For the third year in a row I traveled to beautiful Italy in search of sites, sounds, food, drink and real estate. In 2014, my trip started as part of an Amalfi Coast-Rome-Florence tour with Realtors from New York before venturing solo to the lake regions in the north and finishing in Tuscany. My trip in 2015 began in the low, rolling mountains in north western Sicily and concluded in Siena. In both Sicily and Siena I joined a pair of Italian business partners who specialize in buying, selling, building and restoring historic villas and properties. For 2016 I ventured solo through the province of Puglia, then flying to Siena to be with the same business partners and finishing in Florence. Puglia, in particular the southern sub-region of Salento, is dotted with scores of small cities and towns, many settled hundreds of years old, where livelihoods are tied to the sea, land and the seasons. Sun drenched landscapes and clear blue seas; Adriatic, Ionian and Mediterranean, make for restful vacation and second-home hideaways. After the second day you will not be an outsider. Salenese hospitality will embrace you warmly, geuinely and unforgettably.
Puglia is the "heel" of the Italian boot, very likely the first region of modern Italy to be populated - more than 3000 years ago as part of northwestern Mesopotamia. Since then Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Spanish, Turks, Austrian-Germans, French and, with unification in 1861, Italians have left their mark on the region. Then as now the fertile seas and iron rich terra rossa provide an abundant, rich and essential palette of food, drink and divine hospitality.
The southernmost region of Puglia is called Salento. Travel the perimeter coastline of Salento and the deep blue seas of the Adriatic, Ionian and Mediteranean beckon. Cross Salento from side to side and groves of olives and grapes, fields of grain and limestone towns will carry you back to the Bronze Age. But most of all the kindness and helpfulness of the Salenese will compel you to ask why it took so long for you to get here.
First stop - Lecce
Lecce is often called the Florence of the South. The historic district is a manageable maze of lanes and alleyways populated with historic sites, theaters ancient and new that feature live performances and family owned eateries.
I met and talked with the Office Manager of the new Engel & Voelkers shop in Lecce, Guido Fiore. E&V Lecce will specialize in residential properties both in the classic historic district, the township of Lecce and in properties close to the city.
The train station is a 15 minute taxi from the historic district and is your gateway to the south. Salento has its own train system that runs separately from the rest of Italy. In Salento the train network is Ferrovie del Sud Est. The primary train network in Italy is Treni Italia.
From Lecce southeast to Otranto.
Otranto is the easternmost city in Italy. From the shoreline you can look east across the Adriatic and see the low mountains of Albania.
Though the harbor today caters almost exclusively to pleasure boats, centuries ago it was the southeasternmost harbor on the Italian peninsula when traveling to/from ancient Greece. Otranto was of significant strategic importance during the era of early Greece, for the Romans, for Byzantine exiles and for Ottoman invaders in the late 1400's.
The 35 minute train ride from Otranto to Leuca travels south through the Salento countryside past groves of olive trees and fields of grain. Arriving in Leuca, you are now in the southernmost city in Italy. On the east side is the Adriatic Sea. On the west side is the Ionian Sea.
Leuca is a summer retreat with a sheltered harbor, ample sunshine and spectacular seafood. The rugged limestone coastline drops steeply into the clearest blue sea. A towering light house dominates the skyline. Take heart - at the top of the 288 stone steps it takes to climb up to the light house and adjoining Sanctuario, there is a delightful cafeteria with exquisite gelato. I recommend two scoops!!
Turning northwest and up the west coast of Salento you arrive at Gallipoli. Gallipoli has a well defined, compact Old Town and modern city center. Gallipoli's founding dates to early Greece. Its natural protected harbor made it a military stronghold and prize for Roman, Norman and Spanish conquerors.
Engel & Voelkers Expansion Manager for South East Italy, Viktoria Kim lives in Gallipoli. At E&V's new Gallipoli office I met with License Partner Italo Tricarico. The region east of Gallipoli has some of the best olive groves and olive oil in Italy with picturesque, captivating towns from Galatina to Ugento.
I met the kindest couple ever in Santa Caterina. They run the Cala d'Aspide B&B. My new best Aunt Emilie and Uncle Pietro.
Traveling by train northeast I arrived at the ancient and beautiful hillside city of Ostuni. The deep blue Adriatic and miles of beaches is a 10 minute drive east.
Ostuni too has been a battleground for 2000 years of competing cultures from Greek to Rome to Normans to Italian city states. There is no specific "Old Town" with the Palazzo Municipale and adjoining cathedral being the focal point for locals and travelers alike. The "white city" has become a second-home to northern Europeans and is likely why there are so many boutique real estate shops.
Traveling out of Puglia, I flew from Bari to Florence and trained to Siena to reunite with good friends Antonella Carlucci and Pietro di Vita, business partners and founders of the pre-eminent real estate firm in Tuscany/Siena - First Class House.
First Class House continues to dominate Tuscan real estate with a proven and successful business model; real estate agency services from Senora Carlucci and construction/reconstruction services from Senore di Vita and his company Movitre.
As I related in my 2015 article about First Class House, the unique combination of exclusive listing agreements and exacting construction standards, positions FCH at the top of the luxury real estate industry in Tuscany. FCH uses a magnifying glass to look at elements, materials and techniques used in architecture to ensure your journey to ownership in Italy is, and remains, a pleasure.
My third trip to Florence in three years. In 36 hours I stayed at my favorite hotel near the train station and the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, made my favorite restaurants, pub and pizzeria and taxiied to the airport for the 17 hour trip home.
Florence was bright, cool and mostly tourist free as November came to a close.
Italy has the most fantastic properties for sale that you can imagine. Seaside, mountains, lakeside, rolling countryside, villas, wineries, new, historic. Make your dreams come true. As with sales and purchases in the US, I strongly recommend a physical inspection and with historic properties a detailed engineering assessment.
Next trip - Lecce in early October and drive the wine and olive country west and south. Visit excellent friends in Gallipoli and Santa Caterina. Side trip to Matera and back to Lecce. Dreams do come true.
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