Splashes of Green in Pristine Puglia

IMG_2574

Puglia enjoys a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers. As one of the hottest regions in Italy, it also has numerous bursts of lush greenery in the villages and surrounding villas. It must be the heat combined with the clean white and cream-colored stones under the bright sunlight that brings on a thirst for refreshment. Whatever the case, those splashes of greenery are simply a treat for the senses. Read more

Puglia’s Tranquil Masseria Provenzani

My first authentic taste of Puglia was at Masseria Provenzani, located north of Lecce in Casalabate. A masseria is a fortified farmhouse in the country that offers lodging. Masseria Provenzani was once a 16th century stronghold that was part of feudal properties belonging to monastic orders and still retains part of the original tower with the external staircase.

As I arrived with my group, a long driveway lead through the entrance and into a large courtyard. I found the ambience immediately unfamiliar, yet appealing. A spacious layout, splashed with bits of green and gayly decorated with vines, fruit and nut trees, gave me a taste of authentic country luxury. The fresh air and quiet solitude made it natural to unwind body and soul.

IMG_1703

I stood inside the courtyard and admired the stately stone and brick architecture complete with wrought iron balconies. Pergolas arched gracefully with flowering bougenville and jasmine. A stairway in the center lead up to the terrace that provides a panoramic view of the Salento countryside dotted with olive groves.

IMG_1614

A reconstructed old mill, a trappeto, stands inside the inner courtyard. It still has the animal-drawn monolithic grindstone and cast iron presses that were used for refining extra virgin olive oil.

IMG_1617

Vine-covered pergolas line the long walkway that access several rooms. Once an old stable, the accommodations have been renovated but kept to their original design. My room was spacious and complete with a kitchenette and bathroom.

IMG_1619

One of the delights of the masseria that we all gravitated toward was the cool and refreshing swimming pool. I loved the unique design and shape. Umbrella tables were also a welcome relief from the warm sun.

IMG_1659

Around the masseria grounds are many old pots, archways and brickwork. A faded fresco filled a niche in the wall and vines wound up and across the stones.

IMG_1651

 

IMG_1694

Just off the kitchen is the garden where much of the food used in meals is grown and harvested. Beyond the garden are olive orchards.

IMG_1603

Mamma Giulia, the chef imperial at the masseria, is never far from the kitchen. She sure knows how to fix delicious and authentic Puglian dishes without recipes. I especially admired how these meals have been learned and passed down through the generations. It was second nature to Mamma Giulia. We all had the chance to cook with her. What a mess we made…but it was so much fun.

IMG_1770

The dining and sitting rooms are long and spacious with several wooden tables available for guests. Rustic interior stonework is accented with shelves of crocks along the walls under barrel vaulted ceilings.

A quiet walk and chat under the flowering pergola on a lazy afternoon easily leaves one in a state of contentment.

IMG_1624

As can be expected, cats are never far from a kitchen. This masseria is no exception. This cat is one of several that love to mill around the kitchen door and lay about on the window sill. Of course, kitchen scraps often arrive at the door.

IMG_1637

At Masserie Provenzani I felt away from it all and able to relax entirely. Whether imbibing in a swim and a lounge by the pool or walking the adjacent pathways among oak, carob or olive trees, it’s the perfect place to lose oneself only to find oneself again in a pleasurable state of harmony.

*Masseria Provenzani ~Strada Provinciale 236 – Via Provenzani n°102, I-73100 Casalabate (LE)
Mobile +39.335.8187858 / +39.348.3325378 – info@masseriaprovenzani.com

 

Join Victoria in Puglia this Fall for a Small-Group, Intimate Experience

Italy is a country made up of layers upon layers of history and culture that fuels the imagination and inspires a deep desire to understand it.

***

Ever since my first visit, I have returned time and again with a keen intent to probe its depths even further. In the process, I have never been tempted to take a standard bus tour. For me, I prefer to travel solo, with my husband, or with a small group of friends.

Last year I decided to sign up for Victoria De Maio’s boutique experience, Let’s Kick Up Our HeelZ in Puglia, and I’m so glad that I did. The memories we all made together will remain with me always. I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences I’ve had yet. I loved the itinerary, meeting the locals, and coming away with a feeling that I had really got up close and personal with Puglia.

Our masseria, or agriturismo, was lovely and very comfortable. Cooking classes were taught in the huge kitchen by Mamma Giulia using fresh local ingredients that we later enjoyed at the table with carafes of delicious wine. Daily excursions were exciting and adventurous as we drove to several of the villages and walked through winding streets between whitewashed buildings, taking in the sights and eating delicious food. The sun was warm and the ocean sparkled.

Winery visits, a picnic in an olive orchard, and visits with artisans made for a genuine, authentic cultural experience within a small intimate group. There was time to enjoy to ourselves as well, to relax around a large outdoor pool or wander the gorgeous bougainvillea-covered grounds of the masseria.

Let’s Kick Up Our HeelZ in Puglia, Italy with Victoria De Maio

It is with great pleasure that I’ve had the opportunity to interview Victoria and give you an opportunity to know her better as she describes her heart and goals for her Puglia adventures. Victoria has a deep love and enthusiasm for Italy and a desire to help you have that same intimate experience.

Victoria, how did you become interested in organizing tours in Italy? Was it an “aha” moment or gradual?  

It definitely evolved and like so many things in life, a series of events and experiences converge into a new path…Years ago, I took my first tour as a solo with a large group and I enjoyed the experience. Wanting to return to Italy, a few years later I collaborated on a “small” group tour to Tuscany. This was all before the internet and so forth so it was much more labor-intensive and it was a success but, with 23 guests, it was pretty exhausting. I pretty much decided that it wasn’t for me until…

A few years later I joined a group tour company to Italy and I just loved it. After some other travels, I felt the pull back to Italy. So, a few years later I planned a month long Italy trip which included two small group tours and independent travel.That’s also when I jumped into the blogosphere with both feet and my love for Italy and writing really unfolded and flourished.

Soon after I heard about Puglia via a fellow Italophile. I’m embarrassed to say I’d never heard of Puglia but after numerous online chats and lots of research, I connected with Ylenia Sambati of YLTOUR PR. We communicated and I decided that not only could I but I wanted to do a tour again…and the rest is history! Our first tour together was in spring of 2014. There have been three more since and the next is in fall 2016. I just love it and can’t wait to go back…

How are your tours unique from others? Why would someone want to take your tours over another one?  

Unfortunately the word “tour” has negative connotations to many people. It conjures up images of huge busloads of tourists being herded from place to place, tour guides carrying umbrellas and the like. Yikes! Not at all what I wanted to do or offer…I also didn’t want a “cookie cutter” experience.

Having been on small group tours, I gleaned what I did and did not like and what I felt did and did not work well. In other words, I wanted to offer the kind of trip that I love which is a more intimate and local experience seeing and doing what most visitors never get to do or see. So, not just another “tour” but what I like to call a unique boutique experience.

Partnering and collaborating with local experts and having the benefit of their expertise and knowledge has been a key ingredient. Creating, planning and hosting our special itinerary, we strive to offer a fabulous immersion in all aspects of the local culture—the food, the wine, the traditions, the art and history, the people… 

Since the groups are small (no more than 12), the experience is very personal. It’s perfect for the solo traveler and for experienced and novice travelers alike. We take care of every detail so there is no stress. And, since it is all-inclusive AND affordable, there are no surprises, $ or otherwise! (In other words, all the benefits of a group but not the downsides of a large group!) I realize that this could be someone’s only trip to Italy and I want to make it magical and memorable.

What do you offer that others don’t?

We offer us! Everything we do is infused with our love and passion for Italy and, of course, for Puglia!  It’s also about relationships. My relationship with my partners is genuine, warm and far more than a business partnership. Guests not only benefit from our strong relationship but from their deep roots and connection with all of the locals that we visit. And now I feel that connection when I return and it’s priceless. 

Incorporating their recommendations and suggestions, we always strive to offer a well-balanced, comfortably paced itinerary. Whether it’s a cooking class, wine tasting, walking tour, visiting local artisans or the olive oil farm visit, it’s always special and fun!

What do you want your guests to experience? Please share your philosophy, and your goal.

I want people to experience “la dolce vita”, the Italy that I love! Designed around what I enjoy and want to experience when I travel, we offer authentic cultural immersion, hands-on personal attention, and the opportunity to learn about and experience the local lifestyle, art/history, major sites, etc. based upon the guidance and recommendations of those who know it best, my local partners.  

I also want to offer a “no fuss no muss” holiday where all of the nitty-gritty details that can spoil a trip are taken care of and guests can focus completely on enjoying and savoring every moment. (And by the way, we don’t pack and unpack more than once so all of our time is quality time!) Our time together is rich and enriching and aspires to evoke a true appreciation for the uniqueness of this region (as is true or every region of Italy).

Together we have created a warm and welcoming atmosphere comfortable for couples, friends and, in particular, solo travelers. In a small (no more than 10 or 12 guests) group, solos don’t get “lost” or feel like a third wheel. I like to say, “Come with friends or make new friends!”

***

More about Victoria: My travels and love for Italy inspired me to write a travel tip book, Victoria’s Travel TipZ Italian Style which I’m quite proud of and send to every tour guest. 

The next Puglia tour is this fall 2016 and now, I have extended this philosophy to a new tour this fall to the Italian Riviera, Liguria.  

For those who want to travel with friends or family, along with my Italy experts, we can help you ~Design YOUR Dream Trip to Italy! Choose Puglia, Tuscany, Liguria, Umbria or Sicily. 

Andiamo, let’s go!

Contact Victoria
PostcardZ from Victoria

Victoria

Ten Days in Puglia That I’ll Never Forget

IMG_2555
Italy, I know you well. Pretty well, that is. In all of my visits from across the pond, there was only one region that I had not yet discovered. Puglia, situated on the south-eastern tip of the Italian peninsula, right into the heel of the boot. I knew I would go one day and explore these ancient lands of olive groves and vineyards, a land steeped in history. I had developed a deep appreciation for southern Italy and I wanted to experience more of it. Puglia, in a sense, was the final frontier for me.

My opportunity came this last May when I finally made the decision, after backing out once, to fly to Venice and meet some blogger friends whom I had come to know through Twitter. Among them were Margie Miklas from Florida, and Ishita Sood who came all the way from India. Also accompanying us was Victoria DeMaio who leads 10 day group experiences in Puglia at an extremely reasonable price that is all-inclusive. I checked out her tour, Let’s Kick Up Our Heelz in Puglia! and signed on. From Venice, although Ishita would have to fly home, Margie and I would follow Victoria to Puglia.

With a firm resolve, I packed my bags and embarked on an unforgettable experience in Italy, one that I had least expected.

IMG_1692

Puglia is stunning. I never imagined it to be like this. The truth is, I encountered warm and authentic people, delicious yet simple food, exotic weather, and ancient history with every turn. Victoria knew several of the local residents so we were introduced and immediately pulled into a circle of friends.
IMG_2054
Although we stayed just outside of Lecce in Masseria Provenzani, we took day trips to beautiful white villages with charming walkways that meandered between tall buildings. A stop in Alberobello to see the trulli houses was a unique experience. We even had the opportunity to take a tour through one.
IMG_2247
Masseria Provenzani, (southern term for agriturismo) our lodging for ten days, was lush with climbing Jasmine and blooming Bougainvillea that covered the long pergolas, providing a soothing retreat from the sun. I loved the ease of staying in one place instead of packing my bags and moving to another place like I usually do.

IMG_1651

IMG_1624

Cooking classes, taught by Mamma Giulia, were held at the masseria. We learned the art of Puglia bread making and dolci (sweet desserts). Of course, the delicious wine from the region flowed freely. We all knew that a chef is at her best accompanied by a glass of vino rosso or bianco.

IMG_0036

IMG_1774IMG_1728IMG_1775

We all kicked up a lot of flour and dropped bits of dough everywhere, but we laughed hard and enjoyed the tasty outcome of our efforts.

The Puglia Wine School, operated by Michele Pasero, was a lot of fun. Showcasing the wines of the region, we enjoyed tasting the delicious varietals.

IMG_1993
The Puglia Wine School with Michele Pesaro, operator/owner and Yle from YLTOURS who put together the 10 day program with Victoria

We had the pleasure of spending the days with Daniela, our lovely young tour guide who shared Puglia’s history in a fascinating way. She had the ability to conjure up images of the past that kept me entranced the entire time.

IMG_2007
Lovely Daniela, our knowledgable tour guide

Wineries were on the agenda, much to my delight. The ambience and tasting were unforgettable.

IMG_2344

IMG_2393IMG_2306IMG_1995

We toured a local olive farm and had a picnic in the orchard consisting of delicious traditional dishes of Puglia, prepared by local residents.

IMG_2402

IMG_2401IMG_2403IMG_2404IMG_2406

There was a delectable spread of dishes that ended with a large platter of dolci, or sweets. The difficulty was choosing one or two when I wanted to taste them all.

I had never met a cartapesta (paper mache) maestro until we made a visit to Carlos shop in Lecce.

IMG_1930
Carlos, our cartapaesta maestro, invites us warmly into his shop

IMG_1862IMG_1907IMG_1938

Shops, stores, outdoor produce and fish markets, it’s all here in Puglia.

IMG_1945

If not for Victoria and the encouragement from my friends, I would not have discovered Puglia’s exciting and unique attributes. I am so glad the I made the decision to go to Puglia with Victoria. There is no possible way I could have become so well acquainted with this region of southern Italy on my own. To think that I almost missed going makes me literally cringe. I truly had a fabulous time, and made many new friends.

IMG_1627
Victoria DeMaio graciously serves a delicious lunch for the group at the masseria*IMG_1630

**

IMG_2996
Our last evening together at a pizzeria in Lecce

Will I return to Puglia? I’m sure I will one day. I love the south of Italy more with each new visit. It is here that I have found the heart and soul of Italy. It is warm, unique, beautiful, tasty, and the kind of place that makes me want to linger.

IMG_2126