Romance isn't just for couples, in our book: it's evening aperitifs under festoon lighting draped in the olive groves; a sunset catch-up conducted under a pomegranate tree; a candlelit dinner out in the garden for the whole family to enjoy, the feast whipped up by a witty Italian chef. And when we're heading to Italy, we want that love-filled ambience all around - even when we're travelling with friends.
Which is why we loved this gorgeous Puglian villa. It might be the ultimate honeymoon location, with swoon-worthy interiors and perfumed gardens adding just the right amount of romantic ambience, but Villa Tenuta MarVi is also bang on the money for a platonic get-together with the gang. Blending modern and traditional architecture, al fresco living and plenty of clever touches to ease your transition into la dolce vita (including a local chef on standby, fresh produce in the garden, and a fully equipped spa tucked away in the greenery), there's plenty of Italian amore swirling around this luxurious abode, whoever you're bunking up with.
Star-crossed lovers might prefer to snap up the bedrooms housed away from the main building, in traditional trulli structures, but Tenuta MarVi proves that romance is about much more than couples. Excitement over the unknown, a warm, fuzzy feeling from being with people who bring you joy - you could call it love, but we'd call it a holiday feeling.
The villa sleeps 10 across five bedrooms - three in the main house and two in the guesthouse - each with its own bathroom stocked with organic olive oil-infused bath products and sporting high, cathedral-like ceilings. As with the communal areas of the property, interiors are playful, mixing neutral fabrics with pops of vibrant colour, inviting you to settle in, pour a glass of Primitivo and raise a toast to the good life.
Totter down past tufts of wild shrubbery, trees heavy with pomegranates and prickly pear plants to access the traditional trulli structure. Here, you'll find two further guestrooms, both decorated in the same palette of soothing neutrals with zingy flashes of pistachio green, raspberry and cerulean blue across the cushions, candles and artworks. Away from the main house and cocooned by two courtyards and strings of fairy lights, these rooms are slightly more romantic and, during our stay, were snapped up by the Romeo and Juliets of the group. No complaints, obviously; we'd rather fall asleep listening to the sound of the crickets than anything else…
Stealing the show and coming for Carole Bamford's wellness crown is the ochre-coloured, Moroccan-inspired spa found at the bottom of the garden. Inside, you'll find a hammam, steam room, showers and a hot tub (a soak in which is a great way to soothe any niggling insect bites).
Elsewhere, there's a pool framed by lazy boy bean bags, pampas grass and lavender, a wine cellar equipped with an ice machine - ideal for lunchtime Aperol-based cocktail-making - a pantry, barbecue, pizza oven, organic fruit and veg garden and no fewer than four al fresco dining areas. Plus, a terrace with prime sunset views and two seats nestled next to an olive tree, framed by pontoon lights.
Where should we go for a food shop?
When you arrive, you'll find basketfuls of fresh fruit and vegetables - all plucked from the villa's garden by hero gardener and handyman Daniel - in addition to mozzarella, Parma ham and chilled beers in the fridge, a fully stocked pantry filled with fresh pasta, homemade pasta sauce and pesto and, downstairs, a cellar full of locally produced wine (charged extra).
After demolishing the supplies, head to the nearby town of Salve to restock the cupboards.
Any essentials we need to pack?
Aside from a thrilling novel to get lost in and Stanley Tucci's latest cookbook? Nothing. Between them, the villa owners and The Thinking Traveller have taken care of it all. They can even book you a wine tasting at the click of a button.
How about their green credentials?
Good. Think solar panels, an organic garden, circular waste system and an instruction manual with detailed recycling instructions that emphasise the respect the villa's owners have for the land.
What about accessibility?
Due to the sloping nature of the grounds, we'd suggest picking a different villa from The Thinking Traveller's vast collection if ease of access is a priority.
Who should I bring?
That's up to you. This is a great property at which to kick back with your go-to travel gang or - equally - for a wholesome family affair. Though younger guests might not share your joy over the serene spa at the bottom of the garden...
Things I should know
Hiring a car is a necessity. Opt for something on the smaller size to make navigating the winding roads around Salve a cinch and to save the embarrassment of making seven attempts to parallel park outside the bakery. Oh, and pack litres of lavender oil. Mosquitoes are rife in the area and the oil is a natural deterrent.
Within a short walk I can find…
Aside from the vegetable patch, fruit orchard and spa, you'll find the sherbert-coloured town of Salve. It's pretty (if a little gritty), and an ideal place to stock up on fresh pasticciotto. These bite-sized, custard or ricotta-filled golden nuggets are as much a symbol of Puglia as croissants are of France.
The villa costs from £3,731 to £10,510 a week, depending on season.