Sextantio Albergo Diffuso is a cultural and historical project which breathes life into forgotten places. The result of this project here in Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo, Italy is a fairly recent concept in the hotel business. An “albergo diffuso” is a ‘hotel’ scattered throughout a town in different houses. Guests are assimilated into the village and feel part of the community.
The old villages in Abruzzo are often abandoned. The young people leave, the other population is aging, the houses remain uninhabited. This was the destiny of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in the Gran Sasso National Park until 1999. In the same year the Swedish-Italian millionaire Daniele Kihlgren was on a motorbike trip in this region and stumbled upon the beaty of this almost –deserted hilltop village.
“Time seemed to have stood perfectly still – no concrete buildings, no factories, no tourist infrastructure like the Swiss chalets you find in so many Abruzzese towns,” says Kihlgren. It wasn’t long before he returned to Santo Stefano – not only with his motorbike, but also with a plan to save this village from extinction. He bought one house and soon another 10, with more than 4000 mq from the residents who were no longer living there.
Next step was signing a deal with the local authorities to leave Santo Stefano in its original condition – in other words, an embargo on building new houses and a ban on the use of concrete. In exchange, Kihlgren invested up to €4.5 million – a mix of his own and borrowed money – on breathing new life into the village and giving it a second chance. “This has nothing to do with renovation,” Kihlgren insists. “It’s about restoration – restoring honour. I had a unique opportunity to save one of the last authentic places in Italy from the grip of cement.”
Kihlgren received help from some big names, including the renowned British architect David Chipperfield, who also supports the concept of ‘conservative restoration’, or restoring while maintaining original features. “We try to retain everything that refers back to village life,” says Kihlgren. “Only local materials are used, and old furniture and artefacts were sourced in the area. Modern technology, such as under-floor heating and light switches, is discreetly hidden. We also conducted research with the National Museum of Abruzzo and talked to the elderly residents of Santo Stefano to discover how people used to live and what materials they used. Even beter, after a couple of days staying here, you feel connected with the place.” The interior is inspired by pictures that Paul Scheuermeier, swiss linguist, took in abruzzo in the 20s of 20th century. There are no TVs, but wifi connection is provided. Just to say hi to your relatives because the phone connection is poor.
La Locanda Sotto Gli Archi
La Locanda Sotto Gli Archi is the reastaurant of Sextantio. The name comes from the two large seiling arches and the name of the street, via degli Archi, because of the numerous arches. A central fireplace is the focal point of the restaurant. All furniture is primitive, minimal and antique. All the plates, mugs and carafes are from handmade ceramic. The food is based on the rule of simplicity and tradition. The dishes are cooked following the original recipes and using only ingredients from the region. I recommend the lentil soup with the Santo Stefano di Sessanio lentils.
If you have time stop by La Tisaneria (the tearoom) for a tea made from local herbs or check La Bottega where you can buy objects from the hotel. Il Cantinone (the cellar) is where you can try some wine (mostly local) and grab a quick bite instead of dinner. The atmosphere is unique.
How to find Sextantio Albergo Diffuso
The hotel is 150 kilometres (a 1.5-hour drive) from Rome and 100 kilometres from the Adriatic coast and the city of Pescara. The best way to explore the region is by car. Sextantio Albergo Diffuso has 27 rooms dotted throughout several buildings, ranging from double rooms to suites, which are twice as large. You can visit the nearest vilages of Rocca Calascio and the fortress or the village of Castel del Monte – both at a 20 min drive. The only thing to improve is the hospitality of the staff members. Sextantio Albergo Diffuso
The hotel is a member of Design Hotels™ .
First photo courtesy of David De Vleeschauwer