The Well-Heeled Are Headed to Puglia, the End of Italy’s Boot
Kanebridge News
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The Well-Heeled Are Headed to Puglia, the End of Italy’s Boot

By Jake Emen
Sat, Oct 7, 2023 1:54pmGrey Clock 5 min

The heel of Italy’s boot is its hospitable heartland, at least to a growing contingent of savvy travellers who find themselves turning to Puglia time and again, perhaps at first for its rusticity, but now for its lavish resorts. It’s been a long time coming for the historically overlooked region and its 500 miles of coastline, most of which is devoid of the crowds overstuffing other parts of the country.

“Puglia is authentic but contemporary, relaxing but full of vibrant energy,” says Aldo Melpignano, owner of Borgo Egnazia, a luxury resort that has helped put the region on the map for international travellers. “It’s becoming more and more an international travel destination, but you can still discover hidden gems and unspoiled places.”

Charming towns line the Adriatic coastline like whitewashed pearls on a string, from Lecce to Brindisi, onward to Ostuni and Monopoli, continuing north to Bari and Trani. The countryside in between showcases the remnants of conical trulli, traditional stone-hut residences, found amid endless olive groves. Its every facet has a distinct Puglian feel, an inimitable aura of charm and hospitality that cannot be replicated.

The Growth of Puglia’s Luxury Scene

“Sometimes when you are in a luxury resort in the Côte d’Azur or Sardinia or Mexico, you feel like you could be anywhere, you don’t have a sense of place” says Vito Palumbo, CEO of Tormaresca winery. “When you are in Borgo Egnazia or Torre Coccaro, though, you know you are in Puglia, you know that you’re in a masseria that has been revamped into a beautiful resort with a very strong Puglian identity.”

At Tenuta Bocco di Lupo, the long, sandy white road that serves as its entrance beckons travelers to its grand estate and cellar.
Jake Emen

It’s been a quarter century since Tormaresca was acquired by wine conglomerate Antinori, whose financial backing and know-how helped modernize its efforts, transforming its distinctive terroir and native grapes—such as Primitivo, Negroamaro, Aglianco, and Fiano—into sought-after varieties. In more recent years, Palumbo has grown into a role as the face of Tormaresca, but also as the de facto ambassador for Puglia on the whole, dedicated to touting the appeal of his home region.

Puglia’s beloved masserias, or farm estates constructed in village-like fashion, replete with small walkways and central gathering plazas, offer a different spin on Italian luxury and hospitality, versus the villas of Tuscany, the cliff top properties along the Amalfi coast, or the grand dames of Venice and Florence.

One of the initial masserias to make a splash was Masseria Il Melograno, whose grounds are studded with gnarled and wizened 600-year-old olive trees and purple bougainvillea flowers. But when Borgo Egnazia opened in 2010, following a six-year, reported €150 million project, it set the region on a luxurious new path, gaining recognition as one of the top properties in Italy and across continental Europe.

With that kind of success, it was perhaps inevitable that large, international brands would follow course. Rocco Forte added Masseria Torre Maizza to its portfolio in 2018, and in early 2021, Four Seasons announced an Ostuni project, signalling it would be a new construction with direct beach access and 150 villa-style guest rooms. Around the same time, Belmond purchased Masseria Le Taverne, a 17th-century farm estate, and is amid extensive renovations while aiming to maintain the property’s heritage and character.

The best of both worlds can be found at a restaurant such as Osteria del Tempo Perso in Ostuni,
Jake Emen

“Puglia’s popularity has grown significantly for those looking to explore a different part of Italy and to discover the region’s spectacular coastlines and beautiful beaches, rich history, and exceptional culinary offerings,” says Bart Carnahan, Four Seasons president of global business development and portfolio management.

The Roots Are in the Vineyards and the Olive Groves

At the heart of Puglia’s culinary movement is an appreciation for its local ingredients, from burrata to olive oil and a wealth of fresh seafood.

“Puglia is Italy’s most important region for extra-virgin olive oil production,” Palumbo says, citing overall output and a breadth of styles, with at least 60 types of olives found on millions of trees. Yet, as with the region’s wine, the quality of its olive oil was long overlooked, with the majority being sold in bulk. “Puglian olive oil is going places, and it’s the same story as the wine. There are more strong Puglian olive oil brands than Tuscan ones now.”

Travellers can spend a day on a farm or dairy learning how to make cheese or pressing their own olive oil, perhaps in between visits to its emergent wineries. At Tenuta Bocco di Lupo, the long, sandy white road that serves as its entrance beckons travelers to its grand estate and cellar. There, they can taste wines under its eponymous label, such as an Aglianico from Castel del Monte; Pietrabianca, made with Chardonnay and Fiano from Castel del Monte; and Fiano di Bocca Di Lupo.

Then there’s Tormaresca’s Calafuria, the best-selling rose wine in, and from, Italy. But it’s through the aforementioned offerings, along with bottles such as Torcicoda, a Primitivo from Salento, as well as the Masseria Maime Negroamaro, that Palumbo plans to establish the bonafides of his two estates in the region. What he and his winemakers have found is that Puglian wines made with intention, and reflective of their home place, are more than capable of great ageing potential, with rich character that consumers can expect to develop and unfold in the decade or two to come, while still being able to be poured today and enjoyed. “We want the Puglian influence,” Palumbo says.

Puglia’s restaurant scene has soared as well, with 10 Michelin-starred outposts in the region and scores of other fine-dining establishments. A prestige institution such as Quintessenza, in Trani, is helmed by the four Di Gennaro brothers, each of whom has a different role in the operation of a space devoted in full to showcasing and elevating Puglia’s bounty.

Bocca Di Lupo
Jake Emen

The best eating though may be in casual, local spots with seaside views or beachfront settings, from the Coccaro beach club and restaurant, to the Trabucco Tormaresca in Trani, a sceney waterfront bar stylised as an old fisherman shack. The best of both worlds can be found at a restaurant such as Osteria del Tempo Perso in Ostuni, where classic Puglian dishes are showcased with the best ingredients, but without unneeded adornment or reinvention, with the service and setting that elevates food with humble origins into a destination dining experience.

Travellers to Puglia can indulge in it all: the excellent food and wine that will satiate the most discerning of palates and the luxurious accommodations that need not play second fiddle to anywhere else in the country, offered with the trademark embrace of the region’s hospitality.

“The ancient traditions of this region represent a unique heritage,” Melpignano says. “What really makes the difference in Puglia is the people: Always heart-warming, they have the sense of welcome in their blood.”


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Couples find that lab-grown diamonds make it cheaper to get engaged or upgrade to a bigger ring. But there are rocky moments.

Mon, Dec 11, 2023 4 min

Wedding planner Sterling Boulet has some advice for brides-to-be regarding lab-grown diamonds, which cost a fraction of the natural ones.

“If you’re trying to get your man to propose, they’ll propose faster if you offer this as an option,” says Boulet, of Raleigh, N.C. Recently, she adds, a friend’s fiancé “thanked me the next three times I saw him” for telling him about the cheaper lab-made option.

Man-made diamonds are catching on, despite some lingering stigma. This year was the first time that sales of lab-made and natural mined loose diamonds, primarily used as center stones in engagement rings, were split evenly, according to data from Tenoris, a jewellery and diamond trend-analytics company.

The rise of lab-made stones, however, is bringing up quirks alongside the perks. Now that blingier engagement rings—above two or three carats—are more affordable, more people are dealing with the peculiarities of wearing rather large rocks.

An engagement ring made with a lab-grown diamond at Ada Diamonds in New York City. PHOTO: CAM POLLACK/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Esther Hare, a 5-foot-11-inch former triathlete, sought out a 4.5-carat lab-made oval-shaped diamond to fit her larger hands as a part of her vow renewal in Hawaii last year. It was a far cry from the half-carat ring her husband proposed with more than 25 years ago and the 1.5-carat upgrade they purchased 10 years ago. Hare, 50, who lives in San Jose, Calif., and works in high tech, chose a $40,000 lab-made diamond because “it’s nuts” to have to spend $100,000 on a natural stone. “It had to be big—that was my vision,” she says.

But the size of the ring has made it less practical at times. She doesn’t wear it for athletic training and swaps in her wedding band instead. And she is careful to leave it at home when traveling. “A lot of times I won’t take it on vacation because it’s just a monster,” she says.

The average retail price for a one-carat lab-made loose diamond decreased to $1,426 this year from $3,039 in 2020, according to the Tenoris data. Similar-sized loose natural diamonds cost $5,426 this year, compared with $4,943 in 2020.

Lab-made diamonds have essentially the same chemical makeup as natural ones, and look the same, unless viewed through sophisticated equipment that gauges the characteristics of emitted light.

At Ritani, an online jewellery retailer, lab-made diamond sales make up about 70% of the diamonds sold, up from roughly 30% two years ago, says Juliet Gomes, head of customer service at the company, based in White Plains, N.Y.

Ritani sometimes records videos of the lab-diamonds pinging when exposed to a “diamond tester,” a tool that judges authenticity, to show customers that the man-made rocks behave the same as natural ones. We definitely have some deep conversations with them,” Gomes says.

Not all gem dealers are rolling with these stones.

Philadelphia jeweller Steven Singer only stocks the natural stuff in his store and is planning a February campaign to give about 1,000 one-carat lab-made diamonds away free to prove they are “worthless.” Anyone can sign up online and get one in the mail; even shipping is free. “I’m not selling Frankensteins that were built in a lab,” Singer says.

Some brides are turned off by the larger bling now allowed by the lower prices.When her now-husband proposed with a two-carat lab-grown engagement ring, Tiffany Buchert, 40, was excited about the prospect of marriage—but not about the size of the diamond, which she says struck her as “costume jewellery-ish.”

“I said yes in the moment, of course, I didn’t want it to be weird,” says the physician assistant from West Chester, Pa.

But within weeks, she says, she fessed up, telling her fiancé: “I think I hate this ring.”

The couple returned it and then bought a one-carat natural diamond for more than double the price.

Couples find that lab-grown diamonds have made it more affordable to get engaged. PHOTO: CAM POLLACK/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

When Boulet, the wedding planner in Raleigh, got engaged herself, she was over the moon when her fiancé proposed with a 2.3 carat lab-made diamond ring. “It’s very shiny, we were almost worried it was too shiny and was going to look fake,” she says.

It doesn’t, which presents another issue—looking like someone who really shelled out for jewellery. Boulet will occasionally volunteer that her diamond ring came from a lab.

“I don’t want people to think I’m putting on airs, or trying to be flashier than I am,” she says.

For Daniel Teoh, a 36-year-old software engineer outside of Detroit, buying a cheaper lab-made diamond for his fiancée meant extra room in his $30,000 ring budget.

Instead of a bigger ring, he got her something they could both enjoy. During a walk while on an annual ski trip to South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Teoh popped the question and handed his now-wife a handmade wooden box that included a 2.5-carat lab-made diamond ring—and a car key.

She put on the ring, celebrated with both of their sisters and a friend, who was the unofficial photographer of the happy event, and then they drove back to the house. There, she saw a 1965 Mustang GT coupe in Wimbledon white with red stripes and a bow on top.

Looking back, Teoh says, it was still the diamond that made the big first impression.

“It wasn’t until like 15 minutes later she was like ‘so, what’s with this key?’” he adds.


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