Staying in an Italian masseria will transport you back in time to how Italians used to live. You must experience once in your life. I am staying in what was once the horse barn. There is a trough in my living room. A few flies circle my bed that is covered in a rustic red coverlet. I leave open my window to hear the birds trill outside. My suite is huge. Where am I? Masseria Morrone, a traditional farmhouse surrounded by olive groves and overlooking the sea, outside Ostuni, Italy. And I love my one-of-a-kind room.
“Whether you reach the town by car, bus or by train, Ostuni appears as a white vision in a sea of green olive trees.”VisitItaly.eu
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Different Type of Accommodation
There are so many options for accommodations when you travel in Europe—hotels, hostels, AirBnb homes (or single rooms), B&Bs … even an overnight berth in a train.
If you want to pursue SLOW travel, come to southern Italy and stay in a “masseria.” This is an Italian farmhouse that has been repurposed as an agrihotel. The estate is often protected by a stone wall and will encompass numerous farm buildings and land.
In July, during the heat wave that bakes most of Europe, I take a walking vacation in Matera and Puglia, Italy. It is located far south in the “boot” of the country.
The highlight is staying at this family inn that welcomes guests, whether for an overnight or week’s stay. These farms have been operated for centuries in the countryside outside the “white city on a hill.” Most are modernized and feature hotel-like accommodations including a bathroom en suite (as opposed to sharing a bathroom which is typical at B&Bs in the U.S.) A quick check on TripAdvisor reveals numerous residences where tourists can enjoy a stay at an Italian masseria.
I stay for two days at Masseria Marrone run by “famigila Laera.” It is truly a way to settle (temporarily) into the life of an Italian farm. Horses roam the estate and nuzzle at the dilapidated barn. The tractor whines in a distant field being mowed. Flies buzz in the courtyard. Exuberant florals bloom in the courtyard, terrace, and driveway. Although cars are permitted on the tiny lane flanked by groves of olives trees, I never see a single automobile.
This is a family affair. Nonna is the chef. She doesn’t speak English but boy can she cook. Southern Italian cooking is a godsend for vegetarians and vegans. The people were poor so they relied on the fruits of the land (“culinary povera”) to feed their families—vegetables plucked from the earth and grains for protein.
Nonna’s meals each night is a banquet celebrating summer’s bounty. Our long dining table is a “groaning board.” The kitchen door keeps swing open as the family parades out the most delectable recipes. Most of the vegetables are either marinated in vinegar and served cold with herbs (agrodolce) or roasted in olive oil. We eat zucchini, eggplant, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli rabe. Cheese was a luxury in the past so Southern Italian cuisine features toasted bread crumbles sprinkled on top of bubbling-hot vegetable casseroles. I drizzle olive oil on my salad and hunks of bread. The carafe of wine is continuously refilled.
I don’t know why eating is one of my favorite parts about traveling but I discover Southern Italy’s personality through the meals I eat. I could live here. (Of course, I fantasize in all the small towns off the beaten path where I visit in Italy how I could imagine myself renting a home for a long-term stay.) I make a note to self to learn how to cook abergine with tomatoes gratin when I return home.
The masseria is surrounded by groves of olive trees. Our group actually walks for half a day from Ostuni to Masseria Marrone. The path is a dusty road where we never see a car. On both sides of the road loom gigantic olive trees that bulge with bumps. Puglia is famous for its groves of olive trees. Many are 200 years old. They are protected by law. It is the region’s “patrimony” and “cultural heritage.”
According to National Geographic, “Italian olive growers produce 15 percent of the world’s virgin olive oil, worth more than $2 billion each year.” The trees are now threatened by a plant bacterium called Xyells fastidiosa that mysteriously appeared near Gallipoli in the Apulia region. It is now killing swaths of trees across Southern Italy. Trees wither and stop producing olives. The entire grove is soon infected.
“Puglia’s gnarled old olive trees can be more than a thousand years old. For this reason, they are protected as cultural heritage.”Italian Notes
Here on the path to our masseria, I feel like I am walking in a magical forest. The gnarled olive trees resemble gnomes as their trunks twist and expand. If I stare hard enough, I can see elfin eyes or a crooked nose hidden in its bark. I imagine the grove coming alive at sunset. The gnomes will step out of the olive trunks to dance or sway in the breeze.