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Santo Stefano di Sessanio – Albergo Diffuso Sextantio – The Scattered Hotel:
Perhaps not the most auspicious start to my visit to the medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, I arrived and parked with no real understanding of how to find the hotel. Of course, I’d over-packed and wheeling my suitcase over the cobbles I began to regret not having a sensible backpack. But, it was difficult to be grumpy, the tiny streets were peaceful and charming in the sort of way that a guidebook might describe as ‘authentic’. There were plenty of signs of the 2009 Earthquake. Scaffolding and wooden supports throughout, holding stones in place that had survived for centuries previously.
Eventually of course we did find the hotel reception and were escorted to our rooms. Albergo Diffuso Sextantio is a hotel made up of a number of small houses throughout the village. Each has been sympathetically restored and has it’s own character.
Our house had a small living area, set out with a welcome flask of limoncello. The fireplace was laid, but totally unecessary as the entire house had extremely efficient underfloor heating.
My bedroom had a large if ultra firm double bed, a fireplace and candles, a window seat and a small desk complete with internet connection. The shower and bathroom fittings were hidden behind a small wall but otherwise fashioned as some kind of medieval wet room – with 21st century fittings. Whilst I loved the visual effect of the heavily silvered mirror, it was just a little too far from the plug to dry my hair with style!
But I’ll willingly forgive any quirks in the layout and design for the view from the window – as I’m sure anyone with a soul would do without hesitation.
Not suprisingly, this hotel doesn’t provide flat screen TVs and if you were hoping for Spa facilities you’ll be disappointed. But, the air is fresh, the views breathtaking and everyone is friendly. Apparently the village once had over 4,000 inhabitants. Now, with around 140 permanent residents it’s quiet and peaceful. The hotel initiative was intended to help restore ‘local heritage’. So, the rooms have been decorated in ‘Arte Povera’ style, and furnishings are authentic as far as practical and comfortable. My mattress was layered wool, the bed topped with a hand crocheted spread and the toiletries made from ‘artisan’ soaps. The walls are bare plaster and the fireplaces shadowed with soot.
Of all the reasons to find out about Abruzzo, the effect of the 2009 earthquake is perhaps the most significant. Search the internet and you’ll find images of how the Medici tower at Santo Stefano di Sessanio used to look. Here it is today – a scaffolding shadow of its former self. Were this Tuscany or even Sicily, I doubt the ravages of the earthquake would still be so evident nearly five years later.
And, Abruzzo is a region of Italy with some of the most stunning views.
I was there for a conference and had no time to explore the mountains, but the area is a favourite with walkers who stop off in the village to enjoy lunch in one of the traditional restaurants.
In fact the Albergo Diffuso Sextantio project started some five years BEFORE the earthquake. Now more than ever though, there’s a need to support the restoration and preservation of these tiny villages and part of the Blogaway initiative was to do just that by raising money for projects connected with the local communities
If you are considering Italy for a holiday and are looking for peace, tranquility, great food and something away from the crowds why not take a look at Abruzzo.
Prices are around 30% lower than in Tuscany – and you are far less likely to hear another English or American accent over dinner!
I stayed at Albergo Diffuso Sextantio in the Village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio