Puglia, Italy: Cooking and Herding

Become a Shepherd for a Few Days in Puglia, Italy

By Elle Rahilly

The-lone-shepherd in Puglia
The lonely shepherd in Puglia. Messors.com photos

Our lives are more and more complicated. The cellphone rings, the text messages never stop coming, we’re out the door with our coffee-to-go, and on to race, race, race through another day.

How would you like to slow down to the pace of an Italian shepherd, spending languid hours just sitting and relaxing while your sheep graze verdant pastures in one of the most beautiful places on Earth?

Oh, and at night, spend long hours at the table eating the food that’s made the Mediterranean diet one of the most popular trends in food?

GoVoluntouring has a new program that lets stressed-out Americans experience the simple bliss of life as an Italian shepherd and they’ll also get to learn all about the culinary traditions of Puglia, in Southern Italy.

It’s not complicated, and your cellphone might not work….but who isn’t looking for a new way to unplug these days?

GoVoluntouring offers both shepherding and culinary workshops to visitors in the Puglia region of southern Italy in the summer of 2013. Participants will follow the ‘food journey’ from landscape to the table and learn about how for centuries the people in the region have embraced a truly ‘green economy.’

The Ultimate Shepherding Experience

The “Becoming a Good Shepherd Workshop” in Bari brings travelers up close with the rhythms of the natural world. Here participants are given an opportunity to be part of a society less reliant on technology, and more focused on the earth’s natural and renewable resources.

Participants work hands-on with local shepherds, in order to better understand the cycles of their daily life. The responsibilities of shepherds have been very important to traditional Italian family values since the beginning of civilization. Amazingly, these shepherds in Bari have been practicing the same methods of farming for centuries, despite the march of technology in most other parts of the world.

Whipped Into Shape

Masseria La Selva's pretty terrace.
Masseria La Selva’s pretty terrace.

During the ten-day workshop, breakfast is never served until the sheep have been properly milked. Each guest has to make sure that the livestock is all settled and dining before even taking a seat in the kitchen.

Excursions include a trip to the archeological site of Pompeii and to the town of Altamura where peasant bread has been baked in clay ovens for centuries. You’ll hunt for local delicacies like wild mushrooms in the woods, and have a fish feast in the seaside town of Trani.

While finishing up the milking process, the guests learn how to properly determine which pastures make for good grazing, and how to create a healthy hunk of cheese for the newborn day ahead. Cheese is made here daily of course. Cheesemaking is an art and science with important ramifications. Trust us—this is something you won’t want to guess about.

Creating New Tastes

During the trip, participants will create Mediterranean-style meals, working only with raw local ingredients and the guidance from their new mentor. After a day learning culinary traditions what you have made is then served to local guests along the corso in Piazza Dumo Altamura, so volunteers should be prepared to take in all they learned quickly. You’ll be a cook and a server to local guests. Trip options include seven days of culinary/touring and three days spent with a local shepherd and other combinations.

The spartan yet pretty rooms at the old hunting lodge. The spartan yet pretty rooms at the old hunting lodge.

Grazing sheep in Puglia, Italy.
Grazing sheep in Puglia, Italy.

To house travelers, the Shepherds bring guests to an 18th-century Roman hunting lodge called Masseria La Selva that is filled with classic architecture, with history lessons everywhere. With nine bedrooms in the lodge, each room contains two chaste single beds.

The masseria has story-telling family collections of old pitchforks and farm tools, fencing masks, trophies, paintings, and antique furniture. They like to have long dinners outside in the courtyard, where sometimes films will be projected on the walls of the building and locals drop by to practice their English or share their Italian.

The lodge is located on two-hundred hectares of rolling hills in the south of Italy, providing beautiful views and imprinting the images of the area’s striking beauty forever on guests.

The shepherds do an incredible job of isolating volunteers from the general public for a great deal of time, honing in on the authentic experience the workshop seeks to provide.

In the Puglia region of southern Italy, where culture is closely linked to food, the role of the shepherd is of utmost importance for Tonio Creanza, founder of the Messors. Dating back over 6,000 years, the shepherd is the solitary figure who truly connects with landscapes.

Creanza described the role of a shepherd. “I feel it’s important for people to understand our connection to the land. From this understanding, we can learn to respect and care for it.”

Volunteers Restore Frescoes

The hotel rooms at the hunting lodge.

Messors also offers another program in Puglia where volunteers learn how to restore ancient frescoes. The Art Restoration Workshops include a practical ‘hands-on’ experience in the process of conservation and restoration of Frescoes, Canvas, Wood, Stone, and Decorative paintings and plaster. By learning and actively working, participants also contribute to the conservation of the art and historical heritage of the region.

Participants will also create their own frescoes employing traditional techniques and materials- from making the plaster,’ sinopia’ underdrawings, and painting with natural pigments.

Wood Statue and Canvases are provided by local churches and private collections and will be worked on onsite at Masseria La Selva. Participants will be introduced to examples of 17th to 19th centuries wood statues and paintings that are unique to the history of the Altamurgia region. Most of the artworks selected for the program are religious subjects.

Most importantly, you’ll probably never forget your few days of bliss when all you have to think about is the tinkling of the sheep’s bells and when dinner will be served.

Find out more at their Messor’s website.


Elle Rahilly

Elle Rahilly is a former editorial assistant for GoNOMAD.com. She works in the fashion industry in New York City.


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