“A medieval mountain hamlet where history and designer fittings meet to create a unique cultural experience”
With your ancient iron key in hand, you enter a room that seems largely unchanged over the centuries, with rough stone walls, uneven floors, blackened fireplaces and heavy wooden furniture. But don’t be fooled. Extensive studies were conducted with cultural institutions to bring the best of the past alive, and to join them with the best of today’s modern luxuries; so underfloor heating, hidden electrics and swish bathrooms are there too.
Sit in the vaulted candlelit restaurant and dine on the kind of food that Santo Stefano's farmers might have eaten centuries ago; explore hilltop villages and castles, or walk in the majestic Gran Sasso mountains.
- An utterly unique take on a holiday in Italy - this is an authentic cultural experience that gives you a peek into Abruzzo's past while also allowing you to live like a local
- Meticulous detail has been applied to the project, from the rugged iron keys to the traditional menus - and it shows
- In the summer, the dark cave-like rooms are a refuge from the hot sun (it’s cooler up here in the hills); in the winter, they are deliciously cosy - scented with wood smoke and lit by flickering candles
- The landscape is breathtaking - rocky crags, crumbling castles, wild forests and lakes
- This area is largely undiscovered by tourists so you can have its lovely hilltop vistas all to yourself
- The preoccupation with historical detail means that rooms are sparely furnished with no comfy sofas, minibars or TVs
- There are no turndowns, room service or fitness rooms - if you're looking for a full-service hotel, this isn't for you
- At busy times it can be very expensive - but when you get there you will see the time, love and infrastructure that has been invested
- Though atmospheric, the rooms tend to be dark - we struggled to identify the contents of our luggage in the dim medieval lighting
- The lack of an in-room phone can be a drawback, and the ancient iron keys can be heavy and tricky to use
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Mountain Village Inn
- All ages welcome
- Open all year
- Plunge Pool
- Spa Treatments
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
- Concierge Service
- Tennis Court
- Bicycles Available
- Cookery courses
Staying here is an experience like no other and no detail has been overlooked, from the rosemary soap in the bathroom to the small glass bottle of herb liqueur by your bed.
In 5 rustic homes, once occupied by shepherds, weavers and livestock, and 1 Renaissance-style palazzo, there are hotel rooms with a 'peasant-luxe' style - and no, that's not a contradiction in terms. The spare style of décor is reminiscent of an impoverished past (think arte povera), complete with wool mattresses, hand-woven rugs and hand-made bedspreads (typical of the region); but the Philippe Starck bathrooms, remote-control underfloor heating and WiFi owe more to modern luxury than the middle ages.
There are 27 rooms of varying sizes, including Single rooms and Classic and Superior rooms, which have either kingsize beds or 2 twin beds. Each one is different - some have beamed ceilings, others are vaulted; a few have raised sleeping lofts, cobbled floors, fire places or small sitting areas. Many of the rooms are arranged on 2 or 3 floors of 1 house, most of which have their own lounge (with cosy fireplace and herbal brews) where guests can gather and chat. The bedrooms, however, feel very private - most lead off the hall, via flights of stone steps and heavy wooden doors; each has its own ensuite bathroom - some are open plan with freestanding bathtubs in the rooms and loos tucked behind screens.
Most of the Suites have lounge areas and the Family Suites have 2 bedrooms. If there is a larger group of you staying together, there is the option of booking a whole house to yourselves.
Couples wanting privacy might prefer a Superior room. Some have private entrances from the street, or a sensuously-curved white designer tub on a wooden dais. One has a large balcony overlooking a narrow pedestrian street and views to rear of the hills. If you have your heart set on something specific, be sure to book early and include your request in the enquiry.
- Artisan liqueurs
- Central heating
- Cots Available
- Fresh water
- Internet access
- Plunge pool
A stay in this unique village demands at least 1 meal in the hotel restaurant. Locanda Sotti gli Archi is housed in a separate 16th-century building. The menu has been meticulously designed to use local food and time-honoured recipes.
The traditional peasant fare is done very well indeed, overseen by Niko Romito, the owner of 2-Michelin-starred Ristorante Reale (see below). Expect large plates of pasta, salami, courgette soup with meatballs, lamb stew, pecorino cheese with walnut and honey; and plenty of local crops: chickpeas, spelt, tiny brown lentils, saffron, dill and parsnip.
It’s the kind of food the local men would have eaten after a hard day’s work in the mountains in centuries gone by; never mind that you’ve only had a short, fun day sightseeing and a lot of lounging around, it’s still very tasty (and far tastier than the museum-style food that this description might suggest!). Wash it all down with a glass of ruby red rosehip liqueur - or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo if you're playing safe.
An alternative for dinner, is to eat at the hotel’s own Cantinone. Less formal than the Locanda, this wine bar-cum-café is reminiscent of an Italian country inn - all rough wooden tables arranged around a vast stone fireplace, hung with iron-work and oil lamps. The menu is a simple list of seasonal dishes: rustic bread boards with local cheeses, salami and olives, spelt and fig salad, soups, rabbit stew, or porchetta (a cut of roast pork) with roast potatoes. Breakfast is also served in Cantinone, and includes a buffet of fresh juices, cakes and pastries, breads and jams, cheeses and salamis, and omelettes to order.
Lunch is available from the restaurant and in other small bars and eateries in the village. If you want to go a little further afield, check out Niko Romito’s Ristorante Reale at Castel di Sangro. A 90-minute drive south, the restaurant has 2 Michelin stars, and the scenery en route is breath-taking.
- Lunch by arrangement
- Organic produce
- Restaurants nearby
- Vegetarian menu
- Wander the winding cobblestone streets with a camera and buy souvenir salami, wild saffron, plum liqueur and antiques from the local shops. Tisaneria, the hotel’s own tea room sells oils, liqueurs and infusions, as well as hand-woven textiles which reflect the traditions of Santo Stefano’s woolly past
- Engage in the hotel's events programme, which includes lectures on social history, cooking expos (bilingual English-Italian) and contemporary art exhibitions
- Visit Castel del Monte, a stunning hilltop village, where you can take cheese-making lessons at Mariano e Mariano and buy their specialist Pecorino and Cacio Marcetto cheeses
- Go climbing, cycling or hiking in the surrounding mountains. You can borrow snowshoes and mountain bikes from the hotel, climb the 2,912m peak of Gran Sasso d'Italia (the highest in central Italy), or make the short hike to the plateau of Sasso Grande for stunning views
- Hike or drive to the mountaintop fortress of Rocca di Calascio, one of the Apennines' most evocative castles. The watchtower is perched on a hill and has one of the region's best views
- Go bird- or wildlife-watching in the Gran Sasso National Park. You can see buzzard, golden eagles and possibly chamois, brown bear, wolves and deer
- Take cookery classes (through the hotel) in Santo Stefano. Classes explore the traditional rustic cuisine of Abruzzo, or impart specialist bread-making skills
- Visit Alba Fucens, (1-hour drive), a Roman town with an amphitheatre, shrine and Medieval church; or Teramo, the provincial capital, with its city walls, Roman heritage and stunning cathedral
- Head to the Abruzzi coast. Pescara is about an hour away and has a modern tourist harbour; there are bays and vineyards (south) and shallow, sandy beaches (north)
- Go skiing. The Ovindoli and Passo Lanciano-Majelletta ski areas are among Italy's most popular and are under 2 hours' drive away
- Go wine-tasting. The Luigi Cataldi Madonna winery in Ofena is the closest, just 10km away
Activities on site or nearby include:
- Cooking classes
- Creative writing
- Horse riding
- Mountain biking
- Plantlife / flora
- Private guided tours
- Traditional cultures
- Wine tasting
The hotel offers cots, connecting rooms for families and babysitting for a small charge.
Family friendly accommodation:
Babysitting is available on request (see rates).