BUCOLIC BEAUTY ABOUNDS, BUT IT’S THIERRY TEYSSIER’S CAPACITY TO SURPRISE THAT MAKE HIS TRAVEL EXPERIENCES DIFFERENT FROM THE STANDARD LUXURY MODEL.
Way down in the Salento region of Puglia – really, truly all the way down, just a hard stone’s throw from the very the tip of the heel of Italy’s boot – there is a tiny village called Gagliano del Capo. “Village” is probably a bit generous; Gagliano is more of an elaboration on a crossroads, with only a handful of narrow, slippery-stone streets radiating out from its Lilliputian piazza, paved in the creamy pietra Leccese so common in these parts. At two in the afternoon in the heat of early June, a veil of contented silence hangs over the place, broken only by the occasional wasp-whine of a scooter passing or the barking of a dog. Two old men in shirtsleeves and battered leather sandals doze in the crosshatched shade of the cane-covered terrace of the corner bar; a lone boy, slight as a reed, indolently kicks a football up and down a one-way alley. On the air are the scents of jasmine and old stone, and the tang of the sea, which is only a few kilometres distant, beyond dusty groves of twisted, ancient olive trees. At this time of day, in this light, Gagliano del Capo is a fever dream of Puglia 25 years ago – pleasingly somnolent, slightly forsaken, utterly romantic.
Which is why Thierry Teyssier, founder of Maisons des Rêves – event planner, hotelier, patissier, retailer, and all around magic-maker – is here. Renowned at home in France as a polymath, he’s particularly admired in well-travelled circles for having created one of the world’s most original, exceptional hotels: Dar Ahlam, secreted away in the lush palmeraie of Skoura in southern Morocco. The name means “house of dreams” (“Maisons des Rêves”) in Arabic, and is utterly fitting for the ravishingly chic, deeply indulgent fortified palace and its sister tented camp, Dar Nomade, deep in the saffron-hued dunes of the northern Sahara.
Over the years Teyssier has curated an extraordinary series of experiences for his guests in and around Skoura, a barrage of beautiful mises en scène, from unexpected rooftop suppers lit by hundreds of candles to impromptu picnic lunches in a white-tented bivouac erected in the shadow of an ancient, deserted gorge (kilims and cushions; a half-dozen fresh salads; chilled white wine) which the hiking guest comes upon like a mirage, just as he or she is beginning to tire and thirst.
In late 2016, Teyssier inaugurated the Route du Sud, a three-day immersive journey across southern Morocco’s emptiest reaches, punctuated by stays in small but exquisitely appointed private houses, each with an unremarkable exterior hiding a stylish interior. One has been retrofitted into a crumbling, deserted hill town presiding over miles of argan-tree groves; another is secreted away behind a mud wall in an oasis in Guelmim province; the third is set spectacularly atop a blazing red-rock escarpment north of ancient Amtoudi (guests arrive on foot or by donkey). Along the way are fully accoutred repasts, private tours and all-to-oneself vistas, organised by the Route’s advance production team. Surprise, delight, repeat: that’s more or less how a holiday plays out, when you’re in Teyssier’s hands.