Modern Traveller spent a long weekend at the magical Masseria Alchimia.
Windows wound down, our MINI bouncing along dusty lanes between the cypress trees and white stone walls so ubiquitous with Puglia, the persistent voice of our SatNav insists that we’ve arrived.
We pull over, the Adriatic just out of view. Our eyes search across a landscape strewn with copper soil. There, like a sharp-edged beacon between the trees, we spot the striking building that today lives as Masseria Alchimia.
Metal gates open at our arrival, revealing a drive created for a postcard. At its end lies our home for the next four nights – and what a home it is.
Chalk-white walls sit at angles upon one another, both at odds with the azure blue sky behind them – and very much at ease with it. So white are they that the sun seems to wish its brightness upon them, pouring its rays across the terraces and buttresses as if there was alchemy at work.
Apartments – for this is no hotel by ordinary definitions – seem almost hewn into its cube-like form, doorways and windows pasted onto otherwise unmarked walls, as terraces, shaded by wicker, invite quiet reflection in the autumnal warmth.
Caroline, the mastermind behind the Masseria, greets us with Swiss efficiency. Dinner reservations in nearby Fasano are made before we’ve even glimpsed the room; recommendations follow, filling our itinerary with a raft of Puglian pleasures yet to be discovered.
It’s a warm – if formal – introduction befitting the nature of Alchimia itself. Each of the 10 studios situated within its walls are self-catered, fitted with clever kitchenettes, induction hobs and the all important moka pot. There’s no restaurant on site, no shop and no permanent reception presence.
Rather, this is rural peace at your own pace. Yes, you’ll be greeted with a smile by the cleaning staff – who service rooms daily – and there’s every chance you’ll see the ever-busy Caroline going about her business in the reception or around the grounds, but, unlike many a boutique hotel, Masseria largely leaves you to your own devices.
Thankfully, there are few better places in which to be left as such. Rooms are stylishly designed, imbued with a sense of texture, colour and calm, as if the ambience of Puglia itself has poured in through the door.
From custom-fitted, tile-topped counters to the sort of sink that encourages even the most stubborn of signori to volunteer for the washing up, everything is a product of careful selection – which is important, given that the spaces are not traditionally disposed to hosting guests.
Our bathroom, for example, is narrow, with an tightly angled shower – but beautifully fitted. It, like the rest of our small studio, is a space in which one is happy to spend time, forgetting the rush of every day. Washing in the morning, it’s possible to peer through the deep-set, square window in the wall at sun-daubed soil and swaying trees outside. This – if there is such a thing – must be the definitive Puglia.
In fact, between olive trees and the sort of dirt one can imagine Russell Crowe sifting through his gladiatorial fingers, Masseria Alchimia has a habit of heightening the senses. Taking breakfast on the terrace – regularly crossed by those wishing to visit the reception room – scents, sights and sounds (or the lack thereof) foist upon the person a vibrant sense of place.
Of course, such senses are all well and good, but life means little without taste. Mercifully, Alchimia’s situation is blessed by the presence of several tasty neighbours. Farm produce can be purchased, for example, from a local store just up the road. Fresh pasta, delicious olive oil and more vegetables than one might possibly need make the kitchen facilities more appealing than any local restaurant.
The trickiest aspect of any stay here, then, is time-management. For, whilst the surrounding towns and villages entice one with their beauty and keep one with their wares, Alchimia itself is the kind of place in which to while away days without consequence, cooking up feasts of local cuisine to be enjoyed as evening becomes night.
Mercifully, there are worse places in the world to wrestle with this difficulty. Shutters open to bring in the breeze, wine slips down a treat at the artistic table inside. Sure, the bed feels a little close at meal time – but it’s ideally proximate for falling upon once the culinary clean-up is complete.
Indeed, the only thing harder than choosing where to eat is waking up in the morning. Nestled in beneath an arched ceiling, shutters preserving a somnolent darkness, the pastel-shade sheets invite and encourage one to rest the day away.
The world outside, though, is ceaseless in its pull. Brewing up a coffee – having retrieved our clothes from behind the curtain-sheathed shelves that do for a wardrobe – one can’t help but feel that to stay here is to stay in a rare sort of luxury, one that cares not for material majesty (though possesses it in spades), but revels in its position as a house gifted by its surroundings.
To step outside as the morning light begins to crest the distant hills is to feel the warmth of a life made magic. Perhaps it’s alchemy, or perhaps it’s that Puglian charm – what, with its ever-near crystal waters; its soil so stirringly imbued with the colour of rust; its endless list of stirring settlements – but there’s something truly ethereal about this place, hidden in Italy’s heel.
We’ll surely be coming back to Masseria Alchimia – and, in the meantime, we’ll be painting our walls white.
WORDS & IMAGES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS