The rise of Italy’s village hotels – and 5 of the best

Castello di Gargonza village hotels hotels scattered Italy where to sleep vacations family travel – Getty

Originating in Italy between the late 1970s and early 1980s, the concept of “Albergo Diffuso” was the brainchild of hotel marketing consultant Giancarlo Dall’Ara, who found it as a way to relaunching tourism after a devastating earthquake in Friuli in 1976.

Subsequently he founded the Association of Diffused Hotels (alberghidiffusi.it) with the idea that the same model could give new life to the numerous semi-abandoned villages of Italy, a growing phenomenon for young people attracted by the sparkling lights of the city from better prospects of work and lifestyle.

The premise was that empty houses and apartments within a community could be repurposed as tourist accommodation, bringing in much-needed cash, while visitors would have a more authentic experience. Win win.

There is normally a central reception building, perhaps with a breakfast room, but rooms and apartments are scattered around the village and guests are encouraged to drink in the local bars, eat in the restaurants, spend their euros in the shops and mingle with the local community.

If the idea of ​​scattered hotels has now taken hold all over the world (Japan, Cyprus, France, Croatia and Romania have examples), Italy has by far the largest number, not only because here the idea it is entrenched but also surely because the raw material exists in such abundance: each hill seems to be crowned by some sort of settlement, many of which are getting close to achieving ‘ghost town’ status.

Petritoli Hill Marche hotel villages holidays - Getty

Petritoli Hill Marche hotel villages holidays – Getty

Some sprawling hotels are simple affairs while others, like the two extraordinary Sextantio hotels in Abruzzo and Basilicata, founded by Swedish-Italian entrepreneur Daniele Kihlgren, distinguish themselves with their sophisticated design credentials.

An entire village dedicated to tourism is a rather different concept. These do not have the same living opportunities as part of the local community, but can still offer an unconventional stay and are a perfect solution if you are looking for a party or event venue for a large group of family or friends.

Petritoli Hill in the Marche (groupaccommodation.com), for example, sleeps up to 200 people in 98 bedrooms, and you get exclusive use of the entire village, including its Baroque theatre. Prices come in at under £10 a head per night if you’ve got enough friends to fill it.

Some of these places, such as Castello di Gargonza in Tuscany, are the hereditary holdings of ancient aristocratic clans – complete with grand villas or patrician castles, lodgings and infrastructure for estate workers and their families – who turned to hospitality to maintain their country estates afloat.

Others have involved business-oriented private buyers with an eye to making a profit. Such set-ups tend to be more luxurious, offering an insight into aristocratic life, and with facilities aplenty, such as stellar restaurants, spas, swimming pools and tennis courts. Chapels or even theaters can be part of the deal and you may find yourself sleeping in a former pigsty, getting a massage in an oil mill and savoring gourmet food in an old stable.

At a time when “experiential” travel is all the rage, their popularity looks set to grow. Here are five of my favorites:

1. Sextant, Abruzzo

Spread around a tangle of ancient cobbled streets in a medieval village 4,100 feet above sea level in the wilds of mountainous Abruzzo, Sextantio offers guests a taste of simple village life, with some 21st century comforts. underfloor heating and fine bedding contrast with smoke-blackened walls, rough wooden furniture and woolen mattresses. Delicious Abruzzo food is served next to a large open fire in the bare stone dining room. Double up from €160/£138 (sextantio.it). Read the full hotel review here.

Sextantio, hotels Abruzzo travel holidays villages - Sextantio

Sextantio, hotels Abruzzo travel holidays villages – Sextantio

2. Gargonza Castle, Tuscany

One of the first hotels of its kind, this 14th-century fortified hamlet in the glorious countryside between Siena and Arezzo is the ancestral home of the Guicciardini Corsi Salviati Counts, who still manage it today. The eight self-catering apartments, some with open fireplaces, and 22 rooms nestled within its solid walls have a simple country style and can be rented by the night or by the week. There is a swimming pool with a view and a good restaurant just outside the walls where you can taste pappardelle with wild boar. Doubles from €160/£138 (gargonza.it). Read the full hotel review here.

3. Postignano Castle, Umbria

An entire hilltop village rather than a castle and set in the beautiful, mountainous Valnerina in Umbria, Postignano’s history dates back to the 11th century. The whole place has been lovingly restored to guest accommodation preserving the original bones whilst offering modern comforts, and now houses 60 luxurious one and two bedroom apartments. There is a gourmet restaurant and library, a wine bar, a shop selling local linens and cashmere, a spa and a swimming pool. Cultural events are regularly held in the suggestive frescoed chapel. Double from €250/£216 (castellodipostignano.it). Read the full hotel review here.

Castello di Postignano, Umbria hitls holiday village - Getty

Castello di Postignano, Umbria hitls holiday village – Getty

4. Il Borro, Tuscany

About 25 miles southeast of Florence, Il Borro is a 750-acre organic farm owned and operated by Ferruccio Ferragamo. At its heart is a fairy-tale stone village complete with working church and craft workshops. The stone houses have been carefully restored to offer 35 suites, from the elegant manor house to more basic options. There are two good restaurants using produce from the estate (including its delicious wine and olive oil), and a spa. Doubles from €450/£389 (ilborro.it). Read the full hotel review here.

5. Borgo Canonica, Apulia

If you’ve never slept in a trullo, one of the bizarre stone houses with a conical roof so characteristic of the Apulian Itria Valley, Borgo Canonica offers the possibility. This renovated village has 42 (arranged in 16 romantic rooms and suites of various sizes) immersed in a bucolic landscape of centuries-old olive groves and dry stone walls. There’s a spectacular swimming pool, plus a bar and a good restaurant serving local cuisine with a gourmet twist. Double up from €165/£143 (borgocanonica.com).

Borgo Canonica italy hotels trullo - Alamy

Borgo Canonica italy hotels trullo – Alamy

Have you ever stayed in a scattered hotel? Please share your experiences below

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