restoring the all-but-abandoned 11th-century hilltop village into a four-star property that would appeal to those in search of something more than a typical hotel experience. And he succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations with his concept of lodging rooms spread throughout the entire village.
The buildings and rooms combine traditional architecture, hand-woven blankets, and linens produced by local artisans with just the right amount of modern enhancements (spot lighting, radiant heat built into the floors, wireless access for those of us who just must stay connected).
This is not a traditional four-star property in terms of room service and nightly turndowns. Rather, guests have the opportunity to experience of what it was like to live in another time and place. This is especially apparent when you put the heavy metal antique key in the lock that opens into a common room shared by up to three suites. The suites are both rustic and luxurious, especially the bathrooms that are seamlessly integrated into the design of each room.
The menu in the village restaurant is small and eclectic, changing every day. A wonderful breakfast is served each morning in the cantina, which also serves as the village social center where guests are encouraged to congregate.
On the morning of our departure, I walked around the village with Daniele and his constant companion, his dog, as he explained how far the project had already come. The village is populated by many shops and, while
I've known Richard since we were freshmen in high school. Over the years, our lives took different paths, as I raised a family and Richard traveled the world. Still, we stayed in touch. Several years ago, when my life changed a bit, he asked me along on one of his adventures... to Romania, of all places. For someone whose idea of travel adventure was the annual family vacation to Disney World, Eastern Europe was quite a shock.
Three years ago, Richard had the opportunity to visit Abruzzo on a press trip. He again invited me to tag along. It was a unique experience, trying to keep up with the pace set by our hosts. They kept the journalists moving at a break-neck pace.
On the flight back, we decided we wanted to return someday, setting our own agenda. Yet when your contact in Abruzzo is Leonardo di Flavis, it turns out the pace is never relaxed--and you'll never go hungry.
Knowing someone like Leonardo is essential if you wish to experience fully all a region has to offer. You can read all the travel guides and research a destination on the Internet, but it's no substitute for someone who lives there. I know Richard is well versed on the places we visit, but I'm certain that without Leonardo's help, we would have never discovered Castello Chiola or Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, places that made this trip truly special.--Susan Convery
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