S. Stefano di Sessanio is a fortified medieval village. It is located in the mountains of Abruzzo at 1250 meters above sea level, inside the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga national park. The village is a classic example of an Italian medieval hill town, with perimeter walls encircling houses and squares. During the last century the “modernisation” of rural Italy compromised the architectural heritage of many of its countryside villages and towns. But Santo Stefano, like many more remote Mediterranean mountain villages, was deserted when its impoverished inhabitants left in search of work. Paradoxically, the abandonment saved the town from architectural abuse.
The project to conserve and revive Santo Stefano as an “albergo diffuso” (village hotel) involved a detailed plan to preserve the integrity of the village and its surrounding landscape. Working alongside local organizations such as the town mayor and the national park., we proposed special laws to prohibit any new construction. Our aim was to bring the village back to life and to welcome tourists, but without sacrificing Santo Stefano’s identity. To retain Santo Stefano’s local character all modern technology is hidden. We searched out original architectural materials, and our furniture and textiles are authentic items from the Abruzzo mountains. We have preserved traces of bygone countryside life in the fabric of the buildings – symbols of hardship which evoke the spirit of ancient rural life.
One of our aims is to reflect Abruzzo’s rural traditions. This heritage has strong roots among the mountain people who cherish their pastoral culture. Part of our mission is to rediscover regional gastronomy. We have bought neighbouring land to produce local food, which is available from a restored building (a former cellar) in the centre of the village. In researching local culinary heritage and rituals, we have discovered a local cuisine where resources were few, but the love of food was great. Working with the Museum of the People of Abruzzo – and with the help and advice of the older residents from the area – we have revived artisan skills which go back centuries. Using only traditional raw materials, Santo Stefano’s weavers are producing hand made fabrics for use in our rooms, and to offer to the public directly from the workshop.