Sometimes great ideas for an article spring from a photo—like the one above.
We were wandering through everyone’s favorite mountain village in the quake-ravaged Abruzzo, Santo Stefano di Sessanio, on a fine, spring day with all the fruit trees in full flower when I snapped this picture. I thought it was an interesting view, and the “diffused hotel” idea appeals to me and might appeal to other folks. As I looked at the picture upon returning home, I though I’d post it on our newly-born Tumblr page, for found stuff that didn’t warrant many words of comment.
“Sextantio,” I thought, looking at the phallic tower springing up over the words on the sign, “that’s interesting…”
So I was drawn into some research.
It turns out that the albergo really doesn’t have a name. Sextantio is the name of a company the takes village houses and turns them into compelling places to stay. It turns out that the owner of the company, Daniele Kihlgren, has some interesting ways to look at tourism in Italy—especially the parts of Italy tourists overlook.
In Italy, a country of Story, should be preserved a history too often disqualified as “minor”- such as dotted villages among the Abruzzi mountains and historical heritage so far from the canons of classicism.
Ok, so it’s a bad translation but an interesting observation. Italy is a country of history (the word for “history and “story” are pretty much the same word in Italian), but we come for but two little slices of this history, the classics and the Renaissance, which limits our travel and experience considerably.
Our interest in these narrow bits of history protects their resting places. That’s where we leave our money, after all. Meanwhile, the rest of Italy, and I’m taking about a huge swath of Italy, from unfortunate L’Aquila to the southern tip of the boot, there is a grand exodus of art and interesting people. Many of the village centers of the Abruzzo are abandoned from earthquakes and other natural disasters, as we found from our last excursion. There is no great Renaissance art to save them.
So Sextantio is set to save some of these villages. It’s an admirable plan, although you might be a little turned off by the idea that “at the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso in S. Stefano di Sessanio, the Reception is inside a cave used to grow the pig.” On the other hand, some of you, like I, will find this re-use a favorable thing which will increase our resolve to stay there some day. Think of the lost culinary traditions! And I long for the day when the pigs return and we’ll all be able to dine very well on a tasty and humanely treated animal.
The whole idea of saving a whole village from extinction by re-using what’s already there is something I’m really excited about. Yes, there’s always been re-use through the centuries, some of it robbing us of interesting antiquities to gawk at, but the methods used here are uniquely gentle on the past. As these alberghi diffusi are built, property management services for folks who want to finance the restoration of other buildings will follow (in fact, property management for outside properties is built into the mission statement of Sextantio).
And who knows, when the world dissolves into endless war and the soil is depleted by the tons of chemicals we increasingly “need” to produce our genetically engineered crap food, you might be glad you bought a little place in the mountains of the Abruzzo, with a restaurant that serves the food the locals cook and relish.
Are we looking too nostalgically on the past? Should we always be facing forward? Is Janus dead? I hope not. I want some of that pig, dammit.
There is a footnote to this story: It appears that tourism is indeed returning to the little city, helped by Kihlgren’s vision:
According to the most recently available hospitality figures from the regional tourism department, the village saw 4,361 visitor arrivals in 2013 versus 900 in 2005. ~ Keeping an Italian medieval village alive
Read the Mission Statement of Sextantio.
Heck, why not rent a room?