As European travel returns, many of us will be hoping to ensure our holidays do good rather than harm. But tracking down eco-friendly, affordable escapes can be tricky, which is where, for Italy (plus parts of Austria, Germany and Slovenia) Ecobnb – a network of tourism businesses that respect both the natural world and local communities – comes in. We took a tour of Italy’s Adriatic coast (the regions of Abruzzo and Le Marché) and found sustainable stays with congenial hosts in beautiful surrounds.
Back in time
Sextantio, Santo Stefano di Sessanio, southern Abruzzo
Many hotels claim to take guests back in time, but few do so as wholeheartedly as this albergo diffuso (a “scattered hotel” in a historic setting) 1,250 metres up in the Gran Sasso national park. Its rooms occupy several medieval buildings in the fortified village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio – and where other hotels indulge in the odd carpet or lick of paint, Sextantio gives only minimal nods to modernity.
Small windows, uneven floors and smoke-blackened walls give a real feel for a world long gone, as you sip wine on an ancient settle, then climb into a high wooden bed with a woollen mattress and gorgeous handwoven covers. The en suite is of course anachronistic, but handmade vegan soap, glass shampoo bottles and brown paper bin liners feel both up to date and retro.
The hotel restaurant keeps the theme going, with handcrafted crockery and local, seasonal food. Days can be filled with picnics, ebike tours, cookery lessons, truffle hunting, wolf tracking, canoeing or snowshoeing, followed by a massage.
Doubles from €80B&B
L’Aperegina, Corvara, Abruzzo
For devotion to sustainability, you’d be hard pushed to beat Marino and Elide Recchini’s organic agriturismo an hour from Pescara. Lockdowns scarcely affected them, as they live almost completely self-sufficiently on their six hectares, raising pigs, chickens and bees, and growing vegetables, herbs, fruit and their own wheat for pasta.
They’re now joyfully welcoming back guests to share in their “good life” in four unusual en suite rooms, most in individual buildings: one has a heart-shaped window for enjoying views down to the Adriatic 30 miles away; there’s also a treehouse room, and one with a stargazing window. Each day you can set off for lakes, canoeing trips or mountain walks, with a picnic and bespoke map hand-drawn by Marino, returning for drinks around the firepit before everyone eats a dinner of almost zero-km produce at a long outdoor table. Only the cheese – delicious plaited fresh mozzarella on our visit – is bought in, from a nearby dairy.
Doubles from €130 half-board
Rise above the seaside
Borgo sul Mare, Silvi, Abruzzo
The coast road north of the city of Pescara is solid apartment blocks and hotels for about 10 miles, but perched on an outcrop 330 metres above it is historic Silvi village, with astonishing sea views from most angles. It could almost be called the balcony of the Adriatic.
A period building on its main square – once home to the owner’s grandparents – is now this five-room B&B. The high-ceilinged bedrooms are on the first floor and the breakfast room downstairs becomes an independently run casual restaurant by night. Unusually for an Italian seaside area, this is a plastic-free establishment, and operates a strict local sourcing policy for the cured meats, cheeses, eggs, bread and fruit served at breakfast.
You wake in the morning to the sound of church bells and chatter from cafes in the square, before hitting the beach via the steep Sentiero dello Splendore footpath down to the sandy shore. After the climb back up, there may be time for an ice-cream or aperol spritz from Gelatiamo in the square.
Of the village’s several dining options, Ristorante Vecchia Silvi is good-humoured and good value, serving pizzas at the bottom of its steep garden, and local pasta, fish and meat specialities on a terrace above.
Doubles from €60 B&B
Off-grid but on the ball
Agriturismo La Curtis, southern Le Marche
Architects Vincenzina and Angelo created this agriturismo on Vincenzina’s family farm using local materials and eco-friendly processes, with solar panels and a biomass boiler.
“The only thing that comes on a wire from outside is the internet,” they say. The farming (fruit, olives, vines – all organic) is done by Vincenzina’s parents, leaving her to concentrate on being a delightful hostess, as well as a generous and accomplished cook.
Guests staying in the three apartments can choose to cook in the open-air kitchen or join a communal homemade dinner each evening. It’s 13 miles from the coast and the same distance from the Monti Sibillini national park, but there’s also lots to do and see close by, such as the impressive hill towns of Montalto delle Marche, a papal capital in the 16th century, and Montedinove. If even that’s too much, the River Aso runs through the farm, and a little stony beach under trees is perfect for an afternoon swim and snooze.
Apartment for two from €65
Vegan with views
Coroncina, Chienti Valley, Le Marche
Five small, friendly dogs rush out to greet you as you drive into this farmstay north of the Monti Sibillini, with owner Melania in their wake. Veganism is a growing trend in the country of mozzarella and prosciutto, with more than 1.5 million Italians choosing plant-based food, and Coroncina caters splendidly for them.
The four guest rooms were renovated using natural paints, cork and linseed oil, with photovoltaic and solar thermal panels. The most whimsical is Le Botte, created from three huge wine barrels – two for the sleeping area, one for the shower room – on a steep hillside with its own deck. The land falls away below overlooking a valley of orchards and olive groves, where birds of prey swoop silently on their next meal.
Our own dinner is served on a veranda near the Himalayan salt-treated swimming pool. The best things are those not trying to be anything else: bread with four kinds of olive oil, luscious broad bean soup, smoked fusilli with cashews and tomatoes. Hay, olive oil and mountain herbs are used in treatments in the basement wellness centre.
Doubles from €120 B&B
Sea and mountain
Acanto Country House, Sirolo, Le Marche
There’s a gracious, expansive feel to this B&B built of white stone on a south-facing hillside. Renovated a decade ago with recycled and natural materials, it boasts cork insulation, energy from solar panels and heat pumps, and a saltwater pool in large gardens filled with aromatic plants – in particular, hundreds of rosemary bushes.
The seven rooms are spacious, most with panoramic views and all furnished with antiques or old family pieces. Acanto sits within the Monte Conero natural park, one of the loveliest areas of this Adriatic coast, with white-pebble beaches backed by woods and limestone cliffs under the 572m mountain. Footpaths descend to the sea from medieval Sirolo village, and the B&B runs a shuttle bus to San Michele beach further north. There are bikes to borrow, riding stables next door, and the circular Pecorara hiking route (three hours) passes the front gate.
Doubles from €120 B&B, ecobnb.com
Girolomoni, northern Le Marche
A high plateau east of Urbino is home to Italy’s first organic co-op, started in the 1970s with dairy cattle and wheatfields. As unemployment and depopulation set in in the 1980s, the late Gino Girolomoni found a way to restore life to these uplands, with a factory turning that local wheat into some of Italy’s first organic pasta.
Powered by wind, solar and hydro electricity, it employs 60 people from surrounding villages. Guests can stay in the Locanda, with a restaurant and pool, or 500 metres up the hill in a restored monastery (pictured) dating from 1380. Guests can tour the factory, hike on waymarked trails nearby, or enjoy the Renaissance glories and studenty streets of Urbino, birthplace of Raphael, eight miles away.
Doubles from €50