From his first visit to Puglia to the birth of his real estate firm Athanatos Developments, Nigel Wilson proves that seemingly crazy decisions are precisely the right ones to follow. Those “aha moments” are the ones that serve as springboards to personal growth but also impact everyone else who gets involved too. VIA Magazine Profiles Nigel Wilson.
I always say that Puglia called out to me, that it was my destiny!
How was the name “Athanatos” born?
In another life, I studied Biblical Greek at St.Andrews University. It’s there that I became aware of the word, which means immortal or undying. This concept always intrigued me. The idea of the constant, the eternal. When I set up Athanatos Developments it was the only thing that kept springing to mind. Puglia has an eternal quality anchored to its colorful past but looking forward to its infinite possibilities.
What was your ‘a-ha’ moment when you knew you had to stay here and do something?
I was lying on the beach at Santa Maria al Bagno, listening to Italian classes on my portable cd player, (Gosh, how that ages me!!), and as I looked out to sea I just felt something. My concept of home has always been a moveable feast but, in that moment, as the sun set over the Ionian sea and I practiced saying ‘Mi Dispiace” in an appalling Italian accent, I knew I was home.
Let’s backtrack a moment – tell us about how you arrived in Puglia…
I always say that Puglia called out to me, that it was my destiny! I was on a press trip to Sicily, back in the days when I was a journalist, and I met a renowned architect from the region. His passion for Salento was so contagious that on my return to London I made it my priority to visit. It seems that I must have been swamped with priorities as it took a full year until I found myself standing in Brindisi airport with a laptop and a suitcase full of dreams and expectations.
Have you always been in real estate? If not, what were you doing before?
No, not all. I started my career in Psychology specializing in the psychology of Lifestyle before becoming a journalist and columnist for The Evening Standard and Attitude magazine. My career in property development began 6 months after coming to Salento. I could see that there was so much potential for growth and development. The baroque palazzos and ancient Masserias were just crying out to be loved, reimagined, and brought back to life.
What’s your dream project for Puglia?
That’s a difficult one. I guess my macro dream for transforming Puglia has always been realized through a micro-focus on particular towns. Nardo and Galatina were two of the towns I fell in love with and have subsequently brought dozens of International clients to both. Seeing their historic centers transform over the last nigh on 20 years has been a joy and a cause for great satisfaction. Now, I think it is fair to say that Corigliano d’Otranto is my new crush. Its architecture, cultural heritage, and incredibly forward-thinking mayor have made it easy to lose myself there.
“My Sundays always start with a walk with my dog Vita and partner Brunno in Porto Selvaggio or nearby followed by a long lunch with friends…”
What do you offer clients that make you unique?
I think that one of the answers to this question is that we offer the full package; from innovative and sympathetic architectural interventions and Interior design to advice on financing, legal issues, and how to best rent our properties if needed. But, I don’t believe that is all. Our greatest strength comes from fostering an environment where empathy flourishes. We embark on the Puglian adventure with our clients getting to know each other on a deeper level so that we can create something that is uniquely theirs, a home that could only belong to them.
What does it take to be an estate agent/entrepreneur in Puglia today?
Patience, courage, and the knowledge that in Salento a meeting over a coffee has as much value as a three-hour zoom call.
How has Apulian hospitality changed since you first arrived and opened your business?
My classic line, stolen from the wonderful Athena McAlpine, is that when we arrived you couldn’t even order a Diet Coke. Now, vegan cafes, sushi bars, and excellent wine can be discovered even in the smallest of towns. But, seriously the Puglian sense of hospitality hasn’t changed, when I arrived I was greeted with open arms, and today that generosity of spirit is still very much present.
What makes a property a MUST-BUY in your opinion?
Great bones, wonderful context, and the undeniable feeling that one day it could be an amazing home.
If you could develop one region, what would it be, and what would you model it after?
The areas by the sea have the most wonderful views but often lack a sense of architectural cohesion. San Cataldo a beach just ten minutes drive from Lecce, suffers from the worst of these follies, dating from the 60s and 70s. And yet, within this maelstrom of lacklustre construction there are some mid-century gems. Could this be the next Palm Springs-on-sea? I definitely see potential here.
Name three keywords that best describe Salento.
Honest, intriguing, and playful.
Where can we find you hanging out on a random Sunday?
My Sundays always start with a walk with my dog Vita and partner Brunno in Porto Selvaggio or nearby followed by a long lunch with friends at Gustavo, a restaurant run by our dear friends Carmella and Gigi.
Masseria or Palazzo? What do you prefer?
You know I can’t answer that (smiles). We have developed so many of both. However, I can say that I am blessed (or unlucky) to have what some may call a ‘split personality’. As such, when I’m feeling rustic and want to get in touch with the soil beneath my feet I would say Masseria. However, in the evenings, I can’t imagine anything more special than donning my finery and sharing supper with friends in one of the formal dining rooms we have created in the palazzos of Salento.
Pool or Seaside? What do you prefer?
Seaside. swimming in the sea, no matter how wild, is my passion.
Still or sparkling?
Beef or Fish?
Sweet or savory?
What is your one hope for the future development of the region of Puglia?
That it stays true to itself.