Masserie (plural for the singular masseria) are the ancient fortified farmhouses popping up in the Puglia countryside. They are as much a symbol of the Puglia as are the endless olive groves and the trulli. You can see their high stone walls springing up through the olive groves as you drive through the region. Most of them were built between the 14th and 18th centuries. The fortifications were built to protect against invasions by pirates and the Turks, but they were also living communities that housed families of the working farmers, and were like little cities. They have courtyards, communal gathering spaces and some even have small churches within the confines of the walls.
Many of the masserie were abandoned in the late 19th and 20th century. Similar to the way old villas have been restored in Tuscany, buying and restoring these masserie has been quite popular. Many have been restored into luxurious five-star hotels, boutique bed and breakfasts or places that hold special events.
Masseria Provenzani, (pictured above) is one of those masserie that have been restored to a boutique accomodation. Surrounded by olive groves and gardens, the masseria is only 1 km from the Adriatic Sea and a 15 minute drive to Lecce, Salento's capital city. Styled in a rustic chic, the grounds are full of climbing bouganvillea, other flowers, a vegetable garden, olive trees and a gorgeous pool.
Masseria San Lorenzo, built in various stages during the 1500s, was restored using the Leccese stone from the quarry on its grounds. Now the masseria hosts special events, most notably wedding receptions. The spacious and lush outdoor gardens include a stream, pergolas, palm trees, olive trees and other fruit trees.
Other masserie have been restored to working order. On the working masserie, you can find working vineyards, animals whose milk make creamy Salento cheese, fields full of vegetables and fruit, and of course, olive groves. Below many of the masserie that produced olive oil hundreds of years ago, there are ancient underground oil mills, called frantoio ipogeo in Italian.
We toured the wine and olive oil producing L’Astore Masseria, one of the first masserie to be restored. Its underground olive mill, originally built in the 1700s was one of the bigger mills of the area. Both ingenious and absurd, these mills were carved out of the stone under the earth. The harvesters dropped the olives into specified holes in the ground. They fell through the holes and into rooms built to store the olives. Great stone mills pushed by animals crushed the olives, and then moved them to the olive pressing area. Ingenious and efficient, right? The absurd part: Both the animals and the workers lived underground together, albeit in different rooms, during the entire oil-making season.
Join me in Puglia in 2013! For this food lover's culinary tour, we'll be cooking with our beautiful Italian mamme and professional chefs.
For tour details, check out this page: Food Lover's Culinary Tour in Puglia
Strada Provinciale 236
Via Provenzani No. 102
I-73100 Casalabate (LE)
Masseria San Lorenzo
Via Francesco Flora, 1
Phone: +39 333 333 6045
Via G. DiVittorio
73020 Cutrofiano (Lecce)
Phone: +39 0836 54 2020
*Guided visits and tastings are available by appointment only