Time for sharing a hideaway?
We find ourself in Puglia, deep in the heel of southern Italy.
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Hideway club villa: it's not easy to find, but offers peace and tranquility
A luxury villa in a beautiful secret location may not suit the adventurous globe-trotter. But if you hanker after - and can afford - an exclusive beauty spot with your own concierge and a private chef, a Hideaways Club villa could be an option. Less of a time-share, they say, than an investment. You get a share of the equity of the funds' portfolio and up to eight weeks' holiday per year.
Hideaways are literally named: they are not easy to find. Three of us finally reached the villa in Masseria La Rosa in Puglia deep in the heel of Italy and about ten minutes from the village of Carpigiano.
After one hour's drive from Brindisi Airport on the superstrada 16, we discovered the elegant 15th Century style house within two formal internal courtyards in five acres of olive groves. In fact the whole area is olive grove country; flat landscape dotted with pine, palm and cypress trees.
This villa had five double bedrooms with luxuriously equipped ensuite bathrooms: no stinting on the Molton Brown or the white towelling robes.
Constructed from Pietra Leccese, the local stone, its ceilings are vaulted and etched with natural rustic colours, all carved by skilled local stonemasons who tend to be older, since younger craftsmen reject such painstaking work. The silence here is broken by day by the incessant clatter of crickets and by night by a very hoarse frog.
On arrival we found the open plan kitchen table overflowing with local bread and rolls, fruit, cheese, coffee, chocolate and pasta - and that was before Giovanni, our chef came laden with his own provisions.
He concocted so many courses that we were almost too stuffed to jump into the infinity pool, a long rectangle of aquamarine. We begged for less but his Italian spirit was undaunted.
Flights: Ryanair flies to Bari and Brindisi direct from Stansted. Fares start from £200 return. British Airways flies to Bari from £300 return.
Care hire: Avis offers a car for 270 euros a day.
Time share fees: Members pay between £132,500 and £250,000 plus management fees for up to eight weeks holiday per annum, depending on their investment level. A chef costs extra. For example, a buffet lunch for a minimum of six will cost $33 per person, excluding shopping. There are 54 destinations.
The skills of a Masterchef were there for the taking. Glazed sauté potatoes, swordfish, sea-bass, salads, the obligatory pasta course, chocolate mousse, tiramisu - all washed down with the local white wine, Vigna Vinera, from Salentino.
And when he finished cooking, Giovanni, a technology graduate, chucked his apron and doubled as IT expert. The laptop was inclined to play up as was Sky TV.
Breakfast in Puglia consists of Rustico, a mozzarella and tomato bread or pasticiotto, a local Lecce dish, made of cream, egg and milk, and pasta, foglia rustica, made with cheese and folded puff pastry. Giovanni cooked us eggs with cheese every day.
Although the villa is isolated, there are local grocery shops at Martano, 10km away, a horse riding school at Sant'Andrea, jointly owned with the local quad bike company, plus health club facilities, and massage and yoga experts who will come to the villa.
If you prefer the coast to olive groves, the Alimni beach near Carpigiano Salentino offers 250 km of Ionian or Adriatic coastline with white sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and ancient grottoes. This is a long stretch of dramatic sand dunes, clear water with facilities for children, including face painting, music, treasure hunts, pizza and seafood restaurants.
Another pinnacle of beauty is the Torre dell'Orso, a lovely cove with its "two sisters" rock faces, offering the view of a dramatic cliff face. The old baroque town of Lecce, reputed to be the Florence of the South, is perched between Otranto and Maglie and has a magnificent cathedral, churches and piazzas and. You enter the old city through a typical, lush Italian garden, a wide boulevard lined with sculptures and tall cypresses. The city walls date back to the Renaissance.
We had a cappuccino in a café on Vittorio Emanuelle in the shade of the Chiesa d'Irene, a church named for the first patron saint of the city. One thing you can be sure of here are musicians and brides. A trumpeter belted out O Sole Mio, as a nonchalant bride wandered idly past, her groom in tow. Another one followed in the same way, as though getting married was just something you do here to pass the time.
In this intensely Catholic region, a pastoral tranquillity reigns. But the churches with their rococo facades are a hub of local energy. An old man lights candles and a beggar touches you for euros. Wherever you go, everything falls into the sharp shadow of the churches under the brilliant July sunshine.
In the Piazza Sant' Oronzo, the eponymous saint himself looks down from a high 17th Century column, blessing the town in papal aspect. He is credited with having stopped an epidemic of the plague.
We drove to Martano, whose 19th century clock tower chimes the hour as more sullen brides go walkabout.
I peeped into an artist's studio where an unfinished sculpture of Mary eerily pitched forward with a nail in her back. The local stone houses in ochre and terracotta colours were bathed in an inert sunshine above shops with pale yellow awnings selling postcards and tourist tat. In such towns you can suddenly discover a lovely Roman alcove with rococo pillars leading to an interesting courtyard.
The seaside town of Ottranto was bustling at the start of the season with its secretive, curvilinear streets, food-stalls, bars, restaurants and a bay with a lovely marina.
You can find more ancient walls, monuments and arty shops hidden in deep alcoves here – and, of course, the inevitable wandering bride!