Poggio Etrusco, a farmhouse-style B&B owned by very knowledgeable cookbook author Pamela Sheldon Johns, in the Tuscan countryside near Montepulciano, Italy Apartments or a room. Breakfast outside your door in the morning, or with other guests in the main house. Pool in the summer. Quiet year-round. Daily info about everywhere in Italy, food-wise, from Pamela.
I now require soft, fresh white mozzarella cheese every morning. And sometimes as a first course in the evening , too. Strewn with red, juicy cherry tomato halves, a drizzle of this season’s gold-green olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. This the cucina povere (cuisine of the poor) from Puglia, the Italian province in “the heel of the boot.”
The food is abundantly fresh in this warm Mediterranean climate, though traditionally without much variety: pasta made without eggs, fresh cow’s milk cheese, native greens and wild onions, chick peas or fava beans, and bright, ripe cherry tomatoes, both fresh and dried. They decorate their few pastas and creamy new mozzarellas with knobs and twists and curls. They create a golden tan sauce with fava beans for their wild chicory, and augmented it with a chick pea condiment. They eat petal-shaped pasta with simple, fresh tomato sauce. For a side dish, they caramelize wild onions then scramble in some egg. Today, these are prized elements of native Puglian cuisine. Along with wines made from grapes that have been used for wine for 2500 years
What do they drink now? This is not a simple answer, as Puglia is made up of several different provinces, 25 DOCs, each with their own rules about which grapes to grow and blend. Many Puglian indigenous grapes are unheard of in much of the rest of the world: Bombino Bianco, Bianco d’Alessano, Greco Bianco, Nero di Troia (also known as Uva di Troia), Negroamaro, Sussumaniello. Some of the grapes we know, but not well: Aleatico, Aglianico, Fiano, Malvasia, Moscato and Primitivo.
Tourism is expanding in tandem with the wine industry’s revitalization. Puglians are reaching out to industry professionals from other countries. Though there are, of course, more hotels and rental properties being built, I was fascinated with the country houses and masserias – ancient, fortified farmsteads – converted into hotels with often with restaurants, spas, pools and beach shuttles. Their welcoming rooms offer privacy as well as sanctuary, opening off central living spaces, courtyards and lanes. Like those I visited: country house hotel Cefalicchio with its restaurant, spa and biodynamic vineyards; and village-like Masseria Torre Coccaro which has spa, restaurant, pool and even its own cooking school, if you want to learn how to make the Puglian dishes you’ve been tasting – along with all those newly-discovered wines.
Three Getaway Destinations – to do absolutely nothing for a while.
If, like me, you want some time off, without even having to run to a spa appointment.
CAPE GRACE HOTEL, Cape Town, South Africa
You’re in a quiet, luxe-comfortable room with views of Cape Town harbor. The spa is upstairs. But downstairs is Bascule, an excellent bar featuring more types of whiskey than you ever imagined — at least 400 at any given time. Order one (or two) to sip in your room while contemplating the yachts docked below. Ready to sit down and read, but finished your last book on the plane? They’ve stocked the room with several, in your native language. After reading for a while, when you’re ready to put down the book, you find one more small thing just where you need it: a Cape Grace Hotel bookmark.
INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON, Virginia
After an amazing meal, stroll to your room which is through the garden, or just upstairs. Get into your robe and collapse into an armchair. Pick up the book that happens to be lying on the table next to your elbow, and it’s your favorite childhood classic. Later, before turning out the light, pour yourself a taste of port from the bedside bottle they’ve set out for you. Sweet dreams…
MEADOWOOD NAPA VALLEY
It’s late afternoon and you’ve just arrived at your room. Before trotting down to the spa. swimming pool or dinner, maybe there’s time to stretch out on the couch and read a few pages of an escapist novel, or a bit of Napa history from the book you borrowed off the shelf by the wine tasting at check-in. The setting sun slants into your eyes. You close them and realize the air has cooled in end-of-day Northern California. You reach out, and there’s an afghan at your fingertips. You pull it over, sighing contentedly.
HOTEL CHEVAL, low-key luxury in Paso Robles, which happens to be a great wine destination. Right off the main square, you’re at the hotel in half a block. If you’re not ready to retire, grab a bottle and a few glasses and relax by the outdoor fire, cozy year-round in California’s cool night air. The next morning, feel pampered when you discover the customizable breakfast basket left outside your door.
HOTEL SAN ROCCO, a small, very welcoming hotel with an incredibly fine restaurant in a tiny town in the wine-oriented region of northwest Istria (Croatia). Stay upstairs, enjoy the pool or spa if you have time.