Two summers ago, I spent a month in a small town called Martignano in the southern part of Puglia, Italy in a region called the Salento, also known as the heel of the boot.
Martignano, with only 1770 inhabitants (most of them old), is one of a chain of villages that were once Greek. The Greek influence has lasted, and the people in the area, relatively isolated, spoke a watered-down Greek language until recently. The towns people also speak a distinct dialect, which has Greek influences as well.
It is these quaint historic aspects, the groves and groves of olive trees and the pristine beaches that have created a kind of buzz about the region, threatening a mass influx of northern Italians, and foreigners (especially the Russians).
During my month in the one-church town, I did not have a car, so I would bike from town to town, (without a helmet and with a bike that got flat tires). Nonetheless, I still managed to see all of these little villages in the area, all with their own history and unique aspects.
I distinctly remember riding through a village called Caprarica di Lecce, 10 minutes outside of the regal Puglese city of Lecce.
I recal seeing for sale signs on a few doors; I imaged renovating a ruin, a fantasy that has been played out in fact and fiction.
Coincidentally, one of my dearest friends Monica -- from my time in Rome--and her husband, Marcello, bought a ruin in that very town shortly after I left. After 24 months - I use months because they did so much of the work themselves, I think it was a kind of childbirth of sorts - they transformed what was left of a 17th to 18th century casa corte that architecturally teetered between a flat-out ruin, and a former estate in disrepair.
My friends were able to see the potential of a vague stucture with a few rooms, vaulta stella (a vaulted ceiling with a star shape), blocks of stone that were formerly walls and vegetation growing through whatever it could manage to root into.
Here are some before and after pictures of the project that they have transformed into a bed and breakfast.