My palatial ‘wandering hotel’ in Puglia
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