Here at Bloomberg Pursuits, we know most of your plans are on hold. Ours are, too. But that doesn't mean we’re not daydreaming about the trips, meals, and other worldly delights that we’ll rush out to experience when it’s fully safe once again to do so. We're sharing our ideas with you in the hopes that they will help inspire you—and we’d love to hear what you are daydreaming about, too. Send us your thoughts and plans at [email protected], and we'll try to flesh some of them out for you in future versions of this column.

Today’s daydream is from Pursuits Travel Editor Nikki Ekstein, who has been thinking about how she can return the gestures of kindness one Italian chef has extended to her family over the years.

When news started to break about the global ripple of coronavirus, I couldn’t help worry about Italy’s nonnas. The country is now suffering from one of the worst outbreaks of Covid-19 in the world; as of press time, it has logged more than 162,000 cases and the death toll has risen past an unimaginable 21,000.

With the elderly being especially susceptible, my thoughts went to all the gray-haired matriarchs whose kitchen clanking you could hear from the streets off Rome’s Campo de Fiori, the ones serving hand-cut tagliatelle by the mountainful in Alto Adige’s ski towns, and the women who single-handedly perpetuate ancient recipes in Sicily. As a travel editor besotted with Italy and that familial style of Italian hospitality, these nonnas have unknowingly carried my travel dreams on their backs, and sometimes even brought them to life.

Watching from another Covid-19 hotspot—Brooklyn, New York—the tragedy felt twofold, measured in both lives and culture lost. But as the weeks have gone by, Italians have shown that their sense of community and culture is not easily shaken. They sing opera from their balconies and leaving prepared food in baskets on the street for those in need. The children of Italy began what is now a global tradition of painting rainbows and placing them in windows to signal optimism.

At home, we’ve made a rainbow in solidarity: tutto andra bene, it says: “Everything will be OK.” And as soon as it is, I need to get back to the trip I’d been planning when this all started: a relaxing, food-filled week in Puglia, at the heel of Italy’s boot.

Early in the year, I had the good fortune of meeting with Diana Bianchi, the co-founder of a historic estate in Puglia called Castello di Ugento—a place lined with fig trees, herb gardens, trellised walkways, and cobblestoned walls that make you feel as if you’re in an ancient, holy cloister. Though Bianchi’s partner, Massimo d’Amore, made his own fortunes as the longtime chief of beverages at PepsiCo, the limestone castle, with its 400-year-old frescoes, Bronze age artifacts, and 18th-century walled garden, has been in his family since 1643. Restoring it to its former glory and opening it as a nine-suite hotel was a labor of love, she told me—one that had cost $14 million by the time the ribbon was cut in 2018.

Puglia is a place I’ve written about many times, as travel editor at Bloomberg. Initially, Bianchi’s pitch felt too obvious, less next-big-thing and more been-there-covered-that. But after a labor-intensive ski trip to the French Alps with our nearly-1-year-old in January, my husband and I knew that an easy, laid-back vacation was just what we needed for summer. Then Bianchi sealed the deal (before the ensuing pandemic aggressively unsealed it). As part of the hotel’s dust-off, she said, she and d’Amore had hired chef Odette Fada, a stalwart of the New York dining scene, to run Ugento’s restaurant and cooking school.

Fada, as many aficionados of Italian food may know, helmed the kitchen for years at San Domenico, a Central Park South icon, where she created iconic dishes such as uovo in raviolo (a giant ravioli with a tender egg yolk hidden inside) and served my husband and me some of our earliest meals together. We were college freshmen the first time we showed up at the white-tablecloth spot and paid upward of $100 per person—money we’d scraped together. Fada and the restaurant’s proprietors took special care of us, sending complimentary dishes to the 18-year-olds who’d somehow showed up without their parents. We kept coming back, occasion after occasion, for their generous hospitality. Sharing Fada’s bounty with our daughter, who is new to eating real (non-pureed!) foods, felt like a must.

Luckily for me, Castello di Ugento has a strong element of family-friendliness. Bianchi assured me that they have trusted, on-call babysitters and a great pool for my 1-year-old; the sprawling grounds would be the perfect place to let her run free in a diaper while my husband mastered that mesmerizing uovo in raviolo recipe during a day at the culinary academy. Better yet, close friends agreed to join us. As two sets of parents with similarly aged kids, we imagined spa days for the moms and multiple-course dinners with free-flowing prosecco while the babies sleep at night.

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