Wealthy Buyers Are Turning This Region Into One of Italy’s Hottest Home Markets
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Wealthy Buyers Are Turning This Region Into One of Italy’s Hottest Home Markets

Once an impoverished area, Puglia has seen an influx of high-end buyers willing to spend millions on historic farmhouses and villas

By J.S. MARCUS
Thu, Jun 15, 2023 8:09amGrey Clock 5 min

In a shaded spot near his new swimming pool, Northern Italian architect Paolo Genta is taking stock of his Southern Italian dream project—a luxurious vacation compound, serving three generations of his extended Turin family, that he created in Puglia, the region running down the heel of Italy’s boot.

On a hot spring day, over a glass of local rosé wine and tomato-and-pasta canapés, Genta, 64, remembers his initial encounter over a decade ago with the sunbaked property, which he bought in stages between 2012 and 2015, for $537,400, and then restored up through 2022.

“A friend took me here,” he says, of the 2/3-acre estate, then in ruins. “But it immediately felt familiar to me—as if I already knew it.”

He has gone on to spend around $1.075 million to realise his vision by renovating three adjacent structures, dating back to at least the 18 century, as well as $236,400 on the lavish landscaping. He and the Genta clan plan to use the compound’s seven bedrooms, spread over two buildings, up to a few months a year. The third building, a deconsecrated Baroque chapel, is the perfect place to have a cool lunch on a hot day.

Genta is one of a growing number of luxury-minded homeowners who are transforming Puglia, once a remote and impoverished corner of Italy, into an outpost of upscale living. Historical stone farmhouses, called masserie, are getting high-tech upgrades, while Puglia’s traditional cone-topped rural structures, called trulli, are being converted into high-end primary suites.

Puglia is one of the few areas of mainland Southern Italy—along with the Campania region, home to Naples and the Amalfi Coast—to develop a reliable luxury real-estate sector. According to Idealista.it, the Italian residential real-estate site, home prices here now average about $121 per square foot, which is higher than in nearby Basilicata, Calabria and Abruzzo.

Luxury properties are clustered in two areas. One, Valle d’Itria, is an agricultural valley between Bari, Puglia’s largest city, and Ostuni, an old, atmospheric hilltop town. This is ground zero for Puglia’s trulli legacy. Thousands of the structures, large and small, mark the hilly countryside, creating a distinctive, rustic skyline. Further south, around the Baroque city of Lecce, lies Salento, where Genta has his compound. Flatter and hotter, with simultaneous access to both Adriatic and Ionian beaches, Salento offers more seclusion.

Many residential buildings in Valle d’Itria, a Puglia area increasingly known for upscale homes and luxury resorts, are topped with cone-shaped trulli.

According to Idealista, Puglia’s Brindisi province, which includes much of Valle d’Itria, is seeing the region’s strongest price increases, up 9.2% between May 2022 and May 2023. The most expensive sale in 2022 was a 6,500-square-foot Salento masseria, not far from the Genta compound, which sold for $3.78 million.

Valle d’Itria is known for its white-stone towns and exclusive hotels, such as Borgo Egnazia, a 40-acre coastal resort, where high-season prices can reach $26,585 a night. Near Ostuni, a restored, trulli-topped stone house dating back several centuries has an asking price of $1.72 million; the five-bedroom home sits on a roughly 7.5-acre lot.

Valle d’Itria appeals to design royalty, such as Milan’s MariaCristina Buccellati, who works with her family’s luxury jewellery label, now owned by Richemont. Salento, meanwhile, attracts Hollywood royalty; local homeowners include actress Helen Mirren and her husband, director Taylor Hackford. In Salento, near the very bottom of the heel, a restored 12-bedroom castle, with a large enclosed garden, has an asking price of $3.56 million.

Canadian couple Alper Ozdemir and Cynthia Liu, who arrived in Puglia from Toronto in late 2021, have bought in the heart of Valle d’Itria. The active retirees, both in their early 50s, left behind Ontario’s cold climate for Puglia’s good food, warm weather and close-to-nature lifestyle, says Ozdemir.

In February 2022, they closed on a 7.5-acre farm with a trulli-topped ruin. They paid $247,000 for the property, and plan to spend about $860,000 to turn the 3,850-square-foot structure into a two-story, three-bedroom home, built around a new swimming pool.

Like many luxury buyers in the area, the couple narrowed their choice between Valle d’Itria and Salento, settling on the former. “Salento is nice in the summer,” says Ozdemir, “but people live around here year round.”

Puglia overall has become increasingly accessible. It is now part of Italy’s high-speed train network, and it has two international airports. Staying in a local rental to oversee their renovation, Ozdemir and Liu plan to use their new home, set to be completed in 2024, as a base for exploring the country.

A new set of buyers from the San Francisco Bay Area, brothers Mark and Peter Alwast, also regard their 2-acre Valle d’Itria homestead, purchased for $355,000 in September 2022, as a convenient toehold, with plans to explore Europe. The brothers, along with Peter Alwast’s life partner and Mark Alwast’s husband, expect to spend about $322,000 to renovate a 3,000-square-foot house for their retirement.

Meanwhile, they will use it as a vacation home. Despite the far longer travel time, the foursome view it as an alternative to Northern California wine country. “In Puglia you get a lot more for your money,” says Mark Alwast, 60, a designer.

Patience is often required from buyers in Puglia. Genta needed to piece together his compound from eight different owners, with some holding out for years. Retired New York attorney Ellen Bonaventura, 62, has spent the past nine years putting back together a Salento palazzo, a 30-minute drive south of Lecce, from a cluster of disparate buildings. “It was always my dream to have a house in Italy,” says the full-time Puglia resident, who estimates that she has spent $495,000 on real estate, about $3.22 million on renovation costs and around $537,000 on furniture and art, including Neapolitan and Sicilian antiques.

To-do lists tend to grow for this new round of Puglia homeowners. In 2021, Paolo Colombo, an architect based in Lugano, Switzerland, paid $1.94 million to buy two multi trulli structures on a 3.7-acre hilltop Valle d’Itria property, and then spent $2.16 million to renovate the two buildings—which required disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the massive stonework. Completed this June, the renovation will be followed soon, says Colombo, by a free-standing, latticework yoga studio and new outdoor sleeping areas, which will give his family of five a total of eight bedrooms in the main house.

Swiss-based Italian architect Paolo Colombo celebrated his birthday at his trulli-topped compound in Valle d’Itria.

Rula Al Amad and James Woods, a Milan-based, Palestinian-American couple, have expanded their Puglia portfolio. Valle d’Itria pioneers, they started in 2006, when they paid a mere $129,000 to buy a derelict set of trulli, then spent $295,000 over the following several years to create a 2,000-square-foot vacation home.

Sensing it had become too small for their family of four, the couple paid $537,000 in 2018 for a nearby derelict masseria. They then spent about $1.57 million on a gut renovation, which wrapped up this spring. The finished compound can comfortably sleep up to 10.

Speaking in her new living room, which emphasizes the 500-year-old masseria’s use of historic local limestone, Al Amad, who first stayed in the house this past Easter, is looking ahead to winter. “We go to Michigan at Christmas but come back to Italy for New Year’s,” she says of the routine of her Midwest-born husband and their two teenage boys. “I can see doing a big New Year’s Eve party here.”



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Booming demand for wellness tourism shows no slowing, with travel related to health and well-being projected to have reached $1 trillion last year and to hit $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami.

Curated wellness travel programs are especially sought-after, specifically holistic treatments focused on longevity. Affluent travellers not only are making time to hit the gym while gallivanting across the globe, they’re also seeking destinations that specifically cater to their wellness goals, including treatments aimed at living longer.

“I believe Covid did put a spotlight on self-care and well-being,” says Penny Kriel, corporate director of spa and wellness at Salamander Collection, a group of luxury properties in places like Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. But Kriel says today’s spas are more holistic, encouraging folks to understand the wellness concept and incorporate it into their lifestyle more frequently.

“With the evolution of treatment products and technology, spas have been able to enhance their offerings and appeal to more travellers,” Kriel says.

While some growth is connected to the variety of treatments available, results and the digital world are also contributing to the wellness boom.

“The efficacy and benefits of these treatments continue to drive bookings and interest, especially with the support of social media, influencers, and celebrity endorsements,” Kriel says.

While genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods, sufficient sleep, and human connection play essential roles in living well and longer, experts believe in holistic therapies to help manage stress, boost immunity, and ultimately influence length and quality of life.

Anti Ageing and Beyond

“For years, people have been coming to spas, booking treatments, and gaining advice on how to turn the clock back with anti ageing and corrective skin treatments,” Kriel says. However, today’s treatments are far more innovative.

On Marinella Beach in Porto Rotondo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, guests at the five-star Abi d’Oru Hotel & Spa can experience the resort’s one-of-a-kind “longevity treatment,” a unique antiaging facial using one of the island’s native grapes: Cannonau. The world’s first declared “Blue Zone”—one of five designated areas where people live longer than average, some into their 100s—Sardinia produces this robust red wine varietal, the most widely planted on the island.

Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, Cannonau supposedly contains two to three times more antioxidants than other red-wine grapes. By incorporating Cannonau, Abi Spa says its unique 50-minute longevity session increases collagen production for firmer, younger-looking skin.

Maintaining a youthful appearance is just one facet of longevity treatments, which range from stress-reduction sessions like massage to nutritional support and sleep programs, Kriel says. Some retreats also offer medical services such as IV infusions and joint injections.

Keeping with the trend, Kriel is expanding Salamander Collection’s existing spa services, such as detox wraps and lymphatic drainage, to include dedicated “Wellness Rooms,” new vegan and vegetarian menu items, and well-being workshops. “Sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness will be a big focus for integration in 2024,” she says.

Data-Driven Wellness

Skyler Stillings, an exercise physiologist at Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort—an adults-only wellness centre in Lanai, Hawaii—says guests were drawn to the social aspect when the spa opened in November 2021.

“We saw a huge need for human connection,” she recalls. But over the past few years, what’s paramount has shifted. “Longevity is trending much more right now.”

Human connection is a central draw for guests at Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Billionaire co-founder of tech company Oracle Larry Ellison and physician and scientist Dr. David Angus co-founded Sensei. After the death of a mutual close friend, the duo teamed up to create longevity-based wellness retreats to nurture preventative care and a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the Lanai location, the brand established Sensei Porcupine Creek in Greater Palm Springs, California, in November 2022.

Sensei has a data-driven approach. The team performs a series of assessments to obtain a clearer picture of a guest’s health, making wellness recommendations based on the findings. While Sensei analyses that data to curate a personalised plan, Stillings says it’s up to the guests which path they choose.

Sensei’s core three-day retreat is a “Guided Wellness Experience.” For spa treatments, each guest checks into their own “Spa Hale,” a private 1,000-square-foot bungalow furnished with an infrared sauna, a steam shower, a soaking tub, and plunge pools. The latest therapies include Sarga Bodywalking—a barefoot myofascial release massage, and “Four Hands in Harmony,” a massage with two therapists working in tandem. Sensei Guides provide take-home plans so guests can continue their wellness journeys after the spa.

Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Sanctuaries for Longevity

Headquartered in Switzerland with hotels and on-site spas across the globe, Aman Resorts features an integrative approach, combining traditional remedies with modern medicine’s advanced technologies. Tucked behind the doors of the storied Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan, Banya Spa House at Aman New York—the brand’s flagship spa in the Western Hemisphere—is a 25,000-square-foot, three-floor urban oasis.

Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at Aman, says the centre provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Aman’s customisable “Immersion Programs” consist of a three- or five-day immersion. “The programs encompass treatments and experiences that touch every significant aspect to create a path for longevity, from meditation and mindfulness to nutrition and movement,” Kiyono explains.

Banya Spa House at Aman New York.
Robert Rieger

The spa’s “Tei-An Wellness Solution” features 90- to 150-minute sessions using massage, cryotherapy, and Vitamin IV infusions. Acupuncture is also on offer.

“With its rich history of Chinese Medicine, modern research, and the introduction of sophisticated electro-acupuncture medicine, acupuncture has been proven to assist with problems and increase performance,” Kiyono says.

Resetting the Mind and Body

Beyond longevity, “healthspan”—the number of years a person can live in good health free of chronic disease—is the cornerstone of Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat’s program in British Columbia, Canada.

Kirk Shave, president and program director, and his team employ a holistic approach, using lifestyles in long-living Blue Zones as a point of reference.

“We improve our daily lifestyle habits, so we live vitally as long as we’re meant to live,” Shave says of the retreat. He built the program from an anthropological stance, referencing humans as farmers, hunters, and gatherers based on their eating and sleeping patterns. Food includes vegetable-centric meals sans alcohol, sugar, bread, or dairy.

Guests wake at dawn each day and have access to sunrise yoga, several hours of “flow” or slow hiking, spa treatments, forest bathing, calming crystal singing-bowl and sound therapy sessions, and classes on stress reduction—one of Mountain Trek’s primary goals. The program motivates people to spend much of their time in nature because it’s been proven to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to inflammation and disease when elevated for extended periods.

While most guests aren’t aware of how immersive Mountain Trek’s program is when they arrive, they leave the resort revitalized after the structured, one-week program. Set in the Kootenays overlooking its eponymous river, the resort and adventure promise what Shave calls a “visceral experience of transformation.”

“They’re interested in coming to be in nature,” Shave says of the guests. “They hit a wall in their life and slipped backwards, so they know they need a reset.”

Banya Spa House at Aman New York provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being.
Robert Rieger

This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.

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