surrounded by sunflowers and olive groves and punctuated by cypresses – Chiantishire basically – then don’t read any further. You’ll only be disappointed.
This isn’t about Tuscany. Not that I don’t love the place – after all I live in the Casentino valley, a little known part of the most famous region in Italy. And before that I lived for 11 years in Umbria, another heart-stoppingly beautiful region which is affectionately know as ‘Tuscany’s gentler sister.’ Softer hills, more saints and a slightly more introspective feel to it. Now increasingly popular with British buyers thanks to the opening up of Perugia airport to the cheap airlines, including Ryanair from Stansted.
But enough about that. I’d like to tell you about Puglia. One of Italy’s other regions (yes, there are 19 more). It used to be known as Apulia in English but, as it is now in the press and on tv a lot more, it is usually referred to by its Italian name. It’s located in the heel of Italy’s boot and covers an area of 19,000 square kilometres, a close second to Tuscany’s 23,000 square kilometre area. But it’s 900 kilometres (550 miles)and a world away from Chiantishire.
It’s All Greek to Me
Puglia’s landscape is flatter and wilder – a sort of maquis in parts. It’s covered in huge olive groves delineated by dry stone walls and the region is almost totally surrounded by sea. In fact, it has more in common with Greece than la bella Toscana, borne out by the fact that people in some parts of Puglia still speak Greek.
It is sometimes referred to in the press as ‘the new Tuscany’ but this is a reference not to its appearance, but to the overseas property market. Buyers are now looking beyond the well-established (and costly) areas when investing their hard-earned cash and are snapping up properties in the south of the peninsula to use as holiday homes with rental potential or as a permanent homes to relocate to. There is no question about it – Puglia represents a savvy investment if you know where to look.
The stereotypical view of the region (if you have one at all) is that it is the land of the trullo – sweet looking white stone buildings hand built without mortar and topped by characteristic black conical roofs. There were an abundance of these around the Locorotondo and Alberobello regions of Puglia now snapped up for a song by foreigners and being resold or restored.
So charming are these quirky buildings that they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However attractive they look, trulli can be quite claustrophobic to live in and so buyers are looking to another traditional type of Pugliese house – the masseria or fortified farmhouse. These are spacious, light and cool in those long, hot Puglia summers, an important consideration for prospective investors. And now it is possible, thanks to the innovative thinking of Landscape Properties, an Italian company, to have your own 21st century version of the traditional masseria.
The unique project is based in Salento, the southernmost tip of Puglia. It is a region much loved by the conoscenti – Italians on their summer holidays, Oscar winner Dame Helen Mirren, Lord McAlpine – and they should know. The Salentine coastline boasts two seas, the Ionian to the west and the Adriatic to the east. As well as clean, white beaches there are some enchanting places to visit. Take the city of Lecce for example, pronounced ‘Letch-eh’, and known as ‘the Florence of the south’. It is crammed to overflowing with ornately carved white stone Baroque buildings that leave many people quite speechless. It’s lively too, on a visit I made in late October the streets were full of people enjoying themselves, eating, laughing and shopping – at 10pm on a Sunday night! This does not happen in Tuscany, believe me.
Another city which flies under most people’s Italy radar is Otranto, whose old castle juts out into the sea and where luxury yachts bob about in the harbour while their owners sightsee and investigate the restaurants and shops of the town.
Talking of restaurants – you eat very, very well here, with seafood obviously being a speciality! Having been used to the cuisine of central Italy, one thing that struck me was the variety and the possibility on many menus of having lots of ‘tasters’ instead of one main dish. The chance to taste five small desserts instead of having to choose just one is reason enough to relocate! To wash everything down it helps to know that Puglia is one of the biggest wine producers in Italy – one of the most popular local wines being being Rosso Primitivo del Salento IGT. Allegedly, Pugliese Primitivo grapes are shipped north and added to Tuscan Chianti to give it more flavour! (You didn’t hear that from me.)
The area is within reach of two international airports, Brindisi and Bari and, as befitting a popular holiday destination, has all the sports facilities you could wish for: golf courses, horse riding and of course water sports.
Puglia is one of the biggest olive oil producers in Italy and we are not just talking any old olive trees. These are true giants contorted into the sort of shapes usually only seen in designer magazines and avant garde gardening tv shows. Some are not really groves but forests and the olive trees are often many centuries old. It is just such an enchanted olive forest just a few minutes from the sea, that Landscape Properties is creating their unique masseria project.
Be Your Own Architect
The masserie are one storey high – but that one storey measures five metres, which is about 15 feet! They are built from local materials – the traditional Leccese white stone or yellow carpara – or a combination of the two. There are all the mod cons you’d expect from a 21st century build ( Jacuzzi, swimming pool, walk in wardrobes) combined with a traditional-style hand crafted stone building that sits well in its surroundings – which are two hectares (5 acres) of olive groves by the way, where the only sound to disturb the peace is birdsong. Yet you are within walking distance of a village with all amenities, and within easy reach of all the goodies that Salento has to offer, including the beaches. In this case a piece of heaven doesn’t cost the earth as prices start from only Euro 500,000 for the completed house plus taxes.
From saying ‘yes’ to getting the keys of your bespoke house in the sun is a year. And bespoke it is, as the interior, and to some extent the layout of the exterior, can be designed to your own spec. ‘We like to say that you’re your own architect,’ says owner of Landscape Properties, Francesco Carluccio. ‘Every masseria we have sold so far has been different!’
One attractive aspect of the project is that each house is recreated using techniques and materials that have been around for centuries. The stones are hand-worked by local craftsmen whose skills are being passed on to younger apprentices, thanks to Landscape’s project. These artisans are rightly proud of their work and enjoying the revival of their trade. Landscape plan to fund an academy to train apprentices the craft. ‘It’s good to give something back,’ says Carlucci.
He adds that there couldn’t be a better time to invest in Puglia, as it is so ‘hot’ right now. ‘Considering that a property like this in Salento can rent out in the summer season for up to Euro 5000 per week it represents a great investment,’ he explains.
It may not be as postcard pretty as Tuscany, but for canny buyers who aren’t afraid to extend their comfort zones and experience a slice of southern dolce vita, with sun, sea, sand and a sexy property investment, then Puglia has real pulling power.
Landscape Properties www.landscapeproperties.com
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +39 0577 281455
About the author:
Fiona Tankard is a freelance writer and internet marketing expert, specializing in SEO for individuals and small companies. She was the originator of the idea for ITALY, the UK’s best selling magazine on Italy, and edited the magazine for five years, leaving to go freelance in 2006. She has lived full time in Italy – first Umbria and then Tuscany – since 1994. Her website is www.spiderywriting.com