A journey to the Valle d’Itria

20 June 2023
Written by
The Italy Insider

A vast plateau that overlooks endless stretches of olive trees

The Itria Valley is an icon, not a destination. The denomination encompasses and represents the historical and territorial identity of Martina Franca, Alberobello, Locorotondo, Cisternino, Ceglie Messapica, Ostuni, the municipalities that in 2018 decided to identify their territory with the name Valle d’Itria. The characteristics that tie these places together are the whitewashed antique houses, the fact that each village is perched upon a hill and above all that they all belong to the Murgia dei Trulli, a territory where generations of farmers and shepherds have created a landscape that met their needs.

With regards to everything else, each village is unique, traditional, founded over a millennium ago and therefore historical and enriched in . So much to discover and experience.

A day in Locorotondo

Despite its name, the Itria Valley is not a valley but a plateau! A vast plateau of limestone rock eroded by rainwater which in turn has created spectacular ravines, karst cavities, lamias and caves, such as the renowned Castellana Grotte. The plateau overlooks endless stretches of olive trees, the deep blue sea in the horizon and white towers of countless Masserie that emerge amongst the greenery which, in the 17th century, were fortified to defend themselves against the landings of Ottoman Turkish pirates. Today, many of these have been restored into beautiful hotels. In this itinerary we will mention a few, but the choice is almost infinite and can satisfy every need, expectation and imagination.

Canne Bianche

Our itinerary begins near Fasano, a small town a short distance from the Valle d’Itria, at the Canne Bianche Lifestyle Hotel, the only 5-star hotel in this area located by the sea, with gardens and terraces sprawling onto the beach. You are welcomed by young and attentive staff and the pleasantly bright rooms are furnished in a sandy palette. Dinner is served at the fine dining Timo restaurant with a menu featuring local cuisine whereas breakfast is enjoyed on a flowery veranda overlooking the sea.

We left in the morning with a vintage Fiat 600 that drove us to the starting point of our hike, a slow trek among the karst hills and the woods of the Valle d’Itria. Our guide told us countless stories of the landscapes and taught us to recognise aromatic herbs, amongst which edible wild herbs used in the kitchen. We walked among the scents of the Mediterranean scrub, we listened to the breeze rustling the trees and we enjoyed the silence. Now we know how to recognise cork oak, downy oak, holm oak, maple, ash, asparagus, mastic, butcher’s broom, viburnum, cistus and broom.

We then took a restful pit-stop at the Masseria Mozzone farmhouse, first tasting the extra virgin olive oils made in-house, then lay down in the shade of centenary olive trees, waiting for the picnic baskets. In the evening we stayed at Masseria San Giovanni. Small, white and elegant. Twelve rooms with an essentiality of furnishings that enhance the imposing barrel vaults, the walls in blond stone and the ancient restored artefacts. The garden and the swimming pool are magnificent, where you can breathe the magic of the surrounding countryside despite the well-kept aesthetics of the luxury residence. We enjoyed dinner in the premises of an ancient oil mill and breakfast under a centenary olive tree.

The next destination is Locorotondo, a crown of white terraced houses perched on top of the hill overlooking the stretch of countryside that reaches Martina Franca. We took an e-bike into the natural surroundings among dry stone walls, cultivated fields of red earth, majestic olive trees, trullo farms and sumptuous masserie. Then, after a few refreshments, we dropped off the bikes to explore Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of 1500 trulli dotted around the hill with picturesque artisan shops here and there, a forrest of white and grey stone, a truly picturesque fairytale landscape. Lunch is in the courtyard of the Trullo Sovrano, the only two-story building in the village, with a 14-metre-high cone at the center of another 15 cones. Its courtyard houses the excellent extra virgin olive oil restaurant by chef Gianvito Matarrese.

Chiesa di San Nicola in Locorotondo

After the walking tour of the historic center, we headed towards Masseria Montenapoleone, a 19-room farmhouse in the center of an organic and eco-sustainable farm with over 40 hectares of land. Here each room is the world of Alice in Wonderland, the furnishings are born from simple everyday objects recovered with unlimited imagination. Aperitifs in the vineyard and picnic under centuries-old olive trees – the decor is that of a “dejuner sur l’herbe” – nature and aesthetics come together in the organic ingredients handpicked from the garden and prepared by the chef Domenico Consoli. To close down the day, a blissful massage at the Herbariun holistic centre coupled with an immersion in the Vasca del Tempo, a stone pool that overlooks the orange grove.

One of the rustic rooms at Masseria Montenapoleone. Ph. Credits Gianni Buonsante
Masseria San Giovanni

To note: some of the experiences were organised by the dmc Southern Visions, handy for those who wish to immerse themselves in everything the region has to offer, learning about the cultures of Southern Italy and experience out-of-the-box activities with high-level service. The team is a mix of Apulian natives and American and British experts in event management and bespoke travel.

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