Mornings at Masseria Potenti begin on the later side, if you count yourself a morning person. Breakfast is from 8:30 to 10:30, although if you arrive at 8:30, they ladies are likely still putting out the long table of cakes and breakfast pastries that guests are mostly too timid to touch. It makes for a beautiful assortment, but I found most guests were light eaters; opting for a slice of toast with homemade jam or local honey, perhaps a piece of Puglian cheese, and a bowl of yogurt. A little bit of fruit is offered as well, whatever is in season. In my case it was pomegranate seeds and grapes. This is a Masseria that functions, after all, off of the land, with the magic hands of Maria Grazia and her family casting everything into place to create that ubiquitous ambiance. They weave the fields’ wild flowers into a new song, they cook with what is growing in full form, they create shampoos out of local herbs. That is to say, if you come expecting a buffet room filled to the brim with every food your hotel-going heart desires, with at least four waitstaff to each guest, and every type of milk and non dairy substitute you’ve seen in a Whole Foods aisle, you ought to change your expectations. This is a Masseria experience run with love and care, to show you what life is like in this piece of Puglia. It is meant to be appreciated, encountered with ease, and soaked up into your spirit, so that you return to that Whole Foods aisle missing the fresh cow’s milk from the next farm over.
Another whitewashed town worth visiting, which is within that 45 minute arc from Potenti, is quiet, cinematic Martina Franca. You won’t find nearly as many tour groups here as you might in Ostuni, although I occasioned upon one just as the lunch hour swung in, meaning all doors were shut, the streets were empty, and the sounds were only those of a cooking pot or two inside the balconied homes.
Founded in 1300 AD, the town is actually quite large for the area, with 50,000 residents. With limited time, I had to choose between some of the other nearby towns on my list: Locorotondo, Alberobello, and Cisternino, all of which I had read are quite pretty. I worried that they might be more touristy than Martina Franca. Word to the wise, however: never visit a small Italian town between the hours of 2:30 and 5, unless all you’d like to do is wander through empty streets. You will not capture the essence of the city or village, nothing of its people, nothing of its food or wares or shops… just the sight of laundry blowing overhead in the wind.
(click on each photo to see a larger image)
One trip that is absolutely worth it if you are interested in getting to know a Puglian tradition is a visit to Grottaglie, the mecca of Puglian ceramics. What I assumed to be a small town dotted with a handful of fantastic ceramic artisans whose cavelike workshops dated back hundreds of years is actually an entire town filled with hundreds of artisans. How does one pick out their favorites? Masseria Potenti has their personal recommendations, and I simply moseyed into a few, got a feel for the owners, and took it based on ‘good vibes.’ I came upon one that was entirely family run: the dad began the craft when he was just a teenager. He took over a space that had been creating ceramics for centuries, and now all of his children and his wife work there together, a true family of artists. They were all darling, and he was so excited by my interest, he gave me a quick little tour of the kilns.
Back at Masseria Potenti, enclosed in the white walls in that inexplicable safeguard of peace and quiet, I let myself by hypnotized by the late afternoon light hitting the olive trees, the bougainvillea blooms catching that golden hour sun, and the fig branches creating abstract drawings across a perfect blue sky. Dinner was set in the large dining room, candlelit, music playing, a fresh fish with garden vegetables waiting, and an infusion of local herbs to finish. If you are in need of a trance, of warmth, of the wide world of understated, Masseria Potenti is precisely what I suggest.