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Path with Plants

Italian Art Retreat, Puglia, Italy

2025 art retreat in puglia, southern italy

Both of my 2025 Italian Art Retreats have now sold out. Due to popular demand, I am really excited to announce a new autumn art retreat running from the 9th-16th October 2025.

Having visited the region this Summer (you can read my blog here), I have handpicked the venue and the excursions to give you the most memorable experience. 


Autumn in Puglia is a feast for the senses, with an abundance of fresh produce and seasonal dishes. October is the magical time of harvest with farmers busy picking olives, grapes and other crops. To celebrate this fact the Autumn retreat will also entail a wine tasting event at the nearby town of Manduria, the home of Primitivo wine, also known as Zinfandel in the United States. 


The  weather during this time of year is warm and pleasant making it a great place to explore without the heat of the Summer…  yet the Sea is still warm enough to swim in, for those of you visiting the pristine sands of the local beaches. 


Located in a lovingly and sympathetically restored 19th Century Masseria (traditional farmhouse) in Puglia, you will be able to immerse yourself in the culture and warmth of this beautiful part of Southern Italy. The venue is in the most incredible location, close to natural flamingo lakes, white beaches, crystal clear water, picturesque towns, villages and olive groves. You won’t fail to be inspired and to fall in love with the myriad of beautiful sights, sounds and tastes that this truly enchanting and authentic location has to offer.

I hope to see you there!

Sarah Stokes

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Expressive Art Eco-Retreat in Puglia, Southern Italy

Join me in Puglia where a whole raft of experiences await you. Relax and paint in the authentic
surroundings of the lovingly restored Masseria Specula, a venue with the message of
sustainability at its core. On this retreat you’ll get the chance to soak up the ambience of towns
filled with baroque inspired architecture, delight in traditionally cooked, responsibly sourced food at the Masseria, stroll along the stunning white sands and through the crystal clear waters of the
nearby Salento beaches and dine out at some charming local restaurants serving up traditional
Italian cuisine.

This experience is a feast for the eyes as well as for the palette. With opportunities to stroll through olive groves, observe and paint flamingos in their natural habitat and ride horses along the shore line of some of Italy’s most beautiful beaches, you won’t be short of inspiration for your paintings. I will be there every step of the way to guide you steadily through the process of getting you visions painted in watercolour.

On this Italian Art Retreat we will explore the natural surroundings and stunning
architecture of the area to create some fabulous artwork in an expressive watercolour style.
Hosted at the stunning Masseria Specula, this unique experience will show you how to
translate your ideas into stunning pieces of artwork, whether you are painting wildlife, seascapes or architecture. Whether you’re an established artist or just beginning your journey, all levels of expertise are welcome.

Art Retreat Programme FROM £2,700PP
3rd-10th June 2025 (sOLD oUT)
12TH-19TH JUNE 2025 (SOLD OUT) 

In terms of artistic practice, I will help you harness better control over this liquid medium, focusing on a diverse range of subjects. Building your knowledge up steadily, we will start our journey by depicting foraged objects using the rules of perspective and tone to depict shape and form using charcoals and pencils. Once confident we will dive into watercolour exploring its magical qualities of translucency and fluidity to depict subjects in a loose and expressive manner. The weathered patina of medieval stonework and ancient doors will be our inspiration for a whole range of exciting and exhilarating techniques. Midway through the retreat we will turn our attention to the stunning shorelines that surround the venue and I will guide you through layering techniques to help you recreate the distant waves and rocky coastline of the Ionian Sea. And of course a painting retreat wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity to paint the beautiful animals that abound in this region; wild flamingos, migratory birds, chickens, geckos, horses and cats will give us abundant
opportunities to practice advanced techniques in depicting feathers, fur and texture.

At this expressive art retreat, you will learn how to:

  • Better understand the role of shape, tone, perspective and composition

  • Get to grips with timing and pigment control

  • Create any colour you wish from a simplified colour palette and avoid muddiness

  • Embrace a playful approach to the medium to help you create loose brush marks and convincing textures utilising salt, clingfilm, and masking fluid

  • Break down complex forms, both animate and inanimate to depict paintings that read well

  • Achieve depth, tone and vibrancy in a piece

  • Find a harmony between loose and realistic brushwork

  • Incorporate background washes and natural elements into your work such as water, skies, trees and foliage

  • Paint from reference photographs and from life

  • Capture a sense of time and place

In addition to painting with me, you’ll dive deep into the culture and warmth of this beautiful area. You will have the opportunity to visit the most beautiful baroque towns of Nardò and Lecce, to swim in the crystal clear waters of the renowned Punta Prosciutto beach, to ride horses along the Salento coastline and to learn essential Italian cooking skills from the wonderful chefs at the Masseria.


italian art retreat itinerary

The proposed itinerary is shown below and all excursions are organised and included. You don’t need any art experience to enjoy this tour.

Please note that the programme maybe subject to change due to the nature of the excursions.

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Day One

Arrive at Brindisi Airport (BDS) also known as Salento Airport and catch the 2pm transfer to Masseria Specula.
On arrival to your accommodation, you will shown to your comfortable room, with time to settle in.

Meet me (Sarah Stokes), then embark on a lovely orientation tour of the gardens, teaching and dining areas of the Masseria Specula. For those guests who like to get a grip on their surroundings there will be the option of an early evening stroll to the beach which is approximately 15 minutes on foot.

In the evening, get to know your art group over a authentic Italian dinner, enhanced by a glass of locally produced wine.

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Day three

Your third day unfolds with breakfast, fresh juices and coffee where we can chat about the day ahead.
This is our chance to explore the myriad ways to depict the beautiful textures that we will see on our travels; of weathered doorways, pitted masonry or even the rusting iron of old balconies, softened with tumbling bougainvillea. It is here that we can unleash our playful side and experiment with an abundance of materials and techniques.
After lunch, you will be taken to the beautiful town of Nardò where you will be able to take your own photo references, or even indulge in some plein-air painting whilst shading on
the steps of a church or under the umbrella of a cafe. I will be on hand to talk about composition and perspective when it comes to choosing and painting larger areas, such as
street scenes. We will return back to the Masseria for a period of relaxation and refreshment before heading out into the ancient town of Manduria for the evening. Famed for being the homeland of one of the region’s boldest red wines, Primitivo di Manduria, this town with its cobbled alleys and Romanesque Cathedral oozes with mystery and charm. The place comes to night at life where you’ll be dining al fresco under hundreds of twinkly lights that light up the night sky.

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Day five

Day five brings us onto the subject of painting animals and for the horse lovers amongst you, the unique chance to visit a local equestrian centre and experience a magical morning horse ride along the Salento shore line. There is no need to be a skilled
horserider: before each excursion, information briefings are carried out to get on the saddle safely and both beginners and more experienced itineraries are available.

If you’d prefer not to visit the stables, then your breakfast will be served at the Masseria and you’ll get the chance to grab a free period for painting until we all gather together at 11am ready for a short excursion to observe and sketch local flamingos in their habitat.

After returning to the Masseria for a bite to eat, I will teach you the fundamentals of depicting birds in their natural habitat using the flamingos as our subject matter. We will create the most wonderful colours, tones and textures using a range of warm and cool
hues. Crucially we will suggest the sky and the sea with the bare minimum of strokes, allowing our flamingos to pop with flare and colour. 


Once our flamingoes are painted,  we will have a couple of hours to relax and freshen up ready to end the day with a spot of wine tasting and supper in the nearby town of Manduria, a historic town famed for its production of the velvety smooth red wine Primitivo di Manduria. With the soft glow of streetlights illuminating the pathways and ancient architecture, what better way of ending the day winding down with an evening meal in the quintessential Pugliese town of Manduria.

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Day seven

Having refuelled with breakfast, this is a great opportunity to transform memories from
Lecce into captivating artworks. Dive into your photographs and be inspired to complete your previously started pieces or embark on a new artistic journey.


With freedom in your choice of subject you might be inclined to paint a seascape or depict the many animals that you’ve seen on your stay in Italy. To this end I will be carrying out a demonstration in
the morning covering the aspect of rendering fur and hair in a expressive yet realistic

After lunch there will be free time for you to continue painting, to spend time exploring the
expanse of beaches in the local area, or if you are a gastro enthusiast, to partake in an
impromptu cooking lesson from one of the Masseria chefs.
As the sun sets on our final evening, unique blends of cocktails will be served using locally sourced herbs and spices as a band of local musicians provide us with the perfect musical
backdrop to our last evening meal together.

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Day Two

After a hearty Italian breakfast, we will walk in the vicinity of the venue to photograph and
forage for objects suitable for our first art session. With olive trees, geckos, pine cones, cacti, and a beach close to hand, we won’t be short of inspiration.
Using a mixture of charcoals and black watercolour paint, we will study the skills needed to bring a 3D object to life on the paper, examining tone, proportion and perspective. Light snacks, fruit and refreshments will be available throughout the lunch time period, after which we will dive into our first experiments with colour. I will show you how to mix colours of your choice with just a handful of pigments.
You’ll also gain insights into a couple of essential techniques for watercolour, where I’ll show you how to desaturate colours, blend and lift paint, create soft and hard edges and explore mark marking with your brushes. This will put you in good stead for the myriad of colours that you will want to recreate over the coming days.
With this practical session finished you will have time to relax and refresh ready for a beautifully prepared evening meal at the Masseria.

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Day four

After breakfast, day 4 brings us on to the subject of the Sea in all its majesty. I will teach you four ways of approaching the subject in which you carry out a series of mini studies covering the techniques involved in painting a range of situations such as crashing waves, sea foam, rocks, and boats. You will learn how to create soft and hard edges to good effect to denote waves; masking fluid, gel pens and gouache to create convincing sea
foam; splattering techniques to create interesting texture in rocks; layering techniques and effective colour mixing to create boat paraphernalia.

After lunch we will head out to the beautiful marina town of Santa Marina al Bagno where you will have chance to watch the waves crash against the rocks and the boats bobbing in
the marina. You will have ample time to paint, photograph or simply relax on the beach of this charming town, before heading back to a delicious evening meal back at the Masseria.

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Day six

After a nutritious breakfast, we will embark on our day trip to the wonderful city of Lecce.

Famed for its baroque buildings, Roman amphitheatre, Cathedral and Churches, it is one of the most awe inspiring cities in the world. It is filled with ancient palaces and squares, vibrant cafes, museums and restaurants… ideal for painting plein-air, gathering photo
references or simply for taking time out to absorb the atmosphere.

On our return to the Masseria we will have a relaxing evening dinner over which we can share our experiences of the city and the retreat as a whole and make plans for our final day.

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Day eight

Enjoy breakfast together, exchange any last contacts and catch the 11 am transfer to
Brindisi airport arriving there around 12.15pm.

Please note that the Masseria is very much in the heart of rural Puglia. As such the majority of our trips will be via mini bus with the journeys ranging from 15 to 60
minutes in duration.


All transportation is covered in the cost of your retreat.

Stay at the masseria specula, a traditional farmhouse & nearby villas in the puglia countryside

This "Expressive Wildlife" art retreat takes place at the Masseria Specula, which is a traditional farmhouse & nearby villas located in Puglia, Southern Italy. It is ideally located in beautiful countryside, close to the long white sandy Specchiarica Beach. 


This Masseria seamlessly merges authentic traditional Italian charm with modern comforts. The villas are modern, spacious and have outdoor space with a swimming pool. The venue is surrounded by countryside and offers beautiful sea views.

In keeping with the Masseria's Italian charm, meals are freshly prepared by three Puglian women who cook delicious, authentic Italian recipes their mothers taught them. 

On booking (subject to availability), you can select from rooms within the Masseria itself or one of the villas and more information about the accommodation can be found below. 

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The Masseria

Accommodation & Prices

Stay at the Masseria

Relax and unwind in one of the Masseria’s beautifully furnished bedrooms. Each room is tastefully decorated and generous in proportion, whether you are sharing or having the room to yourself.


The rooms on the first floor have roof terraces, whilst the majority on the ground floor have individual garden spaces. If you have mobility issues, please let us know so that we can allocate the correct space to suit your needs.

typical double room, single occupancy, en-suite 

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typical large twin room, shared bathroom 

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Masseria garden & roof terrace

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Masseria Prices

Bedroom 1: double room, single occupancy, en-suite £3,400 each 

Bedroom 2: double room, single occupancy, en-suite £3,400 each 

Bedroom 3: double room, single occupancy, en-suite £3,400 each 

Bedroom 4: double room, single occupancy, en-suite £3,400 each 

Bedroom 5: large twin room, shared bathroom  £2,700 each  

Bedroom 6: large twin room, shared bathroom  £2,700 each 

Bedroom 7: large twin room, shared bathroom  £2,700 each

Full details of what the prices above include can be found below.


The Villas

Stay in a Villa, next to the masseria

If you’re looking for contemporary lines and access to a swimming pool on your stay, then overlooking the Masseria are 4 villas that will offer you just that. Set across the road from the Masseria, they offer the perfect space to unwind and relax. Villas 1 and 4 are larger than villas 2 and 3. 

View of the villas

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typical bedroom & bathroom

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typical kitchen

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Pool & outdoor areas

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living space in villa 1 & 4

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Villa Prices

Villa 1 Villa Il Suono del Mare 


Double bedroom, single occupancy with en-suite  £3250 each

Double  bedroom, single occupancy with shared bathroom £3050 each 

Double bedroom, single occupancy  with shared bathroom  £3050 each 


Villa 2 Villa Giunone   


Double bedroom, single occupancy, with shared bathroom  £2950 each

Double  bedroom, single occupancy with shared bathroom  £2950 each 


Villa 3 Villa Nettuno 


Double bedroom, single occupancy with shared bathroom  £3050 each

Double bedroom, single occupancy with shared bathroom £3050 each


Villa 4 


Double bedroom, single occupancy, shared bathroom  £3250

Double bedroom, single occupancy, shared bathroom £3250

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3rd-10th June 2025 (SOLD OUT)

12th- 19th June 2025 (SOLD OUT)  

9th-16th October 2025 (NEW DATES- AVAILABLE)  



The price for this Italian retreat is from £2,700 per guest  for 8 days. Spaces on this retreat are limited to just 18 students. There are only 2 places left. 

What's included

  1. Art classes, individual tuition, and demonstrations with me (Sarah Stokes)

  2. Exclusive use of the entire property including all common areas, workshop spaces and gardens

  3. 7 nights of accommodation at either the Masseria Specula or neighbouring villa complex

  4. Tables, chairs, glass jars, printer, ink and paper towels available at the venue

  5. A signed copy of my upcoming watercolor techniques book

  6. All meals (freshly prepared breakfasts, home cooked dinners & snacks/refreshments throughout the day)

  7. All meals at the venue are carefully prepared by private chefs

  8. Wine during dinner service every day

  9. Complimentary water, coffee, tea

  10. Trip to Nardo town with sketching opportunities

  11. Trip to Santa Marina Al Bagno 

  12. Optional trip to local equestrian centre with gentle horse ride along the Salento beach (included in the price) 

  13. Day trip to Lecce 

  14. Trip to a local flamingo lake

  15. 2 nights out to local restaurants 

  16. Spice cocktails and local traditional band on day 7 

  17. Private transportation for all planned trips/English speaking interpreter 

  18. Roundtrip airport transfers from/to Brindisi Airport (BDS) at prearranged times

  19. All tourist taxes and fees

  20. Access to a private WhatsApp group with me and the other retreat participants four months before the retreat

Not included

  • Airfare

  • Travel insurance (this is obligatory- please make sure you have taken out appropriate insurance and we will request evidence of this prior to travel) 

  • Art materials — you will receive a detailed list of art materials recommended by artist Sarah Stokes two months before the retreat. Tables, chairs, glass jars and paper towels are included. A printer will be on-site to print off any photo references. 

  • Tips — tipping isn't the norm but it's appreciated by the local service providers 

  • Other expenses guests might incur on their own

How to Book:

Please email me at to book your place on this trip and if you have any questions. 

A non-refundable deposit of £1,000 secures your place and the balance will be due on the 1st September 2024. I hope to see you there! 

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Free signed copy of my new book

And last but not least, you'll also receive your very own signed copy of my upcoming book, "Painting Birds: Expressive Watercolor Techniques". The book is equipped with all the insight, techniques, and projects you need to continue building on the lessons taught during your time in Italy.

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