Words and photos by Ami Mckay

Ami McKay and husband Don Thomas

My husband Don and I have travelled all over Italy (we dream of owning a place there someday), but Puglia remains my very favourite destination. It feels like home now when we’re driving through the countryside. It’s such a contrast from my hometown of Vancouver—there’s something magical about the brilliantly blue skies, the orange trees in January, the bright white architecture. There’s a sense of peace I have around the colour palette here, and the slower pace of life.

1. Masseria Salinola

Masserias are fortified farmhouses that were built all over Puglia in the 16th century, and this agriturismo destination is still a working farm run by multiple generations. The dad is in his 80s, Nona works the kitchen and son Daniele runs the day-to-day—it’s truly a family affair. I’ve visited for three different birthday dinners, and we’ve stayed here in the off-season as well, when the weather is cooler—they light an olive-wood fire for you in your room. It’s a flawless, full-service masseria that caters to all your needs (even the ones you haven’t yet thought of). masseriasalinola.it

2. Ostuni

This is possibly my favourite little town in Puglia. It’s built on top of a hill, and it’s known as the white city (La Città Bianca)—all the buildings are a mix of earthy stone and a brilliant white that reflects the intense summer sun. It feels a little like Greece, but in its own particularly Italian way. It’s made for wandering, poking into jewellery stores and antique shops, walking up little narrow staircases where tiny restaurants are tucked into alleyways, with flowers and colourful tablecloths on their tables. When you see photographs of this place, it almost looks make-believe—like someone drew it. When Italians take off July and August, they come here.

3. Trulli Namastè, Alberobello

Trullo houses (trulli is the plural) are unique to Puglia: mortarless white homes with conical roofs you’ll see dotted over the countryside. I spend so much time looking for places to stay—months, really, to find the perfect spot—and this one is really spectacular. It’s just been renovated, and it’s pretty magical: they sandblasted all of the stone inside and grouted it with light mortar, and the floors are all micro-cement. airbnb.ca/rooms/5431866

4. Trattoria Bère Vecchie, Cisternino

We were wandering to find lunch when we discovered this spot: I’m always looking for restaurants where Nona is in the kitchen. I had what was likely the best pasta of my life here— their dishes are truly beautiful: think fresh pasta filled with burrata and datterino tomato coulis plus a drizzle of basil emulsion. The town itself, Cisternino, is a smaller version of Ostuni, and it’s a white city as well. It’s absolutely worth a stroll through its tiny walkways and winding staircases. @trattoriaberevecchie

5. Ancient Olive Groves, Masseria Brancati

Puglia is home to ancient olive trees. Some are up to 3,000 years old, and were planted before the Romans. The trees don’t grow very large, and they’re still producing olives. When I toured one of these groves, I asked the guide if I could hug one of the trees, and he said, “Of course! You give the tree energy, and the tree gives you energy.” I love going to wineries, but to taste the olive oils here and understand their subtleties—it’s an intimate and very sweet experience. masseriabrancati.it

6. Sunday Antique Markets

I can’t wait for Sundays when I’m in Puglia—the treasures you find! You have to do a bit of research to figure out what town is holding their antique market on a given Sunday, but there’s one nearly every week, and it’s worth it. I always have a few pieces in my luggage to carry home, from framed art and vintage linens to brass sculptures and candle holders. I’ve really become a designer who loves a mix of contemporary and pre-loved pieces. I love the stories behind those vintage finds.

This article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of Western Living Magazine.