Room Service: Masseria Torre Coccaro, Italy

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The Independent Travel

"Cycle down the lane, around the golf course and you'll come to the beach." Seemed simple enough. The lane was pot-holed, the hedgerows sprouted dusty poppies, the sea, a tantalising couple of kilometres away, glistened in the distance.

We set off in high spirits on four cheerily yellow hotel bikes, waving to friendly farmhands and starring in our own rural Italian idyll. At the golf course we braked. Which way round?

Guessing left, sun beating down, faces turning as red as the poppies and bikes becoming less cheery by the minute, we clanked on. An hour and an aborted short cut across the golf course later, we screeched to a halt on the rocky coastline. The hotel pool with its thatch umbrellas and shady bar beckoned.

Puglia is not renowned for its beaches. If you check into the Masseria Torre Coccaro now, however, you'll be able to burrow your toes into the soft white sand of the recently opened beach club. (If there are no decent beaches, hell - why not make one?)

The Masseria is one of a wave of old fortified farmhouses being converted into boutique hotels across Puglia. It dates back to the 16th-century and has a watchtower once used to scan the coast for Turkish pirates. Surrounded by olive trees, in summer you can lounge on vivid blue cushions Moroccan style amongst the crumbling white-walled seating area by the open-air restaurant - in winter snuggle up in front of the roaring log fires inside.

There's a tiny chapel in the courtyard where the people of the nearby village of Savelletri used to worship and where you can now get married. The old citadel also has an Aveda spa, a cookery school and a yacht you can charter to go fishing.

LOCATION

Masseria Torre Coccaro, C. da Coccaro 8, 72010 Savelletri di Fasano, Brindisi, Apulia, Italy (00 39 080 482 9310; www.masseriatorrecoccaro.com).

Time to international airport: it's midway between Brindisi and Bari airports, both around 50km away and around an hour's drive.

COMFORTABLE?

There are 33 rooms, a handful in the old tower, others in caves in the grounds but most in an L-shaped, low-slung, whitewashed building. Our room was one of the latter. It had rough hewn white walls, a floor of pale stone slabs, vaulted ceiling and red wooden shutters framed by white broderie anglaise curtains.

The furniture was a bit Heidi-goes-to-Italy - curved headboards painted with pink roses on a cream background, a chunky green painted chest and mottled antique mirror - but the overall effect was charmingly rustic. An alcove was stocked with books and well-thumbed magazines; a vase of wildflowers spilling daisies and poppies from the surrounding meadows. Each has its own little patch of garden with two sun loungers. The rooms in the tower are elegant and scattered with antiques. The cave rooms burrow into the rock.

Freebies: basic toiletries

Keeping in touch: Direct-dial phone, satellite TV.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Doubles start from €235 (£168) with breakfast.

I'm not paying that: Masseria Marzalossa (00 39 080 441 3780; www.marzalossa.it) has doubles from €109 (£78), including breakfast.

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