Puglia: Off the Beaten Path in Italy at Masseria Montenapoleone

Puglia, the ”heel” of Italy’s boot, is having a travel moment, yet it still feels undiscovered and unspoiled. Life remains simple and relaxed. Sunny weather, endless olive groves, miles of coastline, whitewashed villages and incredible food are just a few of the many draws.  Stay at a Masseria for an authentic experience. Many of these ancient fortified farmhouses, unique to southern Italy, have been converted into lovely B and B’s.

Tripper Tips:

The Borgo Egnazia is part of the San Domenico group that also includes the nearby Masseria San Domenico, another high-end property with a private sandy beach. Brand new this season is their latest addition—Masseria Carrube right outside of Otsuni with all the access to the facilities and beach club at the San Domenico. The 16th century farmhouse has been converted into a stunning 19-room boutique hotel and the on site restaurant is 100% vegetarian. 

Masseria Coccaro is known for its period charm, beautiful swimming pool, excellent cuisine and cooking classes it’s very family friendly. Their sister property, Masseria Torre Maizza is quieter with a no kids policy during the busy season.

Puglia can get very hot and crowded during the peak summer months. It’s best to visit late spring or early fall.

Start: We landed in Bari, after an early morning flight from Rome and spent an hour or so exploring the old historic center, where women still roll orecchiette, Puglia’s typical pasta, outside of their homes on Bari’s narrow windy streets.  Visit the Basilica di San Nicola and get lost in the crooked streets and passageways where laundry hangs from the balconies and kids run through the alleys playing ball with their friends. We were tempted to stay for lunch at Osteria delle Travi Il Buco or at Al Pescatore, but we had reservations seaside in Polignano a Mare at Il Bastione. (Approximately a 40-minute drive) Sitting on the panoramic terrace pondering what to order on the seafood centric menu we didn’t regret our choice. Afterwards make sure to explore the town, one of our favorites in Puglia. (We had been hoping to eat at Grotta Palazzese, scenic and sexy in a grotto overlooking the water, but it was too windy.)

Surprise Stay: We were disappointed when our first choices of Torre Coccaro and their sister property, Torre Maizza were booked. (Friends had stayed and loved it!) But, Helen of Essential Italy, who handles all the reservations for Il Convento, our second stop, told us that while not as “swish”, Masseria Montenapoleone had a lovely location (just a short drive from the coast near the town of Pezze di Greco), charming and comfortable rooms, plus superb food and a passionate owner --Giuliano. So we booked, albeit with lower expectations. Turning into the long driveway lined with olive trees; at our first sight of the white and red main farmhouse we were all hooked. Giuliano showed us around and …well, we were all hooked! We went for a walk through the gardens passing the chickens, the fig trees, and rows and rows of ancient olive trees and…yes, we were hooked! We left wishing we had a few more days and hankering to return. Sometimes not knowing what to expect is magical!

The Masseria:  After years of abandonment Giuliano and his family have restored Masseria Napoleone carving out 15 rooms and a stunning salt-water pool. They maintained its unique rustic charm and rural characteristics filling the rooms with handmade furniture and lace curtains. It’s all very eclectic and yes slightly eccentric. Montenapoleone is still very much a working farm—an organic agriturismo where guests are welcome to pick the fruit in season right from the garden. There’s a cozy breakfast nook and terrace set with a full buffet spread every morning. We were lucky to arrive for the twice a week BBQ, where at a large community table we dined with guests from Belgium, Stockholm and Louisiana –a fun, lively international dinner.

Don’t miss: Take a cooking class while at the Masseria and learn how to make homemade pasta using produce just picked from the garden.

Activities:  Explore the nearby towns of Martina Franca. Locorotondo, and Cisternino. In case of rain a visit to the caves in Castellana is a good alternative. The white city of Ostuni is a must visit—eat at Osteria del Temp Perso. Giuliano and his staff can steer you in the right direction.

Skip: We had heard from a few people that Alberello was a disappointment but felt that it was a must see—after all it’s a Unesco World Heritage site and home to hundreds of Trulli; the ancient stone dwellings with conical roofs.  We found it touristy with souvenir stalls lining the approach to the old village. We were sorry we hadn’t listened to our friends.

Local Eats: Giuliano is very knowledgable and can recommend restaurants in the area. Helen offered us her suggestions—“If you want to go a little upmarket have a look at La Maddelena in Savelletri.  The position is lovely, with the sea lapping beneath your feet and the seafood is excellent. Another very close to Montenapoleone is Il Cortiletto, for excellent, simple Pugliese food.  In Cisternino there’s a good enoteca with a restaurant in the main high street called Il Cucco – again super food and an excellent wine list. “


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Aeolian Islands—A few days in Panarea with Emily Ellis Fox from Materia

Los Angeles native, Emily Ellis Fox is the force behind Materia, an online Mexi / Cali concept store featuring beautiful handmade and vintage products from both sides of the border. (Plans are in the works for a brick and mortar LA location.) Emily believes,” the spaces we inhabit are a reflection of our values, our adventures and ourselves. That what we surround ourselves with has spirit. And that, through seemingly small gestures, we can elevate our everyday.” She brings that same philosophy to her travels, immersing herself in a place, a culture. Last fall she spent a week just off the coast of Sicily in Panarea, the smallest and most well known of the Aeolian Islands. Here she shares all her discoveries, so you too can have a perfect day, weekend or week in picturesque, dreamy Panarea. 

Tripper Tips:

Panarea is only operative from mid-May through mid-October. Aim for the “low” part of that season (June and September), avoiding July and August when crowds, prices, partying and temperatures soar.

There are no cars on Panarea, so make sure to arrange luggage transport with your hotel or rental host ahead of time. Golf carts can be hired for rides to the beach or elsewhere, should you not wish to walk.

Also missing from the island? Pharmacies. Make sure you pack essentials such as sunscreen and bug spray. Mosquitoes do come out at night, although their bites look worse than they feel.

Snorkel gear can be bought or rented in town and is a must for boating days. It also helps in avoiding jellyfish, as they abound. Their stings seemed mild, but caution is advised nonetheless.

For those hoping to hike Stromboli via Panarea, note that it requires spending one night away from the island. Sunset treks are guided and not for the faint of heart, so reach out to hiking companies for advice on necessary gear and whether the volcano is active during your travel time.

Why Go: Panarea is a study in contrasts: clear seas lapping against dark cliffs, beloved by a tony crowd despite its stubbornly un-tony accommodations and home to sunny laid back vibes even while perched under an active volcano's shadow (Panarea boasts the best view of nearby Stromboli’s smoke show). It's precisely these contradictions, however, that make Panarea so seductively appealing--civilized yet wild, beautiful yet tough, unassuming yet full of vitality.

Logistics: Panarea is accessible only by boat, with ports of departure in Sicily (Milazzo, Palermo) and mainland Italy (Naples, Reggio Calabria). Ferry schedules vary depending on time of year making OK Ferry a vital resource for determining timetables and buying tickets in advance. For our mid-September trip we flew into Catania, Sicily. From there, it’s a bus or van service for the hour and a half trip to Milazzo’s port. Another 90 minute hydrofoil ride and you’re finally in Panarea.

Stay: We checked into Hotel Cincotta, a pro tip for those in the know. Located next to the infamous Raya (see below), it’s half the price but no less romantic--with classic Mediterranean architecture, sea views and a private balcony in every room. Nothing in Panarea can truly be called luxurious, so embrace the slightly old school aesthetic: there’s charm here in spades. A delightfully helpful staff, plus an enviable spot in town, upscale restaurant, seaside pool, great bar and a complimentary breakfast overlooking Stromboli add up to true value that can’t be beat. 

More Options: Hotel Raya is the spot that made Panarea famous--and still the top pick for honeymooners looking to splurge. It's known for their bar with magnificent views, a well-heeled crowd and an owner who practically invented bohemian chic. That said, be advised that they take the “bohemian” part seriously and have refused to make upgrades that would alter its three star rating. For families, consider skipping a hotel altogether and rent a villa instead through vrbo or airbnb. Opt for one in San Pietro or between town and the beach (that's likely where the kids will spend most of their time.)

Beach: Cala Zimmari is Panarea's sole sandy beach, flanked by hills of cacti and in view of yachts offshore. A half hour walk from town, it’s located in a decently sized cove where you can rent an umbrella and chaise. At the end of the beach, climb a hill to visit neighboring Cala Junco (or just observe its picturesque qualities from below). At the top is a smattering of Bronze Age ruins, while below is a quieter rock “beach” without amenities.

Boat: Boat rental kiosks dot San Pietro’s port and we favored Diego, a Panarea native with comparatively fair prices. While there are multiple models to choose from, you only need a basic motorboat: it’s spacious, comes with a cooler and has an ample canopy for shade. Test your sea legs by circling the island first, stopping at whatever coves and scenery suit your mood (Cala Junco at one end and La Nave at the other are both stunners). But the real draw is the islets offshore: Lisca Bianca (made famous by Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura), Dattilo and Basiluzzo. If you have time, allot a day for each of these two routes. There’s plenty to explore.

Drink: Aperitifs are as much a part of the culture here as any meal. Embrace the ritual with an Aperol spritz (the island's pre-dinner drink of choice) and accompanying antipasti. Il Bar del Porto is the island’s unofficial gathering spot: Located on San Pietro's dock, it's the ideal place for people watching and a glimpse of ferries rolling in. Nearby at the Raya, a picture-perfect crowd equally matches the picture-perfect views of Stromboli. Sunset may be molto romantico here, but after dinner is when the party really heats up. While its sceney nightclub is active solely in August, the more laid back bar stays open all season.

Eat: Snag a window seat at Da Adelina, where a changing menu is determined by what the fishermen and foraging chef have found fresh that day. With a location overlooking the port and Stromboli, its candlelit ambiance is magical. Da Pina, on a vine and lemon covered terrace, serves the type of cuisine you dream about once home. Perhaps the most expensive dining experience we had, the perfectly prepared seafood was well worth it. For a change of palate, Da Antonio il Macellaio is known for its steak and cozy wine-bottle lined dining room. Non meat-eaters will find its salads and pastas to be some of the islands best. In "high" season, pizza is served on the terrace, straight from an outdoor oven. For an affordable option, fun and lively Da Francesco overlooks the port, seemingly always full. Lower prices don't mean lesser food or views--both stand on their own, especially the seafood pastas. Sweet lovers will enjoy L’Elica’s gelato offerings, while the best granita can be found at Il Bar del Porto.

Provisions: For beach days and boating excursions, we put together a picnic from Panarea in Forno, a small bakery in San Pietro. Choose from freshly baked bread, homemade slices of pizza, Sicilian salad and their specialty: the pepita (fried dough stuffed with local veggies and cheese). A small market next door carries all other needed essentials: water, wine, cold beer, cheese, fruit and crackers. Don’t miss the olives behind the counter here, as they’re the tastiest we've ever encountered.

Shop: Plenty of tourist-driven shops abound, filled with sarongs, straw baskets, caftans and Sicilian ceramics. But a few spots stand out from the crowd. At Moda Mare, design your own leather, suede or beaded sandals, custom-fit to your feet. Best of all, they're ready to pick up day-of. Across the way, Boutique Raya is the spot for those hoping to bring the hotel's bohemian aesthetic home. Opt for a necklace or handbag sporting the hotel's signature silver stingray. Down the hill, the Ibizan espadrille company, Manebi, set up a pop-up store last year filled with fashion-forward styles. And while molded plastic and rope beach bags may or may not be your thing, they're on the arm of every Italian who steps off the ferry. Get your fix at O-bag, the island’s outpost of this well-known brand. DT365 note - our friend Julie stopped in Panarea last summer and raved about Buganville, it was her favorite shop on the island!

Just One Day: Many people visit Panarea as a day trip from Sicily or in combination with some of the other Aeolian Islands. With only a day, skip the beach. It’s lovely, but the most dramatic scenery is found offshore. Gather snorkel gear and picnic supplies early, then head down to San Pietro’s dock. Once on your boat, steer towards Datillo—the morning light against its sheer cliffs is positively cathedral-esque. Next visit Lisca Bianca and its small neighbor Bottaro. The strait created between these two is a swimmer's paradise and perfect for lunch. You could easily spend an afternoon here, but intrepid adventurers will head towards Basiluzzo, the furthest and largest of the islets where choppier waters mean fewer boats. The reward is a close up view of Stromboli and the most extraordinary lava patterns around. Back at Panarea, wash up, and then explore San Pietro, pausing at Moda Mare to have custom sandals made. After wandering the streets, pick up your new shoes and head to Il Bar del Porto, where it's time for an aperitif. People watching is a sport here, so enjoy your vantage point as the sun-kissed dinner crowd files in. For food, you’ll want a reservation next door at Da Adelina. Then make your way to Hotel Raya and perch yourself towards Stromboli, in hopes of a fireworks show. Whether or not there's a dance party underway, grab a prosecco, go barefoot and sway to your own beat. Completely relaxed by now, you'll feel utterly far from the "real" world. Enjoy it. Appreciate it. You're dancing within view of a volcano on the Mediterranean. Life doesn't get better than this.

Note: To get the best sense of the island, it's worth staying at least a weekend. For its full charm (and ultimate relaxation), stay longer; we enjoyed six days without budging.

A weekend in Venice


Venice, a floating city is one of the world’s most magical of places. A city of contradictions—sensual, romantic and architecturally significant while at the same time fragile, overcrowded and very expensive. One of the most unique places to visit, go and see the sights, but leave time to wander; getting lost is half the fun! Venice’s charms and treasures are too numerous to experience in just a weekend, so plan your time well and make the most of your day.

Tripper Tips:

Venice’s beautiful opera and concert house, Teatro La Fenice, reopened after a catastrophic fire in 1996 that destroyed it completely. Click here to see the schedule while you are here. The theater is usually open for daily tours, check ahead to be sure.

The tiny boutique of Cristina Linassi sells hand-embroidered nightgowns and sheets made in its own workshop. This is an ideal place to pick up something extra special as a present. They also have exquisite bed and table linens...with the prices to match.

Off the beaten track -  visit Cemetery Island, Isola di San Michele, to see the tombs of Igor Stravinsky, Joseph Brodsky, Segei Diaghilev and Ezra Pound.

Venice has a great hot weather aperitif that you definitely want to try--the Sgroppino, which is Prosecco mixed with vodka and topped with a small scoop of lemon sorbet.

Before dinner head to a Bacaro, stand up snack bars resembling Spain's famous tapas bars. Cicchetti are little snacks, good for a bite before dinner with a glass of wine. Cantina do Mori and Bancogiro. both are good places to try near the Rialto Market.

Near St. Lucia train station visit the very old neighborhood of Campo del Ghetto, the world's oldest Jewish ghetto. Still an active community to Venice small Jewish population (approximately 500) with two synagogues still in use today. The Museo Ebraico offers guided tours every hour starting at 10:30.

Stay: The Bauer Il Palazzo, housed in an 18th century palace, overlooks the Grand Canal and is close to St. Mark’s Square. Two boutique hotels, both on the Grand Canal, include Ca Maria Adele and Ca’Sagrado. Feeling extravagant, there’s nothing better than the new Aman, a grand, historic, 24 room hotel housed in a renovated 16th century palazzo right on the Grand Canal. The legendary Gritti Palace just reopened after an extensive renovation. For those who want a more resort like feel, stay on the island of Giudecca. Belmond’s Hotel Cipriani or Bauer’s Palladio Hotel and Spa are a 10-minute boat ride from St. Marks.

Breakfast: Start the day at Café Florian on St. Mark’s. Dating back to 1720, this Neo-Baroque café is beautiful, sit outside and watch the crowds go by.

Morning Sights: For first time visitors, or those who can’t remember the last time they were in Venice, Piazza San Marco, or as the English say St. Marks’s Square is a must do. It’s sure to be filled with tourists so go early. Ride the elevator to the top of the Campanile for a great view of Venice from up high. Go inside St. Mark’s Basilica, the most famous of Venice’s churches and one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture. Book the Secret Itineraries tour in advance for the Doges Palace, and walk right past the long line with your guide. Inside you’ll see two very different sides of the building—first the magnificent rooms with walls of Venetian masterpieces, and then the hidden secret prisons and torture chambers behind those walls. All of these sights are within a few hundred yards—you can cover a lot of ground quickly! Set off in directions off the square and wander, you will discover a much quieter city.

Shop: Il Prato at San Marco has a great selection of Venetian handicrafts all handmade...from antique fabrics to leather goods, fine papers to old carnival masks.  

History Buffs: Visit the Correr Museum at St. Mark’s Square dedicated to the art, culture and history of Venice.

Lunch: Ristorante Quadri on San Marco serves delicious contemporary Italian. Near the Rialto Bridge dine at popular Antiche Carampane. Make sure to order the order the pasta with spider crab and fritto misto. Or head to Ai Gondolieri in the bustling Dorsoduro neighborhood.

Art Afternoon: Venice is an exciting place for modern and contemporary art even when the Biennale is not in season. Many museum quality collections can be seen at extraordinary palazzos throughout the city. One of Venice’s most popular attractions is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. During her life Peggy Guggenheim was a pioneer of many artists, giving many their first shows. This is a personal, intimate museum in what was once her former waterfront home in the Dorsoduro neighborhood. Francois Pinault is one of the most influential art collectors in the world today. In 2009 he opened his second venue of contemporary art, Punta della Dogana, located at the tip of the Dorsoduro. It hosts temporary exhibitions, mostly with works belonging to the François Pinault Collection. (Pinault’s first venue, Palazzo Grassi, a palace built on the Grand Canal in the 18th century is also worth a visit!)

Old World Art: Not into contemporary art… head to the Gallerie dell'Accademia to see 5 centuries of classic Venetian painting.

Time Travel: The Palazzo Rezzonico is also in Dorsoduro. The interior offers you the truest sense of life in 18th century Venice.

Apertif: Fans of Hemingway must have an Aperol spritzer at Bar Longhi. Located at the Gritti Palace this was one of his favorite haunts; sit on the terrace overlooking the canal. Another favorite Hemingway haunt, Harry's Bar has been a fixture of Venice since 1931. It's on most everyone's list to visit, asthe birthplace of the Bellini, a mixture of white peach juice and proseco, invented by Giuseppe Cipriani and named after a painting by 15th century artist Giovanni Bellini.

Late Night: Venice is not a late night city, but Centrale is an exception if you're looking for a night cap. Just steps from St. Mark's the hip, stylish interior contrasts with the historic, 16th century building it calls home, a winning combination.

Dinner: Off the beaten track is Vini da Arturo. However, this under the radar restaurant is worth finding! Arturo's dishes never disappoint. Don't miss the Venetian pork with vinegar or the radicchio pasta. Arturo's only seats 22, so book ahead. Enjoy one of best meals in Venice at Da Fiore, this Michelin starred restaurant is tops for fresh local fish and seafood. Al Covo uses only the freshest ingredients to showcase the traditional Venetian cuisine from Chef Cesare Benelli. A friend recently loved her meal at Hostaria Da Franz.

Day Two

Early Market: Foodies can’t miss a visit to the Rialto Market to see the freshest fish and vegetables. 

Islands:  Spend a half-day touring the neighboring islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. Watch the glassblowers at work and visit the workshops along Fondamenta dei Vetrai. Bring your camera to snap great shots of the rainbow rows of houses in Burano. Stop at the Burano Lace Museum, located at the historic palace of Podestà of Torcello, in Piazza Galuppi, which was the seat of the famous Burano Lace School for 100 years up to 1970. Here you will find rare and precious pieces showcasing the history and artistry of the Venetian and lagoon’s laces.In Torcello, visit Santa Maria dell Assunta, Venice’s first Cathedral. 

Lunch: Some say it’s worth going to Murano just to have lunch at Ai Frati or at Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo in Torcello.

Sweet Tooth: Choose between two of the best gelaterias in Venice at Nico  or Gelateria Alaska.

Peaceful: Escape the crowds and take a late afternoon launch to Giudecca Island, a small island in the lagoon just across from the Grand Canal.  Once home to Jewish merchants in the 12th and 13th century, though never a ghetto as the name implies.  This is a lovely neighborhood for a stroll along the waterfront with lovely views of the Grand Canal and city. Walk around the narrow streets and admire the old houses and churches.

Dinner: Dine at Cip’s Club in Giudecca for a romantic dinner with an incredible view. Or head back and go to casual Aqua Pazzo for delicious Neapolitan pizzas, great fish and must order sorbets. Arrive by gondola or foot to tiny, cozy Da Ivo on the canal not far from St. Mark's. Order the Florentine Beef and be sure to check the daily specials.

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