Cur­rently in res­i­dence in Cam­bo­dia, 700,000 Heures pro­vides not only one of the world’s most ex­clu­sive travel ex­pe­ri­ences, but also a whole new way of think­ing about ho­tels.


Cur­rently in res­i­dence in Cam­bo­dia, 700,000 Heures pro­vides not only one of the world’s most ex­clu­sive travel ex­pe­ri­ences, but also a whole new way of think­ing about ho­tels.

Look­ing back,

I’m still not en­tirely sure when it hap­pened. Was it as we cut the boat’s mo­tor and drifted into a grotto on wa­ter of such vivid hue and clar­ity that we might have been adrift on a sea of liq­uid emer­ald? Was it as we chanced upon the beau­ti­ful Re­nais­sance heart of an un­pre­pos­sess­ing vil­lage we’d only driven through as an af­ter­thought? Or was it when we stopped on a quiet coastal road in the mid­dle of nowhere and were led down to a rocky shelf a me­ter above the Mediter­ranean, where a pop-up lounge and cock­tails were wait­ing for us to en­joy the sun­set in splen­did iso­la­tion?

I can’t be cer­tain. The only thing I know for sure is that at some point dur­ing my three days in Sa­lento, I re­al­ized that I didn’t want to go home.

The less visited part of Puglia, right at the tip of Italy’s heel, Sa­lento is a rolling land­scape of rich red soil, cac­tus fences, swathes of bougainvil­lea, and acres of olives. It’s also stud­ded with dammusi— low, cir­cu­lar stone gra­naries that wouldn’t look out of place in the Stone Age—and sleepy vil­lages whose most prom­i­nent fea­ture is the church tower.

Vis­ually, my first im­pres­sion was that it looked like North Africa, par­tic­u­larly Tu­nisia’s Cap Ser­rat, ex­cept that here, the minarets had been re­placed with steeples and the white­washed, cu­bist med­i­nas with maze-like me­dieval sand­stone war­rens. Af­ter liv­ing in Le­banon for 20 years, this quintessen­tially Mediter­ranean land felt very fa­mil­iar to me.

Still, nos­tal­gia and un­sul­lied charm were only part of the rea­son I sud­denly found my­self over­whelmed by an urge to stay. The rest had to do with the rea­son I was here—an in­vi­ta­tion to ex­pe­ri­ence what is billed as the world’s first “no­madic” ho­tel. More prop­erly known as 700,000 Heures (the name refers to the num­ber of hours in an av­er­age hu­man life), it is the brain­child of the en­fant ter­ri­ble of French hos­pi­tal­ity, Thierry Teyssier. Septem­ber’s Sa­lento res­i­dency marked the ven­ture’s soft launch, an op­por­tu­nity to iron out the kinks be­fore its move in Novem­ber to a quar­tet of lo­ca­tions in north­west­ern Cam­bo­dia.

Like many rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas, the premise be­hind the project is both im­prob­a­ble and sim­ple. 700,000 Heures will earn its no­madic stripes by chang­ing lo­ca­tion twice a year, and much like those global tech uni­corns that pro­vide ser­vices with­out own­ing phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, it will be able to do so be­cause Teyssier will run his tem­po­rary ho­tels out of ex­ist­ing prop­er­ties that he rents ex­clu­sively—in Sa­lento, this was the 19th-cen­tury Palazzo Daniele in the sleepy vil­lage of Gagliano del Capo—and will re­cruit staff lo­cally for the du­ra­tion.

Where nec­es­sary, prop­er­ties will be ren­o­vated and metic­u­lously restyled, while staff will re­ceive train­ing at Teyssier’s ac­claimed Mo­roc­can ho­tel, Dar Ah­lam, to en­sure that ser­vice stan­dards re­main con­sis­tent. Then, af­ter six months, the re­freshed prop­erty is re­turned to its own­ers, staff are re­leased with valu­able train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence, and 700,000 Heures moves on.

All that will travel be­tween sites are a col­lec­tion of hand­made leather-and-can­vas steamer trunks. Apart from games and dec­o­ra­tive knick­knacks,

Teyssier had rec­om­mended vis­it­ing Pres­icce, a charm­ing town with lash­ings of his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter. Rarely visited, it felt like a gen­uine dis­cov­ery.

these con­tain ev­ery­thing 700,000 Heures needs to be lo­ca­tion-in­de­pen­dent; beds, seats, kitchens, cock­tail bars, even camp show­ers. This means, for ex­am­ple, that in ad­di­tion to its rented prop­er­ties, 700,000 Heures can set up on the beach, in the jun­gle, on top of a moun­tain—any­where, re­ally, that its founder de­sires.

And that de­sire is key. At least for the first few years—af­ter Cam­bo­dia, the ho­tel al­ready has res­i­den­cies planned for north­east­ern Brazil, Sri Lanka, and Ja­pan—it is Teyssier who will both de­ter­mine lo­ca­tion and set the pace. Think of him as ex­plorer and set de­signer, me­di­a­tor and well in­formed “lo­cal,” who knows you well enough to sug­gest where to go shop­ping, where to eat, what sights you are most likely to en­joy, and what you can miss. In short, 700,000 Heures is Thierry’s World, but one we are wel­come to live in.

“When I visit a new place, I im­me­di­ately have a vi­sion for what could be the per­fect mo­ment there,” Teyssier ex­plains. “Maybe it’s a din­ner in the court­yard with lanterns. Maybe it’s the chance to live some­one else’s life for a few days, be­come a fish­er­man, or learn to make some­thing new, like pasta, for in­stance.”

Maybe it’s also a chance to do noth­ing—to wan­der, to soak up, to be.

“Thierry is some­one I could take to my own back­yard and he would find some­thing that I’ve never seen,” says Cyn­thia Rosen­feld, a for­mer Asia ed­i­tor for Condé Nast Trav­eler, travel con­sul­tant, and a part­ner in the project. “It’s not just that he sees what could be with com­pletely fresh eyes, it’s that he also sees it his own way.”

Take Cam­bo­dia, for ex­am­ple. As one drawn to off-the-track places, Teyssier ini­tially wanted to steer clear of Angkor, feel­ing it was al­ready over­sat­u­rated. But when Rosen­feld in­tro­duced him to the owner of one of the finest tra­di­tional Kh­mer wooden houses in Siem Reap, he re­con­sid­ered. By adding to this a night in a pop-up camp near a re­mote Angko­rian tem­ple and an­other on a fish­er­man’s house­boat on Tonle Sap lake, he re­al­ized that it sud­denly be­came pos­si­ble to of­fer a unique ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I’ve spent lots of time on the Tonle Sap and I’ve walked past those boats, but it would never have oc­curred to me to in­clude them as a des­ti­na­tion on a lux­ury trip,” Rosen­feld con­tin­ues. “But Thierry saw them and im­me­di­ately said ‘Oh, let’s rent one.’ ”

The founder of one of France’s top ex­pe­ri­en­tial events plan­ning agen­cies, Teyssier first cut his hos­pi­tal­ity teeth with Dar Ah­lam, a re­stored 19th-cen­tury fortress in the Ouarza­zate re­gion of Mo­rocco. Set amid al­mond trees and date palms on the edge of the Sa­hara Desert, the in­ti­mate 14-room ho­tel is meant to feel like a pri­vate home (the name means “house of dreams” in Ara­bic), with guest re­quests— ev­ery­thing from what to eat, to where to go, and what to do—ar­ranged in­di­vid­u­ally. 700,000 Heures

is an at­tempt to take that for­mula on the road.

“A hol­i­day is not about the build­ing you stay in, it’s about the mem­o­ries you make, so we will fill your days with dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences,” Teyssier tells me. “I want to cre­ate a trav­el­ing, guest-cen­tric ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In Sa­lento, this meant the free­dom to fol­low an itin­er­ary, cre­ate our own, or do a bit of both. So af­ter our boat trip, which cul­mi­nated in a lazy swim, we lib­er­ated Palazzo Daniele’s clas­sic or­ange Fiat and mo­tored off. Teyssier had rec­om­mended vis­it­ing Pres­icce, a charm­ing town with lash­ings of ar­chi­tec­tural and his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter, sev­eral beau­ti­ful churches, a Baroque square, and a num­ber of palazzi. Rarely visited, it felt like a gen­uine dis­cov­ery, par­tic­u­larly when we learned that it also pro­duced some of the finest gelato in the re­gion.

To al­low Teyssier to con­jure these cu­rated stays from his ma­gi­cian’s hat of ex­pe­ri­ences, guests who he does not al­ready know through Dar Ah­lam are po­litely quizzed be­fore ar­riv­ing.

“The idea is that when you stay with us, we will im­merse you in the lo­ca­tion, its food, its beau­ti­ful land­scapes, its art. We’ll ask you what you want to dis­cover, what in­ter­ests you, and then work out the de­tails from there.”

This process be­gins upon one’s join­ing 700,000 Heures, for prospec­tive guests must first be­come mem­bers of what amounts to a pri­vate club. A one-off en­try fee, which starts at €2,000 (about US$2,300), is sup­ple­mented by an an­nual pay­ment of €500. This se­cures ac­cess to the two yearly re­treats and, de­pend­ing on the tier of mem­ber­ship cho­sen, to an ar­ray of satel­lite events, rang­ing from din­ner par­ties and pri­vate meet­ings with lo­cal artists, to ac­com­pa­ny­ing Teyssier on scout­ing trips. Stays then cost from €1,500 per cou­ple per night and are gen­er­ally six days long.

This sys­tem has pro­vided Teyssier with the fund­ing to se­cure fu­ture lo­ca­tions—the first three years are al­ready more or less mapped out—as well as to achieve a con­sis­tent level of ex­pe­ri­ence. Over­heads for a no­madic ho­tel may be min­i­mal, but they are not nonex­is­tent, es­pe­cially if 700,000 Heures is to main­tain a sense of ef­fort­less­ness and en­sure seam­less tran­si­tion be­tween lo­ca­tions.

The big­gest ad­van­tage of be­ing no­madic, how­ever, may be the cir­cum­ven­tion of what Teyssier calls “hos­pi­tal­ity’s big­gest prob­lem.” By pop­ping up in each lo­cale at the best time of year, 700,000 Heures ef­fec­tively elim­i­nates a low sea­son.

Even­tu­ally, the plan is to have “am­bas­sadors” in each coun­try who are re­spon­si­ble for de­vis­ing and test­ing the guest ex­pe­ri­ences, leav­ing Teyssier free to act as “artis­tic direc­tor.” For now, though, the ven­ture is sig­nif­i­cantly more hands-on, a lot of work for a man who jok­ingly said that 700,000 Heures was ba­si­cally “a way to have a hol­i­day all year.” So what, I won­der, is in it for him?

“It’s all about shar­ing ex­pe­ri­ences,” Teyssier says. “I of­ten think that I would like to do more for my guests. There are so many beau­ti­ful, in­cred­i­ble mo­ments in life, but the real plea­sure is al­ways in shar­ing them. Now, I can.”

A break­fast nook at Puglia’s Palazzo Daniele, which hosted the first of 700,000 Heures’ no­madic ho­tels.

Above: 700,000 Heures’ be­spoke trunks dou­ble as portable seats and cock­tail bars. Below: Founder Thierry Teyssier. Op­po­site: A grotto on the Sa­lento coast.

Above: A mas­ter­piece in wood, the cen­tury-old Hanchey House in Siem Reap will host 700,000 Heures guests through April, as part of a sixnight Cam­bo­dian itin­er­ary that also in­cludes stays in the her­itage-rich city of Bat­tam­bang and a house­boat on Tonle Sap lake. Left: A 700,000 Heures staffer pre­par­ing sun­down­ers at a popup cock­tail bar on the Sa­lento coast.

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