An experience not to be missed by anyone visiting Abruzzo has to be the amazing 16th century village Santo Stefano di Sessanio, 1250masl, on the edge of the Campo Imperatore plain in the Gran Sasso National Park. Easily reachable via a variety of routes from pretty much anywhere in Northern Abruzzo, this remarkable location is an architectural delight with its archways, cobbled streets, Medici square, a wonderful watchtower (not for those suffering from extreme vertigo) and excellent hotel.
Six miles from the ancient Roman Peltinum (hence the ‘Sessanio’ part), and a strategic crossroads for the commercial route between Rome and the Adriatic coast at the height of the Roman Empire, Santo Stefano flourished under the Medicis in the 16th century. Agriculture became the major factor in the economic development of the area, with the process of transhumance being utilised to take advantage of the region’s geography. Unfortunately this came to an end mid-19th century, and the area suffered from extreme poverty leading to mass emigration and Santo Stefano falling into disrepair.
Fortunately for everybody, an ambitious Swede by the name of Daniele Kihlgren expressed an interest in performing an exhaustive restoration project on the village in the 1970s, and the resultant joint venture has led to a turnaround in Santo Stefano’s fortunes, with original building materials and parts being used in the rebuilding, and an encouragement and investment in the traditional trades and crafts of the region. The village now boasts many splendid shops where one can purchase locally produced honey and jam, salamis, and pecorinos, as well as the region’s famous lentils. The Albergo is spread throughout the village, and local food prepared to traditional recipes is available from the main building in the town centre. There is also a perfect ‘tea room’, taking over 2 floors, with subtly ambient lighting, perfect for relaxing. The town is particularly magnificent in the winter under a covering a snow…
Getting there: Santo Stefano di Sessanio is about 50 minutes from Bascianella by car, using the A24 and either taking the Assergi exit down the side of the National Park (or through it, which is an excellent drive in itself though obviously takes a bit longer), or the l’Aquila East exit. Alternatively you can, weather permitting, do the mountain pass drive, via Castelli, probably about 1.5 hours from Bascianella.
Click here to view a slideshow of life in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Abruzzo
The Times: Apennines are alive with the sound of saws and hammers
The Guardian: Medieval Hamlet, Italy
Carfagna – local black wool