Travel Review: Masseria Sant'Angelo (Corigliano d'Otranto, Italy)

After spending a week at a beach house in Torre Lapillo, in the Salento region of southern Italy, we packed up the car and headed inland to a farm stay in Corigliano d'Otranto. Italy has a large network of rural or farm accommodations, conveniently listed and categorized on the agriturismo website. After searching for hours and narrowing down our choices, we finally settled on a place called Masseria Sant'Angelo, in the small town of Corigliano d'Otranto.

We chose this particular location because they listed themselves as being a pedagogical farm, offering school group tours during the school year and welcoming children in general year round. We also liked that they listed an ability to provide gluten free meals that are Celiac suitable, which is always a concern for us. Although to be honest, we were surprised at how many places in Italy advertised an ability to provide gluten free meals, even in the most rural areas.

The one concern we had was that the farm lacks a pool, unlike many of the other options in the area. Temperatures climb during the dry summers, and we were there during a heat wave. We almost chose another farm stay nearby with a sort of water park on the grounds, but finally realized that if a water park was what we wanted, then we shouldn't be looking for farm stays! We decided to give Masseria Sant'Angelo a chance, and we are happy we did!

Location

Masseria Sant'Angelo is located almost in the center of southern Salento, making it conveniently located for exploring the region. The beaches of the Ionian on one side and the Adriatic on the other were less than a 30 minute drive either way, and a trip to the southernmost tip of the heel of Italy's boot was only 45 minutes by car. The town of Corigliano d'Otranto is a small town with a large castle sitting smack dab in the middle, and boasts a great park for kids and a lively market in the town square. The entire town is walkable in an hour or two, and we found the locals to be quite friendly and welcoming, even with our poor level of Italian. Its proximity to Lecce, Otranto, the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, and some of the regions loveliest beaches make it a great base from which to explore the region.

Accommodations

We arrived earlier than the normal check-in, during the hottest part of the day. After locating reception, we were told our cottage was ready and that we could make ourselves comfortable in the cottage and head over to do a formal check-in once we were settled. The farm has several accommodations dotted around the property, ranging from small, one room set-ups to larger self-catering cottage-style properties. We rented a two room cottage with a small kitchen so that we could prepare some of our own meals. The decor was simple and rustic, but the cottage was clean and well-equipped. The main room contained a king size bed and a bunk bed, and the the second contained the kitchen, a large dining table, and another bed. A bathroom with a shower and a large front porch with a picnic table and some lounge chairs completed the accommodations. The kitchen came with a starter supply of coffee, sugar, salt, and the farm's own olive oil. An ancient olive tree stood outside our accommodations, providing additional shade in the afternoon.

Our cottage was part of a larger building with two other accommodations attached, but the porch had dividing walls between accommodation so there was quite a bit of privacy. We got lucky, since our neighbours were a lovely Italian family staying with their two young children, who quickly befriended our own. The main home has a washing machine available to long-stay guests, but there is also a wash-tub near the cottage and a clothesline outside. We had no trouble getting our clothes washed and dried while we were there.

The Farm

Masseria Sant'Angelo is a pedagogical farm, with a few different areas of focus, run primarily by Rocco and Ursula, and their two children.  Rocco's parents also live on the farm. They grow organic fruits and vegetables, ranging from apples to plums, figs, squash, eggplant, zucchini, and more. The olive trees dotted around the property produce olive oil that is sold directly at the farm for a reasonable price. We bought some to bring back to Paris with us. They also produce jams and spreads from their fruit trees. When we were there in July the region was experiencing a severe drought, having been without real rainfall since before May, so the ground was quite dry and some of the trees were producing less fruit than usual.

The owner's 92-year-old father cares for the small herd of goats that produces the milk and cheese used at the farm's restaurant. His daughter-in-law explained that when he was younger, he had a herd of several hundred goats and produced large quantities of milk and cheese, but that now he cares for a small herd of less than twenty animals. The kids loved watching him take the goats out and then watching them get milked afterward. They also have hens for egg production, a few donkeys, and horses that are available for lessons or other therapy programs.

Activities at the Farm

Life on the farm for guests is fairly laid back. The owners are happy to include adults and children in a variety of activities, or you can simply relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the environment. There is plenty of room for kids to run around safely, and many activities to keep them occupied. There isn't a formal playground, but our kids didn't need one. There were some bikes available, a small library with books to borrow, and a rope tied to a tree that provide every child staying on that farm ridiculous amounts of joy. No television, no pool, and no playground, and I didn't see one bored child the entire time we were there. There were plenty of other things to do, including enjoying the following:

Animals: The goats are taken out twice a day, and children are allowed to help herd and milk them. Our kids got to milk a goat and then try the fresh milk. The hens lay eggs, and kids can watch them get collected. The horses are taken for daily walks, and children are allowed to help walk, feed, and groom them. My kids also got to ride one (the youngest rode a donkey instead!). In addition there are several cats and dogs that roam the property, which our kids loved to pet and spend time with.

Garden: There is a vegetable patch located behind the formal agricultural area full of vegetables that are free for guests to pick and eat. Our kids had a blast searching for tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, and more each day to add to our soups and salads. It was a wonderful learning experience for them to see how things grow, to learn how to harvest food without destroying the whole plant, and to learn how to choose the perfect specimen. They couldn't wait to eat their picks, and our youngest wandered the fields with hands and mouth stuffed with cherry tomatoes. The property also has fruit trees that are open to guests, and although we were there a bit before the harvest, we managed to pick grapes from the vine, as well as some plums that were ready to eat. I could only stare wistfully at the figs, which weren't ready to be picked yet.

Historical site: The farm serves as a living museum as well, with old tools and even some old farming sites that dot the property. There are a few old farmer's lodgings, an old pit where the snow would be kept and covered to provide ice during the summer months, old tools, and rock formations. Many are labeled, but the owner is also more than happy to take guests on a tour to explain everything in detail.

Restaurant

Typically when we go on vacation, my husband and I choose self-catering places because it makes it easier to feed our gluten free son safely. It's not always easy to find safe gluten free food, and there's nothing worse than watching him eat nothing but a banana at breakfast because there's nothing else safe for him to eat. When we contacted the farm about his food restrictions, they were extremely knowledgeable and explained that they had a separate preparation area for gluten free food. They told me that they are used to accommodating for Celiac because they often have to provide special meals for children during the school visits. They assured me it wouldn't be a problem to accommodate my son, and there wasn't a surcharge for the service.

The farm offers a daily breakfast that is not included in the weekly rates, but since we had a kitchen we only took advantage the last day. The food was good and I would say worth the price. The staff knew my son was gluten free, and there was a sealed package of gluten free bread beside his plate. It was thoughtful and had my son smiling the whole time.

Where they really came through though were the dinners. The farm offers family style meals a few nights a week depending on occupancy. They held three meals while we were there, and I have to say, the meals are what made this farm stay extra special. A large communal dining space is set up on the large patio, and pitchers of wine and water are made available. The dinner is a set menu that isn't communicated to guests ahead of time, and that uses whatever is in season at the farm. They happily accommodate for vegetarians or those with food restrictions, and they expertly accommodated my son. The meals start with simple antipasto dishes, and then run several courses to include meat, pasta, salads, and dessert. With each course, one of the kitchen staff would tell me or my husband whether the dish was safe for my son to eat. When a dish wasn't gluten free, they typically brought him a substitute on a separate plate. They even prepared the pasta dish with gluten free pasts, and assured me that the sauce for his dish was prepared without using shared utensils.

On our final evening, they were throwing a birthday party, and making traditional pizzas. They happily made our son his own, using a separate oven and lining the surface with aluminum foil so there was no chance of contamination. We never felt it was an inconvenience, and my son never felt left out. It was a wonderful experience for all of us, and so thoughtful on the part of the staff at the farm.

Culture

Corigliano d'Otranto is located in what is known as Grecia Salento, which is an enclave of villages that were settled by Greeks, and which still practice some of the customs and even speak an older form of Greek. On several evenings the husband and 92-year-old father were joined by local musicians to perform some of their traditional music and dance for guests and people from the town. The music was enchanting, and it felt as though we were peeking behind the veil of some long-lost culture that somehow was still thriving so many years later. The town is the self-proclaimed Most Philosophical Town in Italy, and evidence of Greek influence is visible everywhere.

Our week at Masseria Sant'Angelo was a wonderful experience for my husband and me as well as for our kids. The family that runs the farm and everyone who works there are lovely people, and more than happy to tell you about the farm and the area if asked. Our kids were treated with kindness and our eldest son was able to enjoy meals without worry, which was such a relief. The accommodations were clean and the price was reasonable, costing much less than a hotel. Even the meals were affordable, at only 22 Euros per adult and 7 Euros per child, even with the gluten free accommodations. None of us wanted to leave, and can't wait to be able to return. Highly recommended if you're looking for something a little bit different and much more relaxed than a traditional hotel stay.

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