“Australians are great travellers” said the lovely lady from Canada who with many of her travel colleagues is in town to promote her country. She will have great success. Their country is so different but their people are so familiar that Aussies will not need much persuading to head off on yet another adventure.
While some Americans shudder at the thought of 7-12 hours crossing the Atlantic, all Australians learn at their mother’s knee that if they want to experience the countries of the Old World from whence they came they must strap themselves into a roaring metal tube for a whole day.
From our vantage point down the bottom of the globe it’s obvious that so many interesting places are up the top. So we learn at first to accept and then relish being on the road.
Yes, we travel. But we mostly come home.
Except for a few who find somewhere over there so welcoming, so involving that they make a permanent mark in foreign soil.
The magnificent south
TML has long been a fan of Italy, with many trips to the north and the middle, but had never been to Puglia, the heel of the boot. In the past couple of years any reader of travel magazines could see something was going on there. Well, it’s been going on there for thousands of years but local travel writers were only just starting to pay attention. One of the first picture spreads we stumbled upon was the strikingly beautiful Masseria Trapanà. Golden sunwashed stones the sturdy foundation of a 16th century fortified farmhouse. Just 10 suites, perfect in detailed modern appointments with private inside/outside bathrooms; a vast modern kitchen where you can learn to cook the local dishes; a huge slate lined pool set in hectares of walled gardens and olive groves. Just stunning.
Further examination revealed the owner of Masseria Trapanà was Australian, a long time lover of the country, who had toiled to bring about its renaissance.
Rob Potter-Sanders was visiting Australia when we were able to catch him for a few words.
He started out representing international hotels for Australian travellers. He has since opened, managed and marketed hotels in Australia and Morocco. In between he has worked in television in London.
Tell us about your first trip to Italy
I remember pulling into the station in Florence and not understanding that Firenze was the same place. I washed dishes in a small hotel in Tuscany and learned that it was “ better to work to live rather than to live to work”. I felt very much as if I had found my place and started a long love affair with the country and its people.
What caught your eye about the south?
Masseria Trapanà was the first building I saw out of 28 masseria in Puglia. I walked into the courtyard through the fortified walls and the first thing I saw was a gum tree and a wattle tree. I then walked into the chapel which was called Santa Barbara, my mothers name, and there was a dedication in marble on the altar dated 1967, the year I was born. Masseria Trapanà had not really been touched for 200 years and had collapsed in many areas. There was not one bathroom or pipe or cable but I knew this was the one.
It was only when Rob showed us some of the ‘before’ shots of his purchase that we could see just what he had bitten off. He certainly did a lot of chewing over the next couple of years. It was not just a restoration but an elevation. A whole new level of beauty and luxury that the old pile could never have known in its long history.
It was a long road. What were some triumphs and tribulations?
The most outstanding triumph was when the builders called me to say that they had removed some plaster from the church walls and they thought there may be a fresco underneath. In fact there were 5 beautifully preserved frescoes that we later discovered were done in 1580. The tribulations were many. You just have to be patient and understanding of an old culture with a different work ethic.
What would you say to potential guests to convince them to stay with you?
Firstly the food, called “ Cucina Povera” (peasant’s cuisine), is extraordinary given that it is only employs very basic locally-sourced ingredients. The district is one of the great wine growing areas of Italy and produces some undiscovered world class wines. Puglia itself has been frequented by Italians for their holidays for decades but it has not been ruined by international tourism, it is still rustic and emerging. It has the best beaches in the country on both the Adriatic and Ionian seas.
Lecce is the best kept secret of Italy. Equally as beautiful as Florence, it is a baroque city constructed in the limestone of the area. It is therefore all white, stunningly preserved and somewhat sophisticated for a small city.
Trapanà was the name of the family that had the estate around 500 years ago.
Have a look at www.trapana.com and see how long you can sit before you hear your passport calling. Don’t all rush at once, but definitely put Masseria Trapanà on your list.
*A masseria is a fortified farm house or country house on a country estate found in the region of Puglia.