Living Among the Olive Groves in Southern Italy

For Leonie Whitton and David Westbuy, the biggest advantage of being in Puglia, at the heel of Italy, is access to fresh, delicious food.

“We can source most food stuffs within 20 miles. Here, farmers are still growing olives and produce and you can buy direct in the area. It is the opposite of the supermarket culture,” says Leonie.

In fact, the couple themselves produce some of their own food. From their olive trees, they can make more than a year’s supply of extra virgin olive oil. Leonie makes jams and marmalades from the fruit of the orange, loquat and lemon trees on their property. They have fresh herbs, a small vegetable garden and five chickens that provide fresh eggs.

Their house wine is from a local winemaker who grows only traditional Puglia grapes. The other food is all local, some purchased at the farmer’s market two miles away in Ostuni.

“We like our food and don’t count the cost, but if we did, the weekly bill for the two of us would probably be in the region of $100,” says Leonie. “We drink the Puglian Primitivo, which is now being recognized as one of Italy’s finest wines. Its price all over the world is rocketing, but here in Puglia we can still drink the best without breaking the bank. Depending on what we buy, a liter of wine will cost between $1.60 and $3.25.”

For 14 years the couple conducted tours from a convent that they had converted into a guest house in the hills near Lucca, Tuscany. They spent half of each year in Italy and half in England, where David was still teaching art at a college. (Leonie had just retired from teaching art.)

While the hills of Tuscany are beautiful, the practicalities of their location were less so. “Our place was at the top of a hill, and we had to park the car at the bottom, and carry everything up,” says David.

Leonie and David started looking for other options and finally they went south to Puglia because of the nicer weather, proximity to the sea and the low cost. Within a week, they bought a run-down masseria (traditional Puglia farmhouse) for $199,800 envisioning an artists’ retreat.

With a budget of only $26,660 and the occasional help of friends and family, they accomplished the rebuild and renovation in less than a year.

And in 2004, they opened as a B&B and as a venue for special art weeks which they teach. “The business evolved and grew from our own interests, into food tours, wine tours, and art tours. We pick what we like and create the next thing,” said Leonie.

“Most importantly,” adds David, “We run our business; our business does not run us.

“When time allows, we love to wander around the local countryside, either on foot or by bike. We live on the coastal plain that is given over mainly to olive oil production. This means flat countryside, endless olive groves and a varied coastline—perfect for a leisurely bike ride or stroll along the beach,” says David.

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