by Debbie Pappyn

Santo Stefano di Sessanio at sunsetIs the fate of many unique, virtually abandoned villages in the unknown corner of Abruzzo sealed? Not if Swedish-Italian millionaire Daniele Kihlgren can help it. In 1999, a solitary motorbike trip proved to be a revelation for this modern-day idealist. By chance, he stumbled upon the almost-deserted hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park in the Apennines. He was struck speechless, not only by the outstanding beauty of the setting, but also because almost everything was untouched. “Time seemed to have stood perfectly still – no concrete buildings, no factories, no tourist infrastructure like the Swiss chalets you find in so many Abruzzese towns,” says Kihlgren. It wasn’t long before he returned to Santo Stefano – not only with his motorbike, but also with a plan to save this village from extinction. Kihlgren, in his mid-forties, has been described as a maverick, a millionaire with enormous willpower. And where there’s a will, there’s a way. Kihlgren bought a house in Santo Stefano and soon many more. Next step was signing a deal with the local authorities to leave Santo Stefano in its original condition – in other words, an embargo on building new houses and a ban on the use of concrete. In exchange, Kihlgren would spend a substantial sum, up to €4.5 million – a mix of his own and borrowed money – on breathing new life into the village and giving it a second chance. “This has nothing to do with renovation,” Kihlgren insists. “It’s about restoration – restoring honour. I had a unique opportunity to save one of the last authentic places in Italy from the grip of cement.” In 2004, five years after Kihlgren first wandered through Santo Stefano, the village was ready for its second life. Kihlgren received help from some big names, including the renowned British architect David Chipperfield, who also supports the concept of ‘conservative restoration’, or restoring while maintaining original features.SextantioSanto Stefano di Sessanio Santo stefano di SessanioSanto stefano di SessanioSanto stefano di SessanioSanto stefano di SessanioThe result of the first project here in Santo Stefano di Sessanio is Sextantio Albergo Diffuso. A fairly recent concept in the hotel business, an albergo diffuso is a ‘hotel’ scattered throughout a town in different houses. Guests are assimilated into the village and feel part of the community. Kihlgren’s Sextantio originally had 32 houses, but some have been sold to foreigners. Buying a completely restored house from Kihlgren costs about €1200 to €1500 (from $1470) per square metres. The rest serve as hotel rooms with a central reception area, hotel manager and staff.The rooms usually come with a kitchenette, a table and chairs, a fireplace – Spartan luxury. “We try to retain everything that refers back to village life,” says Kihlgren. “Only local materials are used, and old furniture and artefacts were sourced in the area. Modern technology, such as under-floor heating and light switches, is discreetly hidden. We also conducted research with the National Museum of Abruzzo and talked to the elderly residents of Santo Stefano to discover how people used to live and what materials they used. Even beter, after a couple of days staying here, you feel connected with the place. Probably just how Kihlgren felt the moment he decided to save a part of Italian heritage.
Sextantio suiteSextantio suiteSextantio suiteSextantio suiteSextantio suiteSextantio suiteSanto StefanoDaniele KihlgrenSextantioSextantioSextantioSextantioSextantioSextantio
How to get there

Santo Stefano di Sessanio is 150 kilometres (a 1.5-hour drive) from Rome and 100 kilometres from the Adriatic coast and the city of Pescara. The best way to explore the region is by car. Sextantio Albergo Diffuso has 27 rooms dotted throughout several buildings, ranging from double rooms to suites, which are twice as large.
A Classic Room with breakfast for two starts at a bargain €160 ($196) per night in low season. While the setting is perfect, there’s definitely room for improvement on the hospitality side.


view from Santo Stefano di Sessanio


  • Mirandasmother

    I spent a week there last june and was totally enchanted.

  • Mvalsi

    bello, il nostro borgo !!

  • David de Vleeschauwer

    I agree, Daniele Kihlgren did a stunning job.

  • Joanne Kennish

    Perhaps he could now help house some of the people in the Abruzzo area who no longer have homes due to the earthquake in the region 3 years ago…

  • Debbie

    he is helping the region in many ways!

  • Helen

    Grazie. Your article and photos are  rich. It was fun to see Luisa and Mariantonetta. And Daniele!

  • Lorellam

    I would love to go visit. Maybe next year.

  • Cuore Abruzzese

    So S.Stefano is so gorgeous, when I was there this July on a scorching weekday afternoon it was pratically deserted, we had the place to ourselves, an unbelievable treat. The population is like 30 or 80 people, can’t remember exactly. I was glad to see that they were rebuilding the tower that collapsed during the Aquila eartquake.  

  • Ashlee Blunt

    It’s really stunning! I couldn’t wait to spend my summer in Italy this year and it’s absolutely will be in my list grazie 🙂

  • Voucha

    Love it, everything is so beautiful in your pictures, thanks for sharing.

  • Edson C

    Wow, gorgeous locations and photowork.. stunning!

  • Erin Bogar

    Beautiful. I love the rustic look with modern amenities. I can see why people are buying these up!

  • Siddhartha Joshi

    Such gorgeousness! Wow! I do not see India in your list…please ping me if you guys ever come this side of the world, it would be a pleasure to meet you 🙂

  • Pan


  • Ava

    It’s simply stunning. Last summer I had a chance to live for a couple of weeks in Assergi nearby, and honestly each morning I woke up with a feeling of great gratitude for just being alive in such a beautiful place. I’m still hoping that someday I’m going to come back there, and then for sure I’m going to visit Santo Stefano di Sessanio!

  • LG

    your photo make me stunned. nice job

  • Venice

    Ah.. bella Italia, so many nice places to discover

  • Stephen Garone

    I’ve read about this place and Kihlgren’s mission elsewhere. Thanks for the additional information!

  • ddevleeschauwer

    Thanks. I hope you enjoy it!!!

  • Costantino

    I don’t undestand because italian resources are more valued by foreign people :/

    Amazing photos <3



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