Photographed by Giselle Go and Philippe Terrien
Mercedes Prosperi’s long, lanky figure is topped by a head of cascading beach waves, bleached light by the sun. She cooes gently to Mucchina, a cow she received as a present for her 40th birthday from her husband, Antonio. Along with Mucchina, the aristocratic Mercedes and Antonio share a bucolic life with their two daughters in Otranto, Puglia, together with their horses, donkeys, ponies, goats, geese, cats, and rescued dogs in a masseria restored into a functioning farmhouse-cum-boutique hotel. The rooms are decorated with family heirlooms and restored furniture, a style that favors a mix of chic elegance and relaxed effortlessness epitomized by Mercedes herself, whose family originates from a long lineage in Milan. Two swimming pools punctuate the facade of the masseria, the bigger one facing an endless grove of olive trees, the vast land on which it sits on belonging to Mercedes and Antonio as well.
Certain mornings of the summer find the horses and ponies roaming free around the masseria to forage on the property’s generous greenery, serving as serene companions to poolside loungers. Meanwhile, Mercedes and Antonio are impeccable hosts to their houseguests, the former riding horses with children and the latter serving intimate dinners made from family recipes and homegrown vegetables. In the midst of this idyllic rural life, we sit for a chat with Mercedes.
Tell us about yourself, Mercedes. How did you arrive in Puglia?
I’m originally from Milano but I have been living in Puglia for 16 years. I arrived here with my mother and my sister when we were looking for a country house. We found a masseria that was too big to be a private house but it became a very special moment for us. It was when we decided to stay in Puglia together, to buy that masseria, renovate it, and turn it into a hotel. At first, we thought to stay here in Puglia for about 8 months or to do half a year in Puglia and the other half in Milano. But we quickly understood that it was not possible because if you have a hotel, the work is full-time. In the winter, it’s very important to do all the maintenance work that the masseria needs because we have an old building.
“We found a masseria that was too big to be a private house but it became a very special moment for us. It was when we decided to stay in Puglia together, to buy that masseria, renovate it, and turn it into a hotel.”
You have two masserias in Puglia. How are they different from each other?
Masseria Montelauro and Masseria Prosperi are totally different. Montelauro has 29 rooms. [For Prosperi,] we decided to have a masseria that was very easy. Very elegant but very easy. With my husband Antonio, we have two houses here at Prosperi. We used to live in the one you are staying in now, and the other house used to be only for our animals. We had 15 horses living there. But then we had all our friends arriving here at Prosperi who told us, ‘You live in such a beautiful place!’ So we decided to renovate the other house and to turn it into a little boutique hotel. It was very important for us not change our routine for Prosperi so we decided to propose our lifestyle. It’s not very easy to propose our life and to find people who want this kind of hospitality. But I thought that if people came to our house, then they are already in the same mood as Antonio and I, and share the same feeling. We propose every kind of hotel service but in a deep, countryside situation. We say that everyone can come to Montelauro but not everyone can come to Prosperi.
We observed that all the food served at Prosperi is grown on the property by you and Antonio. You make all your own food, preserves, and even liquor. Tell us more about this.
I attach a lot of importance to sustainability. It’s not possible to be fully independent, but we try to use our own vegetables and natural fertilizers – no chemicals, just horse manure and the soil. We don’t use any product on our farm. Antonio says that we have a lot of animals eating our tomatoes, but we have so many tomatoes that it’s enough for both us humans and our animals to share!
It’s very difficult to grow completely natural vegetables because all the seeds that you usually find have been genetically modified. So Antonio is wonderful for that because he makes his own seeds and we reuse [the seeds from the crop that grows from] it every year.
This or That
Shower or bath? Bath. But I don’t have time and I end up doing more showers!
Seaside or mountainside? Oh, this is too much. No, I can’t decide! I love both a lot. I love the mountains, I love snow. I ski. Can I not decide? Thank you! Coffee or tea? Tea. Staying in or going out? Going out. Juice or booze? Juice.
Night or day? Day. When I was younger, I preferred the night.
“It’s very important for us not to change our routine for Prosperi so we decided to propose our lifestyle. But I thought that if people come to our house, then they are already in the same mood as Antonio and I, and share the same feeling.”
What is your daily ritual like?
I wake up and I wash my face and my body. I put some cream on my face. Just that. It’s a very nice ritual for me, I take ten minutes for myself in the morning then I take care of my two girls. I bring them to school in Otranto. Then when I come back home, I ride my horses. I usually ride three times a week. I have different rituals in the winter and the summer. In the wintertime, I feed my animals at night. Mornings are impossible for me because I have the girls to take care of so evenings are a good time for me to feed the animals. I have no one else to do it so I do it at 7 in the evening. It’s a very important time for me. Sometimes it’s “fatticoso” – it’s a chore but when I do it, I feel very happy. In the summer, I usually stay between Prosperi and Montelauro.
Where was your last travel destination?
During the winter, I can take a few days off for a holiday. I have someone to take care of the animals and he can take care of the animals when I leave with the girls on holiday. This winter, we went to the mountains. Last winter, we went to Cuba. Cuba is beautiful. The first time I went there was in 1999. It hasn’t changed that much yet, so the good time to visit is now [before it changes more]. The first time I went to Trinidad, there was no one. Now, there are a lot more tourists.
What are your recommendations when in Puglia?
In Puglia, you must visit Polignano. I’m not a fan of Gargano. I think Lecce is also a good place to stay. Lecce is amazing. You just have to look around in Lecce because everything is beautiful.
For more information on Masseria Prosperi and Masseria Montelauro, visit: