13 giugno 2024
by Valeria Iorio and Sonia Montrella 



Dimmed lights, jute bags filled with hazelnuts and baskets of lemons to decorate the rooms set up for world leaders to take a breather between meetings. Welcoming them is the striking ‘Tree of Life’ with cherry tree branches whose leaves are made from the pages of a book. Welcome to Borgo Egnazia, the five-star resort that recreates a typical Apulian village and will serve as the setting for the G7, the gathering of leaders of the world’s industrial democracies scheduled for June 13-15, in the village of Savelletri, in Apulia’s Fasano district.  


The entire Itria Valley is an open-air construction site: State Highway 16, which connects Fasano to Bari, is closed in several places. Teams of workers are hard at work resurfacing major roads. The details are top secret. The organizational machine—along with an impressive security apparatus—is in the hands of the Italian government. But in the land of ancient olive trees, rumors abound. And the mayors are hoping. Some are ready to bet on a lunch at the Michelin starred ‘Grotta Palazzese’ in Polignano a Mare, some on the photo opportunity with the traditional trulli of Alberobello with their corbelled roofs in the background.  


Dimmed lights, jute bags filled with hazelnuts and baskets of lemons to decorate the rooms set up for world leaders to take a breather between meetings


“What I’m really hoping is to see the world leaders pose for the official photo along our Belvedere with the trulli behind them,” confides Alberobello Mayor Francesco De Carlo. The spot is definitely overcrowded and the town does offer other picturesque views, but the Belvedere “would be the most convenient location for implementing security protocols,” the mayor explains. 

“Welcome to the Land of Fairy Tales,” reads an inscription on the trullo church in this 15th-century village that has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Narrow streets wind all along the hillside connecting hundreds of these conical stone dwellings, which were originally built as temporary shelters in the countryside or permanent housing for farmers. Alberobello’s skyline has fascinated and inspired numerous artists, filmmakers, writers and photographers since as far back as the late 19th century: from Pierpaolo Pasolini to Mario Monicelli who, in 1965, set a scene from Casanova ’70 in the Trullo Sovrano [TN: known as the ‘capital of the trulli’, a larger building and the only one with two storeys], starring the very young Marcello Mastroianni and Moira Orfei. The hope that the mayor’s dream will be fulfilled is fueled by a very brief communication: “They asked us not to organize any events because they would be more of an impediment than an opportunity.”  


A short distance away, the scenery changes completely and the stone and mortar buildings give way to numerous old farms, and then to breathtaking cliffs overlooking the sea. It is Polignano a Mare, the ‘Meravi­glioso’ hometown of [TN: title of the song by] Domenico Modugno, which stands on a rocky spur overlooking the Adriatic and dotted with sea caves. “During the G7, it happens to be the day of our patron saint, St Vitus the Martyr and it’s a big local holiday,” says the mayor of Polignano a Mare, Vito Carrieri. “It would be an honor to show the leaders our local fanfare, the festive lighting, the religious rites.  I like to think that in some outings, politicians and first ladies will be able to really experience Polignano. We are working to ensure that the town is prepared for the event, from the point of view of both street furniture and security.”   

The town’s trump card, however, remains Grotta Palazzese, the restaurant set in a cave in the rocky ridge, with undisturbed views of the sea stretching to the horizon. “It’s a unique and romantic place. I find it evocative even in the rain,” says chef Enzo Martino, who prepares gourmet dishes for more than 150 people a day. The location is in high demand especially by well-off foreign tourists: “They come from all corners of the earth—from Japan, from America—and the biggest challenge is to satisfy all their different tastes.” Work is at full pace for 8 months of the year: “It’s tiring,” the chef explains, “the latest you can sit down to eat in the evening is 10:30 pm. But for me, as someone born locally, it’s an honor.” The opportunity came at the right time. “I have the enthusiasm and the physical strength, because you have to be young to work in this beautiful location with flights of stairs separating the kitchen from the dining area and with the storeroom two floors away and no elevator.”  

Leaving the cave restaurant and walking a few hundred meters, you come to the workshop of Peppino Campanella, a local artist who creates pieces made of stone and glass that are in demand all over the world. These ‘sculptures of light’ illuminate his dark workshop, set in an old oil mill. But if you walk all the way through to the back, you discover its secret garden: a terrace—among the largest in the town—suspended over the sea with a view of Lama Monachile. “It was a stroke of luck. My grandfather was very far-sighted. He was an ice cream maker in the 1960s but invested all his savings in this place. It was a very large oil mill, which the owner sold by dividing it into lots. My grandfather bought one and rented it to an auto body shop, which kept it until I took it over and cleaned out all the junk.” It is his world: he works here, he lives here (he has a house over the workshop), he invites friends and hosts events here, but the sense of gratitude never fades. “I am in a privileged position, but only by good fortune. And that’s precisely why I allow all tourists to walk through to the terrace,” assures the artist, who over the years has been inundated with “endless offers to buy,” all of which he has rejected. “The rumor now is that I’m crazy, but that’s okay,” adds Campanella. 


In the total secrecy that surrounds the G7, the the Melpignano family, owners of the exclusive Borgo Egnazia resort, are among the very few to have been officially informed of the looming arrival of the distinguished guests. At Borgo Egnazia, whose guests have included stars including Madonna, David Beckham and his family, and Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, privacy and silence is dogma. Conceived by local interior designer Pino Brescia and built by the Melpignano family, Borgo Egnazia is a great tribute to Apulia, to its historic architecture, its fascinating peasant culture and the enormous heritage of its local traditions.  

The rooms—inside and out—have the appearance of a typical old house in any of the valley’s towns. Guests can stroll along to the ‘piazza,’ where twenty or so stalls re-enact a typical local market. Then the large swimming pool, one of four at the resort, for those who don’t feel like going to the private beach that is just a short bike ride away. The resort also boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, ‘I due camini’ run by Domingo Schingaro, a spa and Roman baths. The borgo, scattered over sixteen hectares, was built completely from scratch using local materials between 2005 and 2010. It is not so much an attempt at imitating the old farmsteads, as a reproduction of the more ‘rustic,’ more genuine Apulia.  This architectural work is the result of extensive research of the local area that took its inspiration from ancient farmsteads and farmworkers’ villages, both symbols of Apulia and places where the essential nature of the forms and materials make way for the story of a strongly rooted culture. 







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