The Well-Heeled Are Headed to Puglia, the End of Italy’s Boot
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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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The Loneliness of the American Worker

More meetings and faceless chats. Fewer work friends. How the modern workday is fueling an epidemic of isolation.

By TE-PING CHEN
Wed, May 29, 2024 6 min

More Americans are profoundly lonely, and the way they work—more digitally linked but less personally connected—is deepening that sense of isolation.

Nick Skarda , 29 years old, works two jobs in logistics and office administration in San Diego to keep up with his bills. After a couple of years at the logistics job, he has one friend there. He says hi to co-workers at his office job but doesn’t really know any.

“I feel sort of an emptiness or lack of belonging,” he says. Juggling two jobs leaves Skarda exhausted, with little energy or time to grab drinks with co-workers . “It makes it harder to go in and give it your all if you don’t feel like anyone is there rooting for you,” he adds.

Employers and researchers are just beginning to understand how workplace shifts over the past four years are contributing to what the U.S. surgeon general declared a loneliness health epidemic last year. The alienation affects remote and in-person workers alike. Among 1-800-Flowers.com ’s 5,000 hybrid and fully on-site employees, for instance, the most popular community chat group offered by a company mental-health provider is simply called “Loneliness.”

Consider these phenomena of modern work:

It is a marked shift from even a decade ago, when bonds fostered at work helped compensate for declining participation in church , community groups and other social institutions. As the American workday becomes more faceless and scheduled , the number of U.S. adults who call themselves lonely has climbed to 58% from 46% in 2018, according to a recent Cigna poll of 10,000 Americans.

The faceless workday

The disconnection is driving up staff turnover and worker absences, making it a business issue for more employers, executives and researchers say. Cigna, the health-insurance company, estimates that loneliness is costing companies $154 billion a year in absenteeism alone.

“Work is social, it’s a lot more than a paycheck,” says James McCann , founder and chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com.

Earlier this year, 1-800-Flowers.com moved from three days in the office to four to boost a sense of connectivity among workers. It has also begun tapping workers across teams to serve as designated hosts during lunchtime, encouraging people to sit with colleagues they don’t know in common areas and chat, and suggesting conversation topics.

While today’s workers have more ways to connect than ever, “there are only so many memes and jokes you can send over Slack,” says Maëlle Gavet , chief executive of Techstars, a pre-seed fund that has invested in 4,100 startups. “We tend to have more and more people with back-to-back calendars, more meetings and less connections.”

Gavet says that is especially the case for hybrid workers on in-office days, which they tend to use to dash from one meeting to the next.

Paradoxically, meetings can make people feel lonelier—and even more so if the meetings are virtual, behavioural researchers say. A 2023 survey by employee experience and analytics company Perceptyx found people who described themselves as “very lonely” tended to have heavier meeting loads than less-lonely staffers. More than 40% of those people spent more than half their work hours in meetings.

In Cincinnati, Kelly Roehm says she came to chafe at the meetings—sometimes as many as 12—consuming her day after joining a consulting company in 2021. She would often feel her eyes glazing over as she multitasked on other screens.

“It’s like you’re a zombie, there but not there,” says Roehm, who lived 10 minutes from the office but worked mostly remotely because she says few colleagues typically came in. It is a more common setup as companies distribute teams across more locations: At Microsoft , 27% of the company’s teams all worked in the same location last year, compared with 61% in 2019.

She compares that experience with her time more than a decade ago at a company now owned by AstraZeneca . There, she enjoyed lots of social outlets at work: a Weight Watchers group and a lunchtime crochet club.

“Now if I were to think about asking, ‘Hey, do you want to participate in something like this,’ it would just sound weird,” says Roehm, who left this year to focus on her own career-consulting business. “There wasn’t that emotional attachment that made it difficult to say, it’s time to move on.”

The power of small talk

Office chitchat, sometimes an unwanted distraction, seems to provide more benefits than many people realise, says Jessica Methot , an associate professor at Rutgers University who studies social ties at work.

In a study of 100 employees at different workplaces, Methot and fellow researchers surveyed participants at points throughout the day. They found those who had engaged in small talk reported less stress and more positivity toward co-workers.

Even exchanging pleasantries with a co-worker you barely know can help, says Sarah Wright , an associate professor at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury who studies worker loneliness.

“We used to think loneliness has to be overcome by developing meaningful relationships and having that degree of intimacy,” Wright says. “More and more, though, we’re seeing it’s these day-to-day weak ties and frequency of [interactions] with people that matters.”

Such interactions are substantially harder to replicate in a virtual environment. “The default now is, I have to schedule time with you, even if it’s five minutes, instead of just picking up the phone,” says Katie Tyson , president of Hive Brands, an online food retailer founded in 2020 as a fully remote company.

The frictions add up, she says. Last fall, the company added an office in New York where employees voluntarily gather a couple of times a week to foster more cohesion.

Coming to the office, even on a hybrid basis, tends to yield a roughly 20% to 30% boost in serendipitous connections, according to Syndezo, which analysed survey data and email and messaging traffic from more than two dozen large companies.

Yet there are diminishing returns to time in person, says Philip Arkcoll , founder of Worklytics, which analyses workforce data for Fortune 500 companies. Coming in once a month provides a significant boost in ties; two or three times a month adds a little more, Worklytics data show. Once or twice a week results in a smaller increase, though, and working in-person four or five days a week makes almost no difference.

A business priority

Ernst & Young has asked managers to use the first five minutes of team calls to engage in conversation “as real human beings,” says Frank Giampietro , whose title, chief well-being officer for the Americas, was created in 2021 to help support employees during the pandemic.

The professional-services firm is also training employees to spot and reach out to co-workers struggling with issues such as isolation. To date, more than 1,600 employees have taken the training.

One challenge is that American workers have sacrificed connection for productivity, says Julie Rice , co-founder of fitness chain SoulCycle. These days, with more business contacts preferring video calls, she finds breakfast meetings and coffee dates on her calendar have been replaced with Zoom. Though efficient, such video calls are less likely to yield conversations that can turn into useful professional connections or lasting friendships, she says.

Julie Rice says that her work schedule, once packed with coffees and in-person meetups, is now an avalanche of Zooms. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER GREGORY-RIVERA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“Even people I’m meeting with here in New York, we’ll just Zoom,” she says.

Last year, Rice co-founded Peoplehood, a company that runs “gathers” to improve connectivity and relationship skills, and employers are signing up. One, a beauty-services business with hundreds of field employees who never see each other, asked Peoplehood to host a series of gatherings for workers to meet and share job advice. Another, a marketing company with far-flung employees, requested help after surveys showed staff wanted to feel more connected.

“Whatever relationships we had pre-Covid have sort of run out of gas,” Rice says.

Good luck prodding employees to socialise, though. Nearly all the 150-odd staff at the Pleasanton, Calif., headquarters of Shaklee, the nutrition-supplements company, used to attend annual Earth Day gatherings, which involved community service, lunch and breaking early for the day, says Jonathan Ramot , the company’s North American human-resources director. Office happy hours, bowling outings and “mix and mingles” were also robustly attended.

Now that the workforce has gone remote, last year’s Earth Day event attracted 20 staffers, even though most workers live nearby.

“We have a lot of people asking for in-person events, but when we plan them, they don’t show up,” Ramot says. “Then they complain they’re lonely.”

This past April, Shaklee instead held a mandatory get-together with the chief executive, who had relocated to Florida during the pandemic and was in town. About 100 employees gathered at a brewery for food, drinks and conversation—and no speeches from the bosses.

There was a buzz in the air, Ramot says, as staff hugged and delighted in seeing each other, some for the first time. “People were saying, I miss this,” he says.

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