A Unique Place to Stay
Submitted by admin on 4 Jun 2013
The Albergo Sextantio in the tiny village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in the heart of Abruzzo's Gran Sasso National Park is a truly unique hotel experience. Its owner, the visionary entrepreneur Daniele Kihlgren, calls it an "albergo diffuso" or a "scattered hotel" because all the bedrooms, the reception and dining areas occupy the original medieval dwellings and cottages in this remarkable little town.
There is an interesting paradox in the fact that Kihlgren's family fortune came from the cement industry, and yet he has devoted more than the last ten years and millions of euros to saving, restoring and redeveloping the town using only the most authentic materials and craftsmen so that its medieval heart and heritage remain completely intact. People who work at the hotel have learned new skills such as weaving, and the bedspreads in every room are hand-woven on an ancient loom. Great effort has gone too into researching authentic recipes from the region and sourcing all produce from the immediate locality.
When Daniele Kihlgren arrived in the village for the first time in the late 1990s it was all but abandoned, with a population of only about 100 people. At the height of its prosperity in the 1800s Santo Stefano was a key player in the lucrative wool trade but as this industry declined the town lost its economic power and its population. And it is precisely because it was abandoned that it remains so unspoilt in the 21st century. The surrounding countryside is pristine and there has been no modern development to upset the natural harmony of the environment.
Sadly for everyone involved in the project the earthquake of April 2009, which was so devastating to L'Aquila, also reached Santo Stefano. Although the majority of the dwellings used by the hotel were reinforced to withstand the shock, the central tower in the town collapsed and many other buildings are still propped up by scaffolding. But, in many ways, this adds to the continuing story of this remarkable town and bears witness to the hardships of life in this mountainous and marginal region of Abruzzo.
Since starting this project Daniele Kihlgren has been approached by numerous small towns in southern Italy in a similar state of abandonment and disrepair, and there are plans to give the same treatment to at least six more.
Our Wilds of Abruzzo tour takes us to the Albergo Sextantio for the first three nights of the trip. As one of our guests this year said: "It is a privilege to stay in such a place." After our stunning hikes in the National Park there was time to explore the town on foot and we organised a cooking class by candlelight in the hotel's Locanda and tried our hand at many regional specialities: pane con lievito madre (a sourdough bread); maccheroni alla chitarra (a pasta made into thin strands on a wooden block strung with fine wires like a guitar); and ferratelle (a sort of pancake cooked in an iron press on the fire).
The Wilds of Abruzzo tour is scheduled to run again in 2015 in June and September. Do get in touch early if you are interested. The walking is some of the most challenging we offer but the scenery of Abruzzo's three National Parks is spell-binding and the chance to stay in this hotel is a unique experience not to be missed! To see all the photos from the tour in May see our Facebook page.