intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
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).
© 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.
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.
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’.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Prices 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
How 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?
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
Films to be watched before arriving
Period music to be enjoyed on location
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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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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