Questo articolo fa parte della storia degli AD. Ed ha molto contribuito alla notorietà del nostro modello di ospitalità made in Italy. Originariamente pubblicato dal New York Times è stato poi ripreso da varie testate. Eccolo nella versione del The Seattle Times (5 giugno 2010).

One spring afternoon in the early 1980s, Giancarlo Dall’Ara, an Italian hotel marketing consultant, was wandering the streets of a tiny village near Maranzanis, in Friuli, a rural mountainous region in the northeast corner of Italy.

There was an eerie, dreamlike feeling to the remote town. Many of its two dozen or so houses had been destroyed by a devastating earthquake that shook the region in 1976. Although a few elderly residents had remained, many of the homes were boarded up and abandoned.

Dall’Ara was in Friuli on behalf of the region, brainstorming ways to bring the local villages back to life through tourism, but the area around Maranzanis was an unlikely spot for a hotel. Though he believed that the area and its wild landscape had some potential, he left somewhat discouraged by its poverty and general sense of emptiness. Yet a seed was planted.

This tiny town is just one of hundreds of historic villages in Italy in disrepair. Many have been abandoned by the younger generation moving to the cities to start careers or to live a more modern lifestyle. And while wealthy Italians and expatriates are willing to finance the renovation and revival of hamlets in Tuscany, many semi-abandoned towns are in less-traveled regions like Friuli and Abruzzo.

Dall’Ara was convinced that there must be an organized and sustainable way to save some of these places through tourism. Over several years, the simple but ingenious concept of the “albergo diffuso” was born.

Albergo diffuso translates as “scattered hotel” (the plural is “alberghi diffusi”). The principle is that rooms, decorated in a consistently authentic and local style, are scattered throughout different buildings within the town but overseen by one manager. A traditional breakfast might be served at a local cafe or in the kitchen of one of the local houses, or delivered to your room. Call it a B&B village.

Like a holiday apartment, an “albergo diffuso” allows travelers to embed themselves in village life, but the bonus is that it offers the basic services of a hotel.

There is a reception or central area to report to — sometimes a cafe, other times a shop — where a manager is available to help with questions, recommendations or bookings.

Barbara Saks, an Australian, stayed at Trullidea, a Puglian albergo diffuso made up of traditional white limestone dwellings with conical roofs, where rates start at 66 euros, or $8.25 at $1.25 to the euro (www.trullidea.it). Her weeklong stay in 2008 was a revelation.

“The concept of the albergo diffuso is ideal for independent travelers like us where we can do our own thing, but if we need advice we can ask at the office,” Saks wrote in an e-mail message. “We loved living next door to locals with their dogs and their washing lines. Scenes from life!”

Dall’Ara, now the president of the National Association of Alberghi Diffusi, added that the projects also act as a “driver of development” in their villages, because the managers are encouraged to source all the products used in the village from local producers. And “if a local marmalade producer doesn’t exist, the owner needs to organize one.”

There are now more than 40 official alberghi diffusi in Italy and at least 100 more in the works, according to Dall’Ara. He added that the concept has started to pop up in other countries as well, a trend that he expects will continue. “It’s a very good idea for countries like Spain or Croatia that also have empty rooms in historic areas, that need engines for development without impact,” he said.

One albergo diffuso is in the poetically aged hilltop town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, in the Italian region of Abruzzo. In 1999, when the Italian entrepreneur Daniele Kihlgren visited, only about 120 residents remained. Some of the houses — all made from stone — had collapsed, and others had no roofs, but Kihlgren realized that the fortified medieval hamlet could be a dramatic spot for an albergo diffuso (seewww.sextantio.it; click on the letters on the left side of the home page for details).

Kihlgren wasn’t driven solely to protect the town’s buildings — the fastidious renovation took about five years and several million euros. He believed that creating an albergo diffuso, which he called Sextantio, could help preserve local traditions.

“Some of the mountain villages in Abruzzo are so remote that some of the old ways are still preserved,” he said. “Television only came to some of these places in the ’60s. Until World War II, many people here only spoke a local dialect.”

That sense of isolation and tradition could be a draw, Kihlgren said. “The people who remain here are the last generation to still use traditional cooking and building methods,” he continued. “They remember the old folk stories and songs.”

By Gisela Williams

New York Times

If You Go

More information

A website with background on “alberghi diffusi” is in Italian only — www.albergodiffuso.com — but contains a link to a background paper in English (scroll to the bottom and click on the Union Jack flag).

To find individual lodgings, search online for “albergo diffuso.” Or check the TripAdvisor website for travelers’ reviews of such lodgings (plus booking options). Go towww.tripadvisor.com and search for “albergo diffuso.”

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