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In the morning you wend your way across the village along steep slate steps to visit your best friends in a quaint stone-and-wood farmhouse. You have breakfast in an old wine mill next door to a barn. No, you aren’t simple village folk, living the simple life of your grandparents. You live in Detroit, for crying out loud. You and your friends are staying in farmhouse “suites”; the barn is a lobby/reception area, and the place, Sempronio, is a hotel in Italy.
Next vacay, consider staying somewhere unconventional: a scattered resort.
Hotels with front doors and back doors are so … 20th century. A pioneering hospitality trend is taking hold in Italy and elsewhere. Here, the rooms, spa, kitchen, restaurant, reception, bar and lobby are not concentrated in one building — how 20th century! — but rather scattered in different buildings across tiny, offbeat villages dating back to pre-Roman times. Walking shoes not included.
Sempronio is part of an association called ADI that groups more than 50 similar hotels in Italy. Location-wise, they range from close to the sea to the inner countryside, and from the deepest south to northern Alpine regions. When Fulvio Ponzuoli set out to create Sempronio, he decided not to build a new structure but rather to use some of his family’s personal cottages and to buy others from locals, giving them a second life. There are certain rules for these scattered resorts, says Giancarlo Dall’Ara, a marketing expert who invented the model of lodging. For one, buildings may not be more than 200 meters from the reception area. The hotel must be open year-round and the village must not be a ghost town but have residents in order to “trigger that social and cultural exchange which is the key of our mission,” Dall’Ara says.
Guests don’t just sleep in a room; they eat fresh local produce with zero food miles and are freer to explore the history and anthropological aspects of locations than they might feel in a traditional hotel. “This form of hotel is the best way to really experience what Italy and the Italian way of life is all about,” says Daniele Ruggiero, a bank manager based in Rome who on weekends tours scattered hotels in search of a detox break. For a week or just a weekend, you “live like a local,” he says. “You get absorbed into the village reality.”
Why tear down when you can build around what’s already there?
All sorts of places and buildings have been used for scattered resorts, which tend to cost 50 to 100 euros more than traditional hotels. In the picturesque hamlet of Termoli on the Adriatic coast, the Residenza Sveva is clustered around a medieval fortress destroyed by Saracen pirates; in Matera, in southern Italy, Grotte della Civita features deluxe suites fashioned from prehistoric caves. Historical farms have been turned into lush country houses in the Tuscan village of Castelfalfi, where meals are served at the castle. In the eastern part of Sicily, five towns featuring Arab architecture are being snatched up by Dutch tour operators who aim to turn them into spread-out resorts. The trend helps encourage an elite tourism that seeks “the knowledge jolt” and to increase the allure of neglected locations not part of traditional travel circuits. “Foreigners love this: They look for small towns, away from well-known destinations, where they can breathe in what real, genuine Sicily is all about,” says Antonio Barone, who leads an initiative that’s helping Sicilian villages take part in the scattered-resort project.
As the world’s population continues to boom and global travel continues apace, it’s a take on development as quirky as it is innovative. Why tear down when you can build around what’s already there? What’s more, the obsession with all things retro and vintage shows no sign of cooling. Gild Hall, a popular boutique hotel in Lower Manhattan, uses cowhide rugs, dark wood bookshelves, antler chandeliers and distressed-leather furnishings to create literary-ski-lodge chic. With the scattered-resort trend, hoteliers don’t have to construct a faux Greco-Romanesque rotunda, they can use the perfectly good — and real — one down the street.
Sempronio’s Ponzuoli says that he’s been influenced by living in the countryside, which has made him “allergic to everything vertical.” The scattered-resort model reflects Italy’s past and urban development style, he says: “When a baby was born or a son got married and had his own family, new houses were built horizontally, close to the main one. Never vertically.”
Of course Italy isn’t the only country to think of this concept. Spain, Finland and Great Britain have created similar scattered resorts, for similar reasons. And traditional hotels aren’t going bust anytime soon. Some people relish staying someplace where food, Jacuzzi, gym and entertainment are all in one building. “A lot of the time I’ll travel somewhere just to see the hotel and stay there,” says hotel blogger Sarah Connolly. “It’s so handy to have everything under one roof.”
The trend’s beginning, though, is nothing compared with the potential of spreading the innovative model to all neglected and underdeveloped regions in Italy. Says Ponzuoli, “We could revive many other places that risk falling into oblivion, create new jobs and bring back all the youth who fled our towns in search of a better future elsewhere.”