Countless shades of red, architectural digest white backdrops, blue Klimt skies and centuries old olive groves. Welcome to fabulous Valle d’Itria with an instant classic codenamed AMG GT S; a phenomenal space capsule shaped ‘grand tourer’ by Mercedes that transformed a road trip into an otherworldly Apulia love story.
Apulia (Puglia in Italian) – famous for its white villages, crisp clear sea, vibrating nightlife, full bodied red wines and exceptional gastronomy products – stretches from Gargano to Santa Maria di Leuca forming the heel of the Italian peninsula. And Valle d’Itria – a colorful, hilly ancient land of fairytale structures called ‘trulli’ and fortified mansions known as ‘masserie’ – is probably the most iconic area of this southern region, that in the last five years witnessed an escalation of tourists. None of which – at least judging from their lit up faces – had seen before the very German and very artistic take on a muscle car, nor heard the sledgehammer sound of the ferocious V8 assembled by the lunatics from the AMG division. This said, let’s focus on tourism and charming retreats while car fanatics should refer to the gripping test-drive of my Hong Kong colleagues with an exhaustive technical analysis of this magnificent vehicle. The only sentiment I’d like to add before moving on to the finest addresses between Fasano, Cisternino and Ostuni, is that the AMG GT S, with its refined equilibrium of spheres and sharp angles, her enthusiastic attitude towards drifting and the barely manageable performances, is a joy to watch, drive and listen to, and every meter of this 1500km drive from Rome to Puglia and back had the same effect as inhaling helium.
So after a jolly long drive south towards Bari – where not a single soul in six hours of highway dared to obstruct the AMG’s path – I arrive with a slightly aching back at Masseria Montenapoleone in Pezze di Greco. A place where despite the high season (if you can, the best time to visit Apulia is June or September) and a full occupancy, the predominant feeling while relaxing on the property is one of peace and serenity. Every nook and cranny of Masseria Montenapoleone – where all products such as wheat, black chickpeas, tomatoes, olives and figs are grown on premise and certified organic (so a lunch or dinner here is not to be missed) – is full of charm, history and craftsmanship.
The rustic chic rooms are fresh and comfy and the elegant swimming pool with views of the Adriatic Sea is as invigorating and pleasant as they get. For fans of salty water like me, the beach is only a short drive away and one can choose between the wind sculpted low rise sand dunes of Lido Macchie or the sequence of mysterious rocky coves adjacent to Capitoli where turquoise is the dominant color.
After some tanning sessions under a scorching sun and a few swims in the rejuvenating Sea of Capitoli, I hop back on the red sputnik and proceed towards the scenic and treacherous uphill rally road that connects Fasano to Selva di Fasano. At each hairpin, driving in Sport + mode, the tail of the AMG GT S slides away in a hugely controllable and spectacular fashion leaving a trail of white limestone smoke while ensuring that heartbeats rise as fast as the engine revs. After the edgy driving sequence, the panoramic stop in the tiny village of Caranna – where the natural balcony offers great photo opportunities with the cone shaped Trulli popping from the countryside and endless lines of olive groves gently approaching the sea from the hills of Valle d’Itria – assures some downtempo time. With sunset gently creating Magritte style contrasts between sky and land, I then proceed towards the small white hill-top town of Cisterino to eat the specialties of Osteria Bell’Italia. A restaurant that combines quality traditional recipes like Orecchiette with meat rolls, broad bean purea with friarelli (sweet green peppers) and bombette pugliesi served with utmost grace in tiny tucked-away alleys.
While talking excellence – and majestic location for our AMG photo shoot – it would be a sin not to sleep a few nights in Masseria Torre Coccaro; once an occupied secret venue for parties and raves and now exquisite five star retreat with a slight vibe of Mexico. On top of being one of the most sophisticated hotels in Puglia, Torre Coccaro is renowned for its delicious food, the gorgeous swimming pool and rooms, spotless service and a delightful courtyard with hanging light bulbs and a five hundred year old olive tree adjacent to the romantic church, that makes this XVII century Masseria in Savelletri an ideal location for weddings. Another ideal aspect of the historical structure is the proximity to the sea and to the village of Speziale; home of Caseificio Crovace Oronzo where you can sample freshly made mozzarella, burratine, giuncate and an endless selection of scrumptious dairy products. Consider this as true insider information as the Caseificio is known mostly by locals. They keep the best for themselves.
As every corner of Valle d’Itria and surroundings is home to all sorts of travel marvels, you must consider at least four days and four nights to explore it. The time span will allow enough time to visit Locorotondo (a unique circular village), have another great dinner in the white town of Ostuni at Taverna della Gelosia followed by some jet-set drinks at Riccardo Caffè, and familiarize yourself with the subtle differences in architecture and interior design of the most exclusive Masserie. These rare historical properties are luxurious gateways to parallel universes. Masseria Alchimia – surrounded by cactuses and lush vegetation – is all about sleek, contemporary furniture, industrial design and modern art. Masseria Ancella in Montalbano – a former post office – revolves around enology in all its forms with barrel shaped chairs and wine based treatments in the spa. So if you’re in search of luxury accommodations, delicious gastronomy, art, nature and history particular to the south of Italy, book a plane to Bari, take a joy ride down along the Adriatic coastline towards Valle d’Itria and let the unforgettable Apulia love story commence.