Mar 23, 2017

48 hours in Santo Stefano di Sessanio

The region of Abruzzo is one of Italy's best kept secrets. The Medieval hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, in the L'Aquila province, sits on the edge of the Campo Imperatore plain in the Apennine Mountains, within the breathtakingly beautiful Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park.


Santo Stefano di Sessanio has ancient origins (paleolithic!) and a Medieval imprint, but it flourished under the Medicis in the late 1500s with agriculture contributing to the area’s economy mostly thanks to transhumance. This is the ages-old moving of herds of sheep from the valleys to high altitude mountain pastures in summer. Unfortunately in the mid-19th century the area suffered from extreme poverty leading to mass emigration. S. Stefano di Sessanio fell into abandonment.

The conservation efforts introduced here since 2004 spearheaded by Italo-Swede philanthropist Daniele Kihlgren to preserve the area’s cultural heritage, restored dignity to the pastoral culture that once inhabited these remote rural areas. Kihlgren purchased a portion of the village and maintained the smoke-blackened walls and original buildings intact. With a team of enlightened historians, architects and anthropologists, he re-purposed native materials and reconditioned ancient arte povera furnishings for his unique project: Kihlgern urged local authorities to leave Santo Stefano in its original condition.

In 2007 Daniele Kihlgren's "embargo" on building new houses turned into a legislative ban on the use of concrete. This has led to a complete turnaround: with a permanent population in the very low hundreds, today S. Stefano di Sessanio is a delightful vacation getaway for lovers of nature, fine dining and R&R. By encouraging investment in the traditional trades and crafts of the region, the village now boasts many shops that sell locally produced handicrafts like lace, woven fabrics, beeswax candles and artisanal soap. Others sell honey and jam, cured meats, olive oil, grains and cereals, local cheese, as well as the region's famous lentils.

Continue Reading ➔ my tips for spending 48 hours in Santo Stefano di Sessanio.

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