The heart of Salento in Apulia conceals beautiful, mysterious places that are invisible at a first glance but just must be visited. Don Totu is one of these: a secret mansion in the heart of a small village in the province of Lecce in Apulia.
Today, we would like to tell you a fascinating and slightly complicated story with a happy ending that will put a smile on your face (and perhaps give you an idea for your next holiday).
The secret mansions of Salento: a fascinating story
When I first heard someone mention the words “secret mansion” I immediately thought of Dan Brown’s books and of a great classic from my childhood: The secret garden by Frances Burnet.
In this case though, the story does not talk about gory, secret details but is a cross-section of the way Italians lived over 300 years ago.
In the 18th (and 19th) century these secret mansions were the home of bailiffs, i.e. managers of farm life and of the large estates belonging to the aristocrats who governed the villages. These were prominent personalities benefiting from rights and privileges that included a wealthy home and all the ensuing comforts.
Nevertheless, these homes could never outclass or compete with those of the local aristocrats which is why the mansions were hidden from the road and camouflaged amidst the houses of the lower classes. Upon reaching one of these mansions though you would find a real, functional, wealthy villa designed to meet the tastes of the owner.
The historical abode of Don Totu, named after the last bailiff who lived there, is one of the few remaining secret mansions in Apulia.
From neglect to renovation: the Don Totu mansion’s new lease of life
Those visiting the Don Totu secret mansion in San Cassiano (Lecce) probably can’t imagine what it looked like a few years ago.
Due to careless renovation work and to the fact that it had been divided into different parts, the property had lost its ancient splendour and had been left in a condition verging on abandonment until the current owner arrived, who transformed the Don Totu into a hidden gem (not as concealed as it used to be though!).
The mansion now features a garden, a barn and all its original properties again. A 5-star hospitality service – including but not limited to a hammam, a lounge and a gym – was also added during the renovation.
Nevertheless, it still preserves the soul of Salento and its original structures.
The renovated lounge even features a restructured period fireplace distinguished by inlaid pilasters and a capital reminiscent of the Tuscan style. If you take a closer look at the bottom of the pilasters you will notice some lion’s paw shaped carvings: this is a typical Italian decorative motif that became popular during the Renaissance.
Regardless of the fireplace’s historical air, it now boasts very modern features thanks to a Palazzetti Ecopalex wood-burning firebox insert.
This choice allowed the owner to preserve the balance and harmony of the original architectural structure, completely renovating a vintage fireplace while benefiting from the functions essential to a modern home.
The firebox insert offers a number of benefits that turn the vintage fireplace into a modern heating system: the room is heated without the production of smoke (no blackening of the frame!) and combustion can be accurately adjusted resulting in more efficient and less polluting heat.
All this is achieved while benefiting from the beautiful sight of a fire: a real asset for guests relaxing in the lounge, especially during cold winter nights.
Have we aroused your curiosity? You can find out more about the Don Totu mansion and its history on the villa’s official website: www.dontotu.it.