While exploring the countrysides of Italy, Cyprus and even China, I’ve stumbled on dozens of abandoned villages seemingly left behind by urbanization. Most have a lot going for them: distinctive architecture, history, fresh air, nearby vineyards or farms... but no one to maintain the historic buildings.
But I'm far from the first person to mourn the world’s decaying villages. In the 1980s, Italian hotel consultant Giancarlo Dall'Ara made a similar observation while wandering through towns in the Friuli region, in northeast Italy, which was devastated in 1976 by an earthquake.
Where others saw crumbling, desolate villages, Dall’Ara saw a missed opportunity. With a dual aim of preserving the heritage architecture and injecting new economy into the villages, he developed a tourism model: Albergo Diffuso (loosely meaning “scattered hotel”).
Now a fixture in Italy, alberghi diffusi seem to be a win-win: Former residents can lease empty properties for another income stream, and travelers experience village life first-hand. While the houses are peppered about town, there’s usually a central reception (which often doubles as the town tavern), and a mix of hotel-esque services.
“Alberghi Diffusi have incentivized young people to come back [from cities or abroad] to the villages and renovate their family homes, [which they can then lease out to the hotelier],” said Dall'Ara, the president of the Alberghi Diffusi National Association. “The sustainable concept also enables foreign travelers to come and “live” in the villages and get a feel for local life. The concept also contributes to the birth of new businesses and activities such as restaurants, artisan crafts, shops, B&Bs, tours.”
From Italy to Croatia, Switzerland, Tasmania, the U.S. and even the Himalayas, various iterations of scattered hotel concepts have since sprung up around the world. These countryside cabins, beachfront dwellings, and heritage village homes showcase a new type of luxury.