From the original 16th-century architecture to its 80 Puglian wines and traditional cooking and dance classes, Masseria Cervarolo – just outside Ostuni, the ‘White City’ – takes its local roots seriously. And, owner Patrizia’s knack for creative recycling is in evidence everywhere, from the farmhouse’s original doors reused as headboards to the towel racks made of driftwood. It’s a guilt-free getaway, too: they generate their own solar power and stock eco-friendly Malin + Goetz toiletries.
10.30am, but flexible on request. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £134.58 (€148), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €2.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include a Continental buffet breakfast.
Pick up some traditional recipes at the hotel’s cooking school. You’ll learn to make your own pasta, bread and pastries at the classes, which take place weekly during summer. There are also lessons in soap making, if you’d rather keep your hands clean.
The hotel is closed from 2 November to 28 February every year.
At the hotel
Cookery school, dancing classes, soap-making lessons, WiFi. In rooms: flatscreen TVs, Brionvega radios, air conditioning, Malin + Goetz toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Room 9 – a junior suite for four people, which has its own garden – used to be the palmento where winemakers crushed their grapes, and you’ll find the original cisterna in which the stomping took place under your bed. Overlooking the pool, Room 15 is located above the main courtyard and has a unique star-shaped vaulted ceiling. Rooms 18 and 19 are interconnecting and particularly good for families; Rooms 4, 5 and 6 are in the charming traditional trulli buildings. Some rooms (for example, Room 11) are located in the 1950s extension to the historic main building, and therefore don’t have the antique features of the older rooms.
The enormous infinity pool is shaded by fig and olive trees. In summer, pick up an aperitivo at the outdoor pool bar.
Your sunglasses: between the whitewashed walls and the gleam of the Puglian sun, you’ll need them.
Five of the rooms have sofa beds and can sleep up to four, and the swimming pool is supervised by a lifeguard (and there are floats to borrow). Cots are available for €10 a night; extra beds are €60.
The hotel’s been awarded an EU Ecolabel for its environmentally sustainable practices, and power is supplied by solar panels. Food served on site is all locally grown or hand-made.
In summer, lunch outside by the shady pool. In winter, grab a spot near the kitchen.
Pack casual linens; there’s no need for glitz here.
Watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen as they whip up traditional local dishes; the menu changes daily, but orecchiette – a typically Pugliese pasta – is a particular favourite. Ask for local wine recommendations (they’ve got more than 80) and try out the home-made liqueurs: flavours include finocchietto selvatico (wild fennel) and mirto (myrtle berries).
Mix yourself a cocktail from the honesty bar in the brightly sun-lit kitchen: more like your nonna’s rustic cucina than a sleek drinking den, the stone-walled kitchen does double duty as the hotel’s bar and cookery school.
Breakfast is served in the restaurant 8:30am–10:30am, and food is served by the pool 10:30am–07:00pm.
Masseria Cervarolo is set in the eponymous village, a small, rural settlement six minutes’ drive from Ostuni.
Touch down at Brindisi-Casale or Bari-Palese airport – direct flights from London are available on British Airways and Ryanair and depart from Gatwick and Stansted (you can also fly direct from Geneva, Paris, Zurich, Stockholm and several Italian cities, such as Milan, Rome and Venice). Taxis to Brindisi-Casale can be arranged for €60, and €90 to Bari-Palese.
The nearest train station is Ostuni, although you could also travel via Brindisi or Bari. Trains leave from Rome, Milan and other larger Italian cities. Taxis from the hotel to the train station cost around €20.
Take road SS16/SS379 towards Brindisi and exit for Ostuni/Rosamarina. Follow signs for Martina Franca/Taranto, and you’ll arrive at Masseria Cervarolo after about 6.5km. There’s free parking on site, and having a car will be helpful if you want to explore further around Puglia.
Worth getting out of bed for
Once you’ve learned how to make olive-oil soap from your hosts, admired the frescoes in the farm’s own 18th-century chapel and brushed up on your Pugliese folk dancing at the hotel’s weekly lessons – knock back a few of Patrizia and Teo’s homemade liqueurs if you need some Italian Dutch courage – there’s plenty to explore nearby. The village of Cervarolo is only 15km from the coast, and its location in the heart of the beautiful Valle d’Itria; for a romantic daytrip, head toTorre Guaceto, a nature reserve about half an hour from the hotel by car. Stock up on snacks and lay out your picnic blanket by the river at Il Fiume Morelli– get there early, because its very popular during summer. For a unique cultural experience, go underground at Grotte di Castellana and catch a subterranean performance of Dante’s Inferno; ask Teo and Patrizia for upcoming dates. At Masseria Brancati, you can partake in olive-oil tastings and tours of the 2,000-year-old olive grove and see the historic underground olive press. If you’ve got children in tow, Masseria Ferri has both cute farm animals and fun-but-educational cheese-making lessons.
Head to Taverna della Gelosiaon Vicolo Tommaso Andriola in Ostuni. It’s one of the best local fine-dining options; sit out on the terrace and taste some of the local recipes that’ve been handed down for generations. Tuck in to traditional rural specialties prepared in an oven that’s been in service since 1500 at L’Osteria del Tempo Perso on Via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale in Ostuni; the cosy cave dining room lives up to it’s name, which translates as ‘The Tavern of Lost Time’. In nearby Cisternino, there are several restaurants where you can choose your meat at a butcher’s counter before it’s prepared and served at your table. One of the best is Osteria Porta Grande on Via Basiliana (+39 080 4449814). Also in Cisternino, Da Zio Pietro on Via Duca d’Aosta is a similar butcher-to-table establishment, and a popular local institution. Tucked away in an ancient convent in the town of Ceglie Messapica, Cibus, on Via Chianche di Scarano, is a family affair: you’ll be welcomed by Lillino, or perhaps his sister Filomena or wife Angela… His mum, Giovanna, whips up a mix of classic and innovative dishes in the kitchen.
Sip cocktails at stylish lounge barRiccardo Caffè on Via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale in the heart of Ostuni; the traditional cavern-like setting contrasts pleasingly with the contemporary furniture. Also in Ostuni, on Largo Spennati, the very chic Gipas 111 is a former bakery that now serves up music, moody lighting and cocktails (+39 333 981 7717).
‘Does this really count as agritourism?’ asks Mr Smith. He is horizontal, shaded by a fig tree and a linen canopy, pool water lapping inches from his copy of Private Eye. I look around for a combine harvester or an errant cow to herd but all I can see are the sun-baked, white-washed walls of our 16th-century masseria, the gnarled trees of the olive groves and a limpid expanse of pool. In fairness to him, we are deep in the Puglian countryside, but on this blazing May afternoon, behind the ancient stone walls of our southern Italian farmhouse, the closest we’ll get to any actual farming will be removing an olive stone or two at lunch.
If we crane our necks from a poolside slumber, we can just about see the conical roof of our Puglian home, a suite tucked into one of Masseria Cervarolo’s traditional trulli (Italy’s answer to a Kentish oasthouse), which are scattered throughout the rolling landscape of the surrounding Valle d’Itria. When our host, Teo, swings open the door to our room, he explains that the shape of the construction pulls energy up from the earth – the other story is that they could be dismantled easily when the taxman called – but if it does, we haven’t been possessed by it yet. Here at Masseria Cervarolo, the days are long and lazy, which is just fine with us.
We keep meaning to go out for lunch – Teo has provided us with a booklet with enticing descriptions of the local towns and hilltop villages. But once we discover that the ‘snack’ lunch at the masseria is a medley of citrussy salads, burrata cheese, rosemary-scented salamis and deep-red tomatoes, plucked straight from the pages of a Jamie Oliver cookbook, we can’t tear ourselves away.
Luckily, we don’t have to journey far for a dose of local history (the estate has its own hidden treasure, a beautiful little chapel with a baroque altar and smattering of frescoes) or culture, as the masseria’s sommelier, Teresa, has invited us to a wine-tasting hosted by a Puglian producer before dinner. So for now, it’s time to observe another strictly upheld tradition here in the south of Italy: the siesta. Who are we to argue when possible locations include the poolside loungers, deckchairs under an olive tree, sunk into the sofa in the homely reading room or swathed in a blanket in the cool, quiet interior of our little trullo?
It’s only at around 6pm, when the sun nears the edges of that endless sky, that we are finally seized by the supernatural energy of the trulli. Either that, or a thirst for an aperitivo and a spot of people-watching in a local piazza. Nothing stokes the appetite like an early evening passeggiata, so Mr Smith swallows audibly, and slides into the driving seat for another version of Wacky Races, Puglian style, on the way to nearby Martina Franca.
The passeggiata is worth every white-knuckle moment – we watch from behind giant goblets of Aperol and soda, bowls of olives and the ubiquitous tarallini biscuits as the town’s elders, immaculately pressed and coiffed, promenade up and down the piazza in twos and threes, stopping sporadically for some emphatic gesturing, before recommencing their march. It’s so simple, but totally captivating.
This part of Italy is all about beauty in simple things. When I ask Teo for a restaurant recommendation – ‘something simple, not too flashy’ – he does that Italian thing of smiling and shrugging simultaneously, hands upturned, and says, ‘We don’t do flashy here’. He’s right. Masseria Cervarolo is not the place for you if you want to sashay around in a Cavalli kaftan or have Alba truffle shaved all over your muesli every morning. That’s not to say it isn’t fabulously elegant. The unpretentiousness of Teo and his wife Patrizia runs throughout the design, from the roughed-up textures of our Puglian-stone bathroom to the artful shabbiness of the restored furniture that fills our trullo.
As it turns out, dinner is also a masterclass in the virtues of simplicity, served on colourful plates – no square porcelain here – either alfresco on the terrace or in the stylish dining room, where metal funnels make light fittings and a mishmash of wooden dressers display wine bottles and local ceramics. Pasta with pesto has never tasted so good. (I mentally add it to my list of things that you should only consume on holiday: rosé wine, limoncello, grappa...) Neither have any of the other courses: risotto with artichokes and mushrooms, or grilled aubergine, studded with fresh ricotta and drizzled with truffle oil, or hazelnut ice-cream. Dishes are whizzed out of the open kitchen to every table – including Teo and family – at the same time, and then washed down enthusiastically with a bottle from Teresa’s wine list. Mr Smith snaffles the last of the biscotti and sighs contentedly. Agritourism? We’re converted.