Puglia is a vast agricultural region in southern Italy located on the heel of the boot-shaped peninsula, surrounded by the Ionian Sea with its long stretches of golden-sand beaches to the west and the Adriatic Sea with its dramatic cliffs and crystalline waters to the east and home to Lecce, one of southern Italy’s most beautiful ancient towns brimming with Baroque, natural-golden palazzos winding cobbled streets, gourmet restaurants, and Masseria Trapanà, a five-star oasis in the heart of this enchanted region.
Masseria Trapanà is owned by Rob Potter Sanders, an Australian visionary who has made a 35- year career out of reviving depleted hotels in Australia and New Zealand, expertly bringing them back to their former glory, as well as putting their design, struggling business plans and marketing on the right track. Rob arrived in Italy for the first time in his early 20s, combining travel and work while exploring Italian culture and cuisine. Passionate about the hospitality sector, he applied for any job he could find and ended up working as a dishwasher at a local Tuscan restaurant. Though he later went on to have a successful career in the hospitality business outside the Bel Paese, his heart was stuck in Italy, and he started to obsess over his dream of opening a hotel of his own.
On a dreamer’s quest to fulfill his passion, he returned to Tuscany in 2013. Though he viewed many properties, the word on the streets was all about Puglia. So on a whim, he decided to divert his path and visit the region to see what the hype was about. Puglia proved to be a match for him; the crystal-clear beaches, laid-back mentality, and wide-open spaces reminded Rob of his homeland.
Sanders began viewing potential properties but returned to the first one he saw: Masseria Trapanà — an abandoned 16th-century farmhouse embraced by giant eucalyptus trees and mimosa (golden wattle — Acacia pycnantha Benth) plants. For the native Aussie, the vegetation gave an instant sense of familiarity (Australia’s national floral emblem is the golden wattle), and the small chapel on the property named Santa Barbara just so happened to be Rob’s mother’s name.
Rob decided to take a leap of faith and made a low offer. Then, he signed a blank contract just in case. He flew back to Australia, and to his surprise, he received a notice three weeks later stating that he was now the proud owner of Masseria Trapana in the Province of Lecce.
The extensive renovations took two years to complete, naturally with the notorious hiccups of Italian bureaucracy and navigating the turbulent waters of learning the language. The results, however, are stunning.
Masseria Trapanà is as authentic as can be. By preserving its authenticity while applying a clever design, Rob upgraded the once abandoned 16th-century structure with Mandarin Oriental shower heads, White Company room fragrances, and bathrooms stocked with Australian super brand Aesop. Notably, the walls have no art because the meticulously restored ancient walls are art and a wonderful backdrop to the sophisticated design. A touch of Moroccan decor from Rob’s extensive travels perfectly harmonizes with the original architecture. Oversized kilim rugs and puffs leave a homey and intimate feeling throughout.
The colossal room is vaulted with high ceilings, a fireplace, and beautiful, spacious bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the surrounding natural fields; the boosted hot shower streams are complemented by sunrise or sunset (depending on the room). In fact: oversized is the keyword here. Rob did not design yet another hotel — in contrast to many establishments. The rooms are the size of downtown London apartments. The custom-made four-poster beds are enormous and ultra-comfy, the down feather pillows are dreamy, and the whole place is bathed in tranquil, light, and peaceful simplicity.
Uniquely, all nine suites have private outdoor spaces: some with a private courtyard garden and exterior showers, and some with terraces and luxurious outdoor baths. Here, the focus is on privacy. This adult-only establishment which has hosted many celebrities such as Chiara Ferragni (who used the Masseria as a base for the Dior Fashion Show in Lecce in 2020), is never too crowded, allowing only 18 guests at a time despite its size. Space and tranquility flow through Trapana, giving guests a much-needed break from their daily lives. Additionally, the Masseria offers the option to rent the whole structure for those who wish to create a perfectly intimate family vacation. The restaurant is open 24/7, and three meals are served daily at the secluded and charming aranceto (orange grove), creating an authentic Italian multi-sensorial experience.
The rooftop, with its stunning views and magical sunsets on the Adriatic Sea, is used for early evening aperitifs and cocktails. On steaming-hot days, guests are invited to lounge by the peaceful opulent pool, surrounded by large daybeds and shaded by palm trees. As you would expect from an expert in the hospitality business, the service is impeccable by any international standard; you can order waiter service by the pool or use the pool phone to order yet another “Trapana Sunset” cocktail (vodka with blood orange from the hotel’s gardens).
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Just when you thought you couldn’t get any more Zen in such a magical place, you are introduced to the ancient oil-making cave — turned spa, which includes a private wine-tasting room, a natural hot magnesium pool, a gym, a massage room, and a natural stream shower to freshen up. Services are tailored for each guest, with any requirement adhered to. Even the weather conditions are checked at sunrise to assist the guests in planning their daily experiences in the region.
The Masseria’s main building hosts the restaurant and three massive living rooms, including an enormous floor- to-ceiling window overlooking the lemon tree garden. Here, you can find stunning examples of creative design using recycled local materials, such as original fisherman’s lobster bamboo nets turned into lamp shades and the Masseria’s original old doors turned into side tables. The space is bathed in natural golden light and perfect for a friendly cocktail in great company.
For those wishing to venture for daily trips, the world-famous beauty spot of Torre Dell’Orso on the Adriatic coast with its dramatic cliffs, crystal-clear-water beaches, and the giant “Le Due Sorelle” rock formations rising from the sea are a short drive away. Other nearby sights include the medieval town of Otranto, the vibrant village of Castro, and the capital Lecce, the Florence of the South, where you can find a great shopping area, concerts, restaurants, and bars.
Images courtesy of Masseria Trapanà