My pala­tial ‘wan­der­ing ho­tel’ in Puglia

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

We live for an av­er­age of 700,000 hours, so when French hote­lier Thierry Teyssier named his lat­est ven­ture 700’000 Heures, it was to un­der­line a com­mit­ment: give your pre­cious time to him, and he’ll make ev­ery mo­ment count. To ram home the point, ev­ery guest “jour­ney” will be a one-off – like life it­self, in fact.

“The world’s first wan­der­ing ho­tel,” 700’000 Heures takes up res­i­dency in ex­cep­tional pri­vate homes that are nor­mally closed to the pub­lic, at what­ever time is best to visit. Imag­i­na­tive ex­pe­ri­ences await; the des­ti­na­tions are re­vealed as never be­fore. When the team moves on, the con­cept leaves for­ever.

The project launched in Puglia in early Septem­ber, and two weeks ago I spent 72 hours (about 0.01 per cent of my life) on site. Teyssier has taken on some­thing very com­plex and there will be chal­lenges along the way – but it does feel as though he’s on the cusp of some­thing which is, in the most lit­eral sense, won­der­ful. For a few weeks more the ho­tel oc­cu­pies a 19th­cen­tury palazzo in a honey-coloured vil­lage at the tip of the heel of Italy. I’ve stayed in many pala­tial ho­tels, but there’s a dif­fer­ent, al­most il­licit al­lure to mak­ing your­self at home in a home that’s so much nicer than yours. I snooped around the empty court­yards and colon­nades, squeezed the fruit dan­gling from lime trees in the gar­den and won­dered if fres­coes would work at my place in Hack­ney.

What’s more in­ter­est­ing is how Teyssier has re­con­structed the guest ex­pe­ri­ence. As the founder of Morocco’s Dar Ah­lam ho­tel, he has drawn on years of ex­pe­ri­ence to craft this un­prece­dented of­fer­ing. With a back­ground in theatre, he has dis­pensed with the lux­ury-ho­tel for­mal­i­ties – there’s no re­cep­tion desk, no restau­rant – and in­stead each prop­erty is a Ru­bik’s cube, a stage that is con­stantly re­con­fig­ured. Dur­ing my stay, ev­ery day re­vealed a fresh se­cret. I walked one morn­ing, ab­sently, through the grand hall­way by my bed­room; that evening it reap­peared as a mo­men­tous can­dlelit din­ing room for two. One night I saw a se­cret door had been opened to re­veal the fam­ily’s pri­vate shrine. Break­fast might be by the pool one morn­ing, on the roof the next.

That may be too kooky for some; the con­cept re­quires trust and I was oc­ca­sion­ally con­fused about what would hap­pen next. Staff have had to adapt quickly, too. The team will change at each lo­ca­tion and half will come from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds. In Puglia the mix in­cludes African refugees who are re­ceiv­ing hospi­tal­ity train­ing, plus lo­cal clean­ers, a tal­ented young artist, Elena, who un­ob­tru­sively draws guests (the pic­tures are pre­sented later as keep­sakes) and French-Ital­ian cook Rosa. Her sim­ple dishes – plump to­ma­toes with aubergine and the best olive oil, or crumbly-crust peach pie – were just right ev­ery time.

The con­cept’s big­gest re­wards are re­vealed when Teyssier takes his guests be­yond the prop­erty’s doors. One day a guided hike along the coast led me to the mouth of a cave where a ta­ble for two was set for lunch by the sea. On an­other cloud­less morn­ing,

Up­wardly mo­bile: 700’000 Heures, Puglia

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