Interview at Villa Ulivi: a secret world in Puglia
Follow Nawel, owner of Villa Ulivi, and her husband to discover this unique gem, nestled in a sea of olive trees in the heart of Puglia.
At the southern tip of Italy, you’ll find Puglia, and at the very south of Puglia, Salento — the heel in Italy’s Mediterranean boot. At the back of this heel, facing the Adriatic Sea’s expansive azure, the mediaeval city of Carovigno proudly houses whitewashed homes and a 15th century castle. Needless to say, it’s rare to get the chance to visit such a divine slice of paradise, with sun-drenched landscapes and colourful culinary specialties.
Le Collectionist was lucky enough to have Nawel and her husband guide us through this oasis. With them, we were able to live the dolce vita while discovering their dream come true: Villa Ulivi.
In 2009, during an Italian escape to Lecce and Salento with a friend, Nawel was immediately struck by the unique atmosphere that flows between the region’s olive trees. A few years later, excited by the prospect of taking on a new real estate venture, she invited her husband to discover the extreme south of Italy. Her love at first sight persisted at the second.
The couple took to Mediterranean hospitality, conveyed through the generosity and wide smiles of locals, but also the region’s gastronomy and brilliant sun. It was decided: their dream could come to life only here. Nawel set out to find the perfect plot, though it was no easy feat. Despite several visits, she couldn’t find anything that truly suited her.
That is until one night, when fate led her to the ideal property: a large and peaceful stretch of land with an exceptional view over the sea and the olive trees that had so charmed her on her first visit. Within the week, the couple had signed the deed for their new Italian chapter.
What were they to do with this magnificent, hundred-year-old terrain? It was a no-go for a trulli home or a traditional masseria; Nawel had always dreamed of a big, airy villa where she could welcome all her family and loved ones. Together with her husband, an insurer by trade, they started proceedings and managed to convince the local council to put their trust in them: they would bring a magnificent home to the region. With clear ideas in mind and all the necessary permits in hand, the couple set about laying the foundations of their Italian haven.
Their guiding principle? To respect the area’s soul all while bringing a modern touch. Just as they began to work on the land, Nawel and her husband were greeted by a surprise. They made the thrilling discovery of four historic caves that had remained buried and completely preserved on the property. These became the thread of inspiration woven throughout Villa Ulivi.
Working harmoniously, Nawel chose to focus on the home’s interior while her husband took charge of the exterior. The sea served as a point of anchorage when building this home: each room was designed with a view of the Mediterranean, its crystalline waters stretching out infinitely over the horizon.
Conceived in collaboration with the famous Italian architect Francesco Cavillo, serenity cast the mould for Villa Ulivi. The pool, nestled among the olive trees, will allow swimmers to bask in a refreshing soak, while the large and quiet terrace is perfect for those wanting to settle in comfortably with a good book.
Our favourite spot? The pool house — with beams salvaged from a Provençal chateau and a stone table weighing over a ton and a half — is an ideal haven for exceptional family brunches cooked up by the villa’s chef. Tailor-made by a French carpenter, the exposed beams blend seamlessly into this new construction, bestowing an ancient aura, as though Villa Ulivi had always been watching over the surrounding nature.
Inside the home’s local tufa stone walls, the meticulous decor — at once modern and retro — combines design elements from Nawel’s favourite homes and rooms while inviting you to travel. Though the taps and electrics were supplied by luxurious French manufacturers such as Margot and Modelec, the kitchen was fully equipped by KitchenAid.
For Nawel, it was also essential that all furniture be tailor-made, so as to meet the needs of her big family and convey the palace atmosphere that particularly enchants her. Nothing makes her happier than gathering her children in the kitchen to regale in stories from the day around the imposing quartzite worktop from the Taj Mahal, which they waited five years to receive from Brazil.
A nod to her proud Algerian origins, Nawel also meticulously picked out plenty of African art, mainly from Benin and Mali, to dress her interior design and the beautiful sideboards she drew herself.
The result is an exceptional collection of contemporary art, including a painting by Véronique Verbel that hangs proudly over the staircase. A true refuge, Villa Ulivi is the ideal stay for discovering the world sheltered from everyday hustle and bustle, favouring a trip to Italy with multicultural airs.
Olive trees, a seaside view, and the morning sun: every landscape and scent at Villa Ulivi reminds Nawel of her tender childhood in Algeria. She reveals that for her, a perfect day begins bright and early, watching the sunrise paint her home in thousands of marvellous shades over the sea.
Then, it’s time for Nawel to sample the Italian dolce vita, diving into her pool to swim a few laps before settling into a lounge chair, lulled by the sweet woody fragrance of the morning dew. In the afternoon, she likes playing music throughout the villa while her children run barefoot through the freshly cut grass and her husband indulges in one of his favourite activities: golf.
Once back from a dip at Guna Beach, the couple likes gathering the family around a burrata and some pizza, prepared by the home’s attentive staff. And for the perfect end to a perfect day, there’s nothing like settling before the sea once more, cocktail in hand, and trying to catch a glimpse of the mysterious golden eagle which has also taken up residence in this little corner of paradise.
Between buried caves, leisure, and the king of the sky, Nawel and her husband found a hidden gem and plenty of mystery at the tip of Italy. On a land rich in history, sun, and joie de vivre, they were able to imagine and perfect their dream villa, where they can now welcome family and travel enthusiasts alike.