How a hotel and a remarkable woman over the years have changed – for the better – the geography and hospitality of a place in Italy: Masseria San Domenico

Text: Sofia Catalano

Far-sighted is certainly the adjective that best suits her. But also curious, dynamic, enterprising, tireless, and above all the first to have believed in exclusive tourism in Puglia. We are talking about Marisa Lisi Melpignano, the entrepreneur who, as a forerunner, revised and corrected the concept of the Masseria twenty-five years ago, in a glamorous key, but without ever distorting it. This is how Masseria San Domenico was born, in Savelletri di Fasano, a true paradise, with forty rooms and suites, where the art of receiving guests is based on ancient culture and tradition, but revisited in an international perspective. “It was my country home, the Masseria. It was one of those weekend homes where you take the family furniture that is left over, beautiful but not precious, where you receive friends, spend time with relatives, where you live your free time in serenity and joy,” says Mrs Marisa. “I decided to make it a five-star hotel and host guests as if they were at home. It was a real challenge for the area, people thought I was crazy, they laughed at me. But step by step I did it, and it was a success for everyone.” In fact, Masseria San Domenico has become a beacon, an example to be followed, which has given a lot of work to local people, and has been a driving force in changing the economy of the area.


Respecting its history, Marisa thought of hospitality as typical of a middle-class home: good food, good wine, peace, serenity, a welcoming, classic environment, colours that caress the eye, but no unnecessary or inappropriate luxury. What interested her and still interests her is above all the details: for example, all the linen is washed “in house” with special attention to perfume and ironing (an invaluable pampering). And the cuisine? All exclusively local, with recipes taken from family books: grandmother, mother, mother-in-law, and obviously with excellent raw materials, and always close by.

There is no glamorous life in the Masseria, only tranquillity and rest, by the pool, in the house amidst the classic furniture creating a cosy atmosphere, in the garden for reading in the shade of the centuries-old olive trees, typical of Puglia. A winning formula that this year celebrates 25 years. A unique and original philosophy, appreciated by customers who return year after year, which also includes self-care: for example, with Thalassotherapy using water from the Adriatic Sea, taken from a depth of four hundred metres, filtered and made bacterially pure. Rich in minerals and oligo-elements and mixed with algae, it helps to reduce stress, detoxify and revitalise body and soul. It goes without saying that the Masseria also has a fully equipped gym, Turkish bath, sauna and relaxation area. You can also choose to go for a walk among the olive trees with your personal trainer, playing golf in one of the best Club in Italy (eighteen-hole golf course), take a yoga session or do some stretching. But you can also decide, to laze about, to reach the sandy beach with a short walk, or the more indented one between the rocks and the green/blue water.
But the thing that Mrs Marisa is most proud of is definitely the San Domenico Foundation, set up in 2001 and based in the Masseria. “Thanks to the resort’s fame, I have been able to promote many cultural activities and I am happy about that. I always want to stimulate the recovery of heritages that are literally abandoned and instead deserve the utmost attention. First and foremost, the rupestrian settlements in the Fasano and Monopoli areas, of which extensive evidence has survived, often intact. In fact, the Foundation’s activities focus in particular on cave dwellings and rupestrian churches with their contents (the precious Byzantine pictorial cycles), the surrounding nature and the preservation of native vegetation. The Foundation’s conferences and activities have captured the interest of many and this has been an integral part of the driving force behind today’s Apulian Renaissance, of which Marisa Melpignano is one of the prime movers. 

But the Signora is not stopping and despite the pandemic and forced closures she has other projects in the pipeline. The first is to recover an old marble factory belonged to her beloved husband Sergio Melpignano, who has always helped and supported her, and turn it into an exhibition space, also dedicated to cultural events, a significant gesture for the local community as well. And that’s not all, there is also a new addition to the Masseria, a real “gem”. A completely independent cottage: two rooms, a living room characterised by typical Grottaglie handmade ceramics, a private swimming pool and a lush garden; an oasis of beauty, peace and relaxation, for those who want extreme privacy. The last piece of a magical place where holidays rhyme with culture, history and tradition in the name of authenticity.