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This former convent turned small retreat defines hidden gem. There is no Web site or local phone number. Its entrance is behind imposing doors in a small Pugliese village. Once you enter the cloistered courtyard, you feel as if you are off the map, in a rarefied world that has its own rhythms. That difference is this place’s great charm — it is the kind of intimate and unapologetically eccentric place with real character that is a dying breed in an age of corporate resort chains. The eight-room property is filled with the fine antiques and books of its owners — Alistair McAlpine, the former treasurer of the Conservative party under Margaret Thatcher, and his wife, Athena, who are avid art collectors. The gardens are home to rare plants and cactuses, and breakfast and other meals are based on seasonal and local ingredients, served in an informal but romantic atmosphere. And it is only a short drive to treasures like Lecce and Otranto. Doubles from 350 euros, including breakfast, lunch, wine and laundry service; Via Convento, Marittima di Diso, (44-7736) 362-328. ONDINE COHANE
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