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Sextantio albergo diffuso – L’Aquila

History of the house

A humble and authentic rural experience in this Italian medieval village in the Abruzzi

Santo Stefano di Sessanio is a medieval hill-top village in the Abruzzi. The Roman settlement “Sextantia” located round the church, gave its name to the site, located “six miles” from the former town of San Marco (close to Calascio).

Santo-Stefano_Abruzzi_Sextantio_Italy

© Ra Boe

The village was primarily an 11th century defensive fort whose outer houses were inter-connected and reinforced to form a protection wall. It fell into the hands of the Medici in 1579, who built a symbolic “Torre Medicea” (which unfortunately collapsed during the 2009 earthquake). Santo Stefano di Sessanio was (later) transformed into a shepherds’ village, and its wool became famous (as did its delicious green lentils).

In the mid-18th century, the village fell under the aegis of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, becoming the personal fief of the King of Naples.

Santo-Stefano_Abruzzi

After the unification of Italy, the village became a municipality, affected by emigration and decline with the end of sheep transhumance (due to land privatization). It had become almost totally abandoned when a few rural heritage enthusiasts decided to restore a large number of traditional houses and turn them into a “diffused hotel”. The Sextantio albergo diffuso Santo Stefano is now considered one of Italy’s most authentic old locations.

Three guidelines for conservation

1. Maintaining the original use, form and materials of the building. The dimensions of doors and windows should not be changed, nor should the internal divisions of rooms. Where possible the original layout and use of the rooms should be retained.

2. Architectural fittings used to replace those which have been lost are sourced from the local area. Where possible, reclaimed materials should be placed in the same context. The difference between classical restoration and this vernacular conservation is that in rural heritage much architectural salvage is interchangeable between locations – not designed by a specific architect for a particular situation.

3. Our approach to conservation includes the retention of traces of life found in the fabric of the building – part of the life-cycle of former residents in the places where they were born, lived and died. You could call this “extreme restoration”, because in most restorations ancient signs of life are covered up or removed, but for us they are part of the history of a village. This approach to conservation involves research into rural heritage. Research allows us to place objects in their correct context, to illustrate the passage of time, to display what may be called the ‘building’s wounds’.

Sextantio Albergo Diffuso Santo StefanoThe peasant culture of these hill towns has a consistent thread. There is a long-standing tradition of furniture styles for beds and clothes chests. Materials such as bed covers are made from new, using traditional fabrics and artisan techniques. These are researched from the oral history of the last generation who lived in these villages, or period photographs.

Where we have had to put elements into buildings that were not historically present – such as wardrobes, rarely found in the rural home – rather than modern fittings we have used recovered materials. Materials which retain the form, color, patina, touch and smell of the period location. The historic setting never had a formal aesthetic, so if we were to use contemporary furnishings it would create visual discord and confusion.

Santo_Stefano_Abruzzi

Where elements are added for the comfort and standards of modern living – such as bathrooms, which did not exist in the original structures – a minimalist design is best suited. The simple, formal, neutral elegance of modern design (such as a Starck bathtub) will not clash with the historic context. This type of design should frame and enhance the historic setting, rendering it even more clear.

In the village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio itself

Do not miss the “Tisaneria“, where you can both drink a delicious (mountain) herb tea (or liquor) and buy some local produces made in the area by traditional artisans (wool blankets, natural soap, biscuits and decorations.

Santo-Stefano-Abruzzi-Tisaneria

Insider Tips

Life in Santo Stefano di Sessanio varies greatly from one season to another. Summer attracts many visitors, drawn to the region with its pure light and wild perfume. Winter is a much cosier proposition when the roofs are engulfed with snow and only cars fitted with snow tyres can get around. Spring and autumn are also fantastic – ideal for invigorating walks in the mountain pastures.

Albergo diffuso Sextantio Santo Stefano di SessanioPrices vary in relation to demand. Weekends are more expensive than week days. In the low season, “suites” and “superior” rooms are offered at the same (affordable) rate as “classical” rooms.

If you come as a family, do reserve communicating rooms, or book a two-room “executive” suite.

As in all mountainous regions, the food served in Santo Stefano is very rich, particularly during the winter months. The dishes are simple and delicious with local fresh produce, but if you order several courses you may like to plan a lie-down afterwards …

For those who arrive from Pescara (airport) or L’Aquila, there are good bus connections (5 times a day) with the village. See: www.arpaonline.it

intoHistory TipHow about starting by reading the article ““Rural life in the mountains – with no fuss”, written on the spot, to appreciate the albergo diffuso Santo Stefano as if you were sitting on a stone wall facing the Gran Sasso National Park?

 

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Facilities

  • 28 bedrooms (more to follow)
  • Restaurant (local specialities)
  • Breakfast cafeteria
  • Herbal tea bar / local crafts shop
  • Wifi
  • Meeting room
  • Spoken languages: Italian, English, French
  • Pescara airport: 84 km
  • Distance from Rome: 140 km
  • Public transportation (bus) via L’Aquila
  • Families and children welcome
  • Pets allowed
  • Non-smoking interior

In the neighbourhood

In the neighborhood

  • Rocca Calascio (impressive medieval fort, at walking distance from the village)
  • Castel del Monte (other medieval town, with beautiful period buildings)
  • Campo imperatore (a lot of films have been made in this rocky desert landscape)
  • Gran Sasso National Park
Santo_Stefano_di_Sessanio

Rocca Calascio

To read, watch or listen to

To soak up the period atmosphere of the albergo diffuso Santo Stefano, might we suggest you add a fourth dimension to your stay by a little reading (there’s nothing better than a good historical novel to bring age-old surroundings to life). And why not let your imagination be captivated by a film, or by listening to some choice pieces of music – all great ways of travelling back in time … A few suggestions:

Books to be devoured in situ

    • “The Name of the Rose”, by Umberto Eco (set in the Abruzzi mountains)
      Why (re)read this erudite Medieval detective thriller in Santo Stefano? Because the story takes place in the Abruzzi in the 14th century, at a time when the living conditions of the protagonists were not that different from those of the inhabitants of the village (although the education level of the monks was obviously considerably higher).
    • “In the Abruzzi”, by Anne MacDonell
      Anne MacDonell discovers the Abruzzi in 1907, at a time when it was almost unknown to the public. The very poetic descriptions of her journey, beautifully illustrated by Amy Atkinson’s watercolours, are a stay in history by themselves!
    • “A Childhood in the Abruzzi: a Memoir”, by Art P. Zavarella
      The passion of an Italian-born writer, now living in the US, for the village in the Abruzzi where he spent the first years of his life.
    • “Chewing Gum in Holy Water: a Childhood in the Heart of Italy”, by Mario Valentini
      Humorous adventures of a small boy, living with his beloved uncle (and priest) to acquire an education. A very endearing insight into the beautiful (and scarred) Italian village communities just after WWII.
    • “Food and Memories of Abruzzo: Italy’s Pastoral Land”, by Anna Teresa Callen
      Not just another cookbook: firstly because Abruzzi cuisine is very distinctive (definitely part of the Italian experience), but also because the writer comes back to the roots of the culinary traditions in these mountains, plunging us into age-old noble rituals.

Films to be watched before arriving

      • “Ladyhawke”, by Richard Donner (filmed at the Rocca Calascio, next to the village)
        A medieval fantasy tale shot in the 1980s, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick already very promising actors. Several scenes in the movie were filmed at Rocca Calascio, within walking distance of the village of Santo Stefano.
      • “The Americain”, by Anton Corbijn
        An American hit man has to hide in a small village in the Abruzzi while waiting to execute his last contract. There he makes unexpected contact with its inhabitants and a mysterious call girl, before being overtaken by his fate … With George Clooney, who stayed at the Sextantio diffused hostel during filming.

Period music to be enjoyed on location

      • Traditional Abruzzi folk music, such as Alla Bua (e.g. “Russu te sira”)
        Unfamiliar musical compositions, full of rhythm and rocky vocals.
      • Italian music of the 1920s-1930s
      • Original Italian Opera music of the late 19th century
        Ideally historical recordings such as those of Enrico Caruso, Italy’s most famous tenor before WW1.

 

Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which will help towards covering its running costs.

Guests comments

Évaluation selon 1 avis:

Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort

Gery de Pierpont

05-12-2013

Dépaysant, envoûtant, inoubliable : jamais autant qu'à Santo Stefano di Sessanio je n'ai eu l'impression d'entrer "physiquement" dans l'histoire. Bonheur d'explorer le dédale des ruelles anciennes ou de jouer avec les verrous de fer forgé des vieilles portes. Se retrouver blotti sous une couverture de laine dans une petite chambre sans âge, aux murs ronds et trapus, éclairée par quelques bougies, c'est un peu comme s'endormir dans le cocon de l'histoire. Retrouver le tout petit espace de sécurité d'ancêtres paysans exposés aux rudesses de la vie.
Paysages nus et empierrés à perte de vue. Cuisine inattendue et généreuse.
Comme à l'époque, la maçonnerie épaisse isole remarquablement bien, notamment des sons du voisinage, mais on ne peut pas en dire autant des portes !
Seul le bruit du chauffage (au demeurant nourri) a un peu troublé mon sommeil...

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Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort

Middle Ages Village Inn/Hostel 150-220€/room

Rustic

Sextantio Albergo diffuso
Via Principe Umberto
I-67020 Santo Stefano di Sessanio (Italy)
+39 0862 899112
Hotel’s own web site

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