If you’ll pardon my sounding like a novelty T-shirt for a moment or a bumper-sticker slogan for a moment, I have to say, Italians do it better. Especially when it comes to rustic chic. My first impression of Masseria Torre Maizza is, quite simply, ‘Wow’. After a 40-minute, holiday-mood-enhancing, scenic drive from Brindisi airport, we arrive at our hillside idyll to be hit by breathtaking views of a glistening-in-the-distance sea. It’s as love-at-first-sight as hotel encounters get.
Five-star isn’t to be sniffed at, but as any discerning luxury traveller knows, it’s best served unstuffily. This Masseria is a well-run ship, and they’ve brought the best of the well-trained staff over from sister hotel, the Torre Coccaro, across the road. Two for the price of one, we are invited to make the most of the historic fortified farmhouse’s facilities too, such as an Aveda spa with a small indoor pool, Turkish bath, a gym and yoga and chi kung classes.
A short walk along fragrant jasmine-lined terraces and pathways takes us to our Superior room. Dulux charts didn’t get a look in here when it came to picking out paint colours – it’s whitewashed all the way, resulting in a clean, cool and neat canvas for the inspired furnishings. Black/white, rough/smooth – it’s shabby chic as it should be. Chinese lacquered furniture is mixed up with the more typical distressed look as well as sharp contemporary seating. Our bathroom comes over all belle epoch, with a big white Thirties’ washstand and bath, and all the fluffy towels, lotions and potions a sybarite could desire.
On the doorstep of every room is your very own sunlounger- and parasol-studded garden, and ours backs onto the hotel’s golf course. A surprisingly high, view-hampering fence has us baffled – until we heard a loud clout. Unless we want a golf ball in our vodka tonics it is clearly called for – especially when it comes to us hitting those nine holes ourselves. (Forgive me if I save us the embarrassment, and skip further mentions of this.)
As it's still up in the high 30s, we don cool linens for a dusk-time stroll around the hotel’s grounds. Eclectic chillout tunes lure us to the bar and the bougainvillea-shrouded candle-lit courtyard, and we eye up a long line of back-to-back Balinese day-beds. We know instantly where we’ll be spending much of our evening ahead. We soon learn that aperitivo taste better from a horizontal position, as the delightful bartender happily refreshes Mr Smith with a Peroni at 20 minute intervals. Despite a tray full of delicious canapés of tempura style king prawns and risotto cakes as the drinks flow, the poor man patiently humours Mr Smith’s requests to master some Italian sayings. Thankfully I’ve had a few Martinis to numb the embarrassment. Both are seemingly having a whale of time, and his chants of ‘Posso avere un’altra Peroni, per favore?’ (Can I have another Peroni, please?) become a theme of our stay.
By now, more than ready for some food, we glide over to the Ristorante delle Palme, where fresh fish is the order of the day, every day. Priding itself on its typically Puglian dishes, here, minimalist and simply furnished restaurant spills out its black-lacquer chairs and white linen cloths onto poolside terraces fringed by ancient columns dressed in vines. Lobster and a delicious country-style lamb dish, both accompanied by homegrown vegetables, are washed down with some very smooth local vino secco fresco. In the ultimate in take-away, the hotel has its own cookery school on site. Given how irresistible the hotel’s coastal setting is, and the golf course and spa, it proves the only temptation that doesn’t have its way with us.
The next morning, after the most gorgeously laid-out, gargantuan buffet breakfast, we make a dash for a splash in the Mediterranean. A minibus is on hand to take us the short hop down to the beach club. And we thought we had a super-cool hangout in the hotel? Sun, sea and sand is only the start of the fun at Torre Coccaro’s beach club: add to that salads, sushi, and skippers. This waterside retreat is all white sail-cloths billowing in the breeze and more old Indonesian day-beds. Wondering whether to rent a boat or go scuba diving in that made-for-snorkelling clear blue sea, we discover that there’s even a marine take on 'pick your own’ here. Not confident we know how to snare baby octopus and sea urchins correctly, we skip the likelihood we’d just end up gurgling ‘ow’ a lot underwater.
Besides, there’s plenty on-shore to ogle. Pert bejewelled ladies in skimpy bikinis, huge hats, sunglasses and high heels compete for our attentions with tanned and toned 20-years-younger George Clooney-a-likes in Speedos. When one of the waiters asked if I would like to see the catch of the day, I half expect one of these beach Adonises to produce something from their posing pouches. A wraparound-shaded Mr Smith meanwhile keeps a cool exterior while eyeing up the beach beauties covering themselves in oil. He only lets his guard slip when he lights the wrong end of his cigarette.
When Signore Smith finally regains his composure, I suggest a move from leching to Lecce with an afternoon excursion to the ‘Florence of the South’. A 50-minute drive away, it is the nearest city to the masseria. Small, easy to navigate, and with stunning baroque architecture and interesting boutiques, it’s well worth a visit. The fantastic jewellery which ranges from cheap-chic to top dollar has my curiosity piqued. Finally, just as I give into some charming old ceramics, the shop-owner tempts Mr Smith with a charcoal drawing of a naked woman. Well, can you blame him? ‘I’ll take the naked lady in the corner,’ he says, procuring the perfect souvenir for a couple utterly seduced by Torre Maizza.