We see five major components to the ideal travel destination: natural beauty; created beauty (e.g. art, architecture); food/wine; climate; and culture/people. Italy soars in all five. And then, it takes a step further…
Culturally, beyond simply how the people are, Italy impresses us with how the people care – about their culture and heritage. The Slow Food and agriturismo (“farm stay”) movements are well-known expressions of this caring. Lesser known is the albergo diffuso or “dispersed hotel”, accommodations that embrace what already exists in an area—designing the future into the past.
The term albergo diffuso is credited to Giancarlo Dall’Ara who, in the 1980s, sought a way to rescue semi-deserted towns in the regions of Friuli and Abruzzo. His solution: Construct a new hotel not by demolishing the old buildings and putting up a new one, but rather by renovating the smaller, original buildings and placing hotel services within them. From this bold idea, the first albergo diffuso was born.
It’s translated as “dispersed” because in one, you are likely to find the reception desk in one building, the dining room in another, and bedrooms “scattered” across a series of others. All are within easy walking distance, and all are woven into the fabric of the local community. This is as we found it at La Residenza Sveva in Termoli, Molise: Our bedroom was located just above a local woman’s kitchen, while the reception and breakfast room were around the corner, flanking the main piazza and its cathedral.
In Alberobello, in Puglia the mission was on display. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Alberobello is protected from development. However, that is not stopping many of its historic trulli (traditional conic-shape dwellings) from being run down, abandoned or sold. We stayed three nights in a restored trullo, and our host explained that more and more of these quintessentially Pugliese homes are emptying as their local owners pass away or leave the area. Renovating and reopening them as alberghi diffusi is an anchoring way to keep the trulli bright and in use, and the town alive.
According to the New York Times in 2010, Italy is home to more than 40 alberghi diffusi and the model has been catching on in other countries. Preserving and restoring, rather than razing and rebuilding, is a philosophy that we applaud and celebrate. We look forward to featuring more of these wonderful properties—thus helping to protect fragile towns and their stories— on future tours.