THE VILLAGE VANGUARD
Neither a conventional hotelier nor a rich-kid philanthropist, Kihlgren buys villages—run-down, rural, ancient places in Italy’s impoverished south—in order to restore the bricks and mortar. He then resuscitates the hearts of these communities by providing employment to the diminishing populations. His hotels are "scattered," meaning ...
“The kind of clients who understand what I’m doing are deeply educated in anthropology themselves. They consider authenticity to be a very real value in today’s world.”
... guests stay in different houses and rooms all around the town managed by a single team. The beauty of Kihlgren's work lies in his unrelenting quest for authenticity. From locally sourced cuisine at the restaurant to the obvious local connection he achieves with his hotels, Kihlgren is both an anthropologist and a philosopher at heart in his endeavors to preserve natural beauty and local heritage. Sextantio Albergo Diffuso opened in 2005. The village, Santo Stefano di Sessanio, is a 90-minute drive east and just north of Rome. When Kihlgren arrived in 1999 on a motorbike—a chance encounter—most of the houses were falling into advanced disrepair. Only about a hundred residents remained. Bit by bit, Kihlgren bought up the village and carefully restored it with a large local workforce; he now provides direct employment to 15 locals, who take care of the 27 rooms in six different medieval structures and the two restaurants. Now the community is thriving. The second project, opened to guests in 2009, is in Matera, a village an hour’s drive west from Bari. This UNESCO World Heritage site is where Kihlgren restored some cave dwellings, which for most of their 2,500-year history were homes to peasants and monks. The result is an authentic collection of 18 simple rooms called Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita. “Italy is becoming faker and faker,” he declares. “That’s why, when I start on these projects, I begin as if I’m setting up a museum. We look at the artisanal traditions that contributed to how these buildings were originally constructed. We look for the old recipes, which then find their way into the restaurant. The kind of clients who understand what I’m doing are deeply educated in anthropology themselves. They consider authenticity to be a very real value in today’s world.”