Did I mention that we bought a house in Puglia? No, I mean another house. You see, Puglia has been and continues to be one of Europe’s top vacation destinations so we decided to include among our investments, a vacation rental property. We call it Trullo nella Pineta (trullo in the pines).
When we began our search for a new property, we tried to put ourselves into the shoes of the kinds of holiday visitors come to Puglia. Among their desires:
Northerners who vacation in Puglia want to stay in trulli, the conical-roofed stone houses found only in the Valle d’Itria area of central Puglia. I can’t begin to tell you why they all want to stay in the little stone huts, though the trulli of Pineta are decked out with all the niceties, but they do. I guess it’s just because if you’re staying in Puglia, you do things that you can only do in Puglia and sleeping in a trullo is one of those things.
Even though the gorgeous beaches of the Adriatic may be just a few minutes drive away, Europeans from the north demand that there be a swimming pool on the property and that the pool area provide some privacy so that their naughty bits are not exposed to the neighbors while being exposed to the sun.
–Sleeps 6 or More
This is just how they roll.
–Lots of Outdoor Space
In Puglia in summer, temperatures often reach 40 degrees celsius or 104 degrees fahrenheit so staying inside a small house is not very appealing, though neither is sitting in the hot sun. A “proper” vacation villa has several outside areas, some open to the sun, some shaded, some exposed to the wind, others protected.
Oh, and we had one other criteria: Cheap. In order for these vacation property investments to work, they have to be priced right. After having gone through the total renovation of Villa Tutto, our home, from 5,000 miles away, we were no longer afraid to take on a project especially now that we lived in Puglia. In this way, we could buy a “fixer-upper,” do a smart, but high-quality renovation on it, and make the numbers work.
Trullo nella Pineta (as we named it) sits on a hill between the towns of Ceglie Messapica and Martina Franca in the Valle d’Itria area of Puglia. Nearby towns include Locorotondo, Ostuni and our town, Cisternino. On the south side of the house is land covered by olive and fig trees. To the west and north are the pines, tall and statuesque. Beyond them is the Valle d’Itria where, a few times a day, a local passenger train consisting of one car can be seen moving across the valley floor.
We bought the property in April, though I should say that Jessica bought the property since I was still in the States at the time. For the first few months of the project, it was she who made the day-to-day decisions, the first of which was to hire Vincenzo’s contracting firm to do the renovation. We had seen some of Vincenzo’s work and taken it to be miraculous. Pineta was built entirely of stone with walls as thick as 4 feet and Vincenzo and his men worked with stone like most men work with wood, shaping and molding it to their exact needs, with ease.
As with everything else we’ve done in Puglia, though, Jessica had the daily support and advice of Colleen and Francesco, our Italian lifelines. It was Francesco who introduced us to Pineta, it was they who recommended Vincenzo, negotiated the contract with him and translated the hundreds of conversations among the parties during the project. To say that we could not have done it without them is probably an exaggeration. We could have done it on our own but, if we had, we would have paid twice as much for half the work and likely gotten a very unsatisfying result. Once again, we were saved by Colleen and Francesco.
As this is being written, we are closing in on the end of the project, and it has turned out grander and more beautiful than we could ever have hoped. The final product has three bedrooms (each has a double bed), three bathrooms, a new kitchen, a dining area and a lounge. The bedroom in the main house is called “Il Trullo.” It features the conical stone ceiling and is built entirely of local stone. The breeze that prevails from the north and the two-foot thick stone walls ensure that the trullo stays cool on the warmest Pugliese day.
The second bedroom had been a garage and forno (wood-fired bread oven). The plaster was removed, exposing the natural stone, an en-suite bathroom replaced the forno and the result is an amazing suite overlooking the pool and olive grove which we call “La Toretta” in recognition of the vaulted roof over the bedroom.
The final bedroom is called “La Cantina” since that had been its prior use. Storing wine, hanging hams and keeping vegetables were very important to the Pugliesi and at Pineta, this is where they did those things. It has been converted into a room that sleeps two, includes a bathroom and an attached outdoor shower.
Each of the spaces inside has been completely re-done and returned to its original, natural state and we could not be happier with the result. But of all the improvements to the property, the ones I am appreciate the most are the ones that happened outside of the building. The 4 meter by 8 meter (13 feet by 26 feet) pool has views of Martina Franca in one direction and the olive and fig trees in another. On those hot sunny days for which Puglia is famous, there is a pergola that provides some respite. There is also a gazebo nearer the pool with a barbecue grill and, if that’s not cool enough, there is always the pine grove with benches, plenty of shade and a constant cool breeze.
Trullo nella Pineta is a truly (no pun intended) magical place but, if you get tired of it, the nearby towns of Ceglie Messapica, Locorotondo, Cisternino and Ostuni offer fine dining in the local tradition and sites that people travel from the world over to see.
Lest I give the wrong impression, though, the project was not without its stresses and emotional outbursts. Nor was it without its lighter moments. Toward the end of the project, Jessica noted that the hot water boilers that (here) are mounted on the walls of each bathroom were brutto (ugly) so she asked Francesco to write a note to Vincenzo in Italian that she could hand to him asking him to enclose them in wood cabinets. Here is the English translation of the note Francesco gave to Jessica:
You dirty slave,
You have to cover the two electric boilers with two wood boxes. I don’t want any excuses. I only want you to do it. Understand? Pieces of shit.
Vincenzo was not amused but Francesco was.
Next: Sun, Sand and Sparkles