The perfect imperfection of Italy's Puglia
There is a moment, as the coach starts down the drive, when I look across to my partner, watch his shoulders rise by about three centimeters and know already that this hotel will be a dismal failure.
The reps outside are singing and dancing. There are reps.
We last four days. The straw that breaks the boyfriend’s back comes when we are forced to walk past the hotel manager resplendent on a white stallion, his billowing white shirt open to the waist, to a white-themed lunch. And at the lunch the table collapses on us throwing terrible rosé into my lap and no-one comes to help, so entranced are they in the conga of chefs dancing through the trees.
And so we move, to a new hotel, at great expense, where they sting us with €50 glasses of champagne and I burst into tears, and everyone agrees that we’ll leave it a few months before contemplating a holiday again.
So it’s September, and we are attempting a trip to Puglia, tacked onto the end of a work trip for me, where I get bitten to pieces by bedbugs in what’s supposed to be Milan’s newest, swankiest hotel. Toby gets flu 24 hours before he’s due to fly and meet me.
Not the most auspicious of starts. It does improve. I hedge my bets by booking four different hotels. We will jump in and out, drive round and round, and chase the sun from spot to spot hoping always that the best is yet to come.
Each destination seems to work like a Libran set of scales.
The amazing tiny pool chiselled into the sea wall in Monopoli somewhat balanced out by the door to our room, which opens straight onto the street and is frequently mistaken for the entrance of the hotel by couples returning from dinner in the early hours of the morning. We get used to thinking someone is breaking in, and figure no one would ever get used to such a perfect pool to cool off in. Plus, Monopoli itself we adore. The Medieval city with its hundreds of churches (skeletons of long dead priests dressed up in their habits bizarrely visible through one memorable window) perfectly circled by the dullest metropolitan city Italy has to offer.
Our favourite hotel of the trip – Borgo Canonica – comes with perfect trulli, delicious pool and terrible restaurant, where it’s so painfully quiet we ask a waiter if he doesn’t perhaps have some music, and he whispers back that the stereo is broken.
And then the outlandish finale to the trip: Masseria Potenti, so astonishing in its vastness, I struggle to find another adjective to describe it, so keep spluttering the word “astonishing” and take photograph after photograph, while Toby grumbles that there’s no one to be found when we need drinks, and dinner won’t be served until the flowers, the rugs, the candles have been arranged just so.
But we are sedated at all times by Puglian red and, as my bed-bug rashes start to fade, and Toby’s flu subsides, decide we like Puglia very much. It’s not perfect, but it has personality. Bags of it. And who needs ambiance in a restaurant when there’s somewhere else just down the road to explore tomorrow.