Already at the time of Frederick II when Puglia was a strip of Swabian land the farms played a strategic role in the lives of the local population. In fact, not only they served as gathering places but also to agricultural experimentation where was decisive the role and contribution of the Cistercian monks. In fact, the emperor used the lay of the Cistercian abbeys of Puglia, Sicily and Terra di Lavoro for experiments in the field of cultivation techniques and livestock.
So it is no coincidence that in Puglia, one of the most significant examples of the feud Abbey is that of Cerrate in Casalabate near Lecce: arised in proximity of the Roman road that connected Brindisi with Lecce and Otranto and surrounded by rich rural environment of the area, the Abbey, expanded to become one of the most important monastic centers of southern Italy, included sixteen farms. Between these two farm complexes, after being left abandoned for years, have been subjected to restoration interventions with non-invasive and respectful of their history by Mrs. Annalisa Fedele Piccinni. They are Tenuta Monacelli and Masseria Giampaolo, two valuable places that we have got to know and appreciate during the gala dinner prepared by chef Andrea Serravezza that deals with banqueting and signed the menu for special occasions in the two structures.
In the past the two farms were subject to the payment of tithes on the fruits to the Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate, as well as erbatica, sheep or goats every year, carnatic, a pig each sow giving birth and breeding, with the whole cheese and curd which is obtained by milking one day. Tenuta Monacelli has belonged to the family of Cigala, barons of Castro, then to the convent of San Giovanni d’Ajmo the Order of Preachers and then to the Ruffo and Bagnara Principles.
Today the farm, consists by a two-story building equipped with trap doors, is an elegant, charming hotel with restaurant open in season to outside guests and meeting facilities obtained from the ancient and evocative underground oil mill which extends below the central courtyard. In what was once a small church houses the reception, while around you can enjoy the charm of its garden and its court, lit by torches as 800, which reports to atmosphere now lost. The rooms are spacious and elegantly decorated in wood and wrought iron, were recovered in the historic structures of the farm and are all equipped with private bathroom with shower or bath: are available in standard, superior and suites.
Among Tenuta Monacelli and Masseria Giampaolo, the most important of the sixteen farmhouses that were part of the Cerrate feud, extending an olive grove with over 50.000 ancient olive trees: together the two structures offer their guests the Rifugio del Re restaurant, gym, 24 rooms and suites and the beautiful pool surrounded by greenery. The largest suite is housed in the ‘400 tower that overlooking at the center of the courtyard, Masseria Giampaolo and where the view stretches on a wide stretch of trees to the sea on the horizon. At the foot of the massive tower you can still see the deep “ruts”, reflecting the high attendance of the site since ancient times, while in the basement there are two large oil mills where it is very striking somewhere between huge millstones, tanks carved into the rock and the chiaroscuro of shadows and lights of the holes in the vaults through which occurred emptying sacks of olives.
Back above ground, the advice is to get lost in the paths of the forest of oak trees that extends all around enjoying the deep well-being ensured by a walk through mastic, sage and myrtle.
Upon returning, greedy stop at the Rifugio del re, with the typical dishes of Salento made with fresh, quality products, starting with extra virgin olive oil produced from the olive trees of the countryside around farms. Countrysides where Arturo was able to run free and without limits among the twisted trunks of olive trees and upright blades of prickly pears. Then, tired and happy, he rested on his mat in the large room reserved to us after the impeccable yet friendly hospitality of Lucia and Maria, thanks to which the guests have the immediate feeling of having arrived in a unique place by the special atmosphere, full of history and past and where elegance, never excessive, communicates harmony and wellbeing.