“All we need now is to hear that her dad is coming too,” joked the town’s mayor, Emilio Romani. And if the chattering in the Italian press is to be believed, that prospect may be likelier than he imagines.
It has been suggested that the US president could accompany his 35-year-old daughter to the wedding of a New York couple, which is believed to be taking place at Santo Stefano castle, perched on the edge of the town’s beach, towards the end of the month.
Puglia, and the region of Salento in particular, has been a coveted tourist destination for several years. This summer, however, the celebrity quotient has reached new levels. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte are expected to spend their summer break in a region which was once overlooked by the rich and famous in favour of swankier Capri, or Porto Cervo in Sardinia.
Ivanka is already a fan of Puglia, having visited Alberobello – a town famed for its cone-shaped trullo houses – with her husband, Jared Kushner, and their children in 2015. She has reportedly booked to stay in a masseria, or fortified farmhouse, in the countryside.
But amid the flurry of anticipation, Romani is taking the possible arrival of the Trump entourage in his stride, despite the security obligations he may have to fulfil. Monopoli is used to hosting VIP guests, he said, citing the June nuptials in the town’s cathedral of Manuel Neuer, a goalkeeper for Bayern Munich and Germany’s national team, and his bride, Nina Weiss. The British pop group Duran Duran also performed at a concert at the castle a few years ago. “Whether it’s only Trump’s daughter or both of them, it would be a brilliant thing,” Romani said. “Everyone has their different opinions about politics, but local people see the value of such a visit; it gives Monopoli some limelight,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ostuni, a medieval town located further south, is expected to welcome the actor Tom Hanks, while Madonna is also due to return to the Salento region after holidaying there last summer.
“It was very satisfying to have Madonna here last year, but what’s even more satisfying is that she’s coming back,” said Francesco Caizzi, president of the Bari division of Federalberghi, the Italian hotel association.
“When people come to Puglia, they fall in love with it,” he added. “It’s a beautiful region, where the people are very welcoming. When these big personalities visit, they are looking to experience simple traditions, whether it’s seeing old people chatting in a square or pasta being made by hand.”
One person who fell for Puglia’s charms is the Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren, who years ago bought a masseria in the south of Salento, where she grows pomegranates. She fondly describes herself as the contadina salentina, or the “Salento peasant woman”, and has even got behind a local campaign to save some of the region’s centuries-old olive trees, infected by the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium, from destruction.
People are particularly drawn to fortified farmhouses, Caizzi said. Many of them have been turned into hotels. “They find silence, something far removed from what they are used to.” Celebrities aside, Puglia is also popular among ordinary Italians from the north of the country for its good weather, uncrowded beaches, pristine waters, rich history and mouthwatering food. “It’s a little difficult to reach, but lots of people want to see it,” Caizzi said. “We haven’t had mass tourism like in other places. They come here for beaches, people, food and tranquillity … We do have places where there is nightlife, but we are not Ibiza or Formentera.”
Another big draw is the region’s low prices, especially compared with the Amalfi coast – where Ivanka’s younger half-sister, Tiffany, recently spent a yachting holiday – and parts of Sardinia, which has some of the world’s best beaches and has long been a celebrity haven.
Puglia may be steadily attracting some big names, but it has no desire to become overly associated with celebrity culture. “Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda is very identifiable as a place for VIPs,” said Caizzi. “But we want to be a destination for everyone. People here are not so interested in VIPs; nor do they care to know what is happening in their lives.”