Lonely Planet Writer

How dispersed hotels are bringing life back to communities

Most modern hotels are filled with so much luxury and convenience that guests could be forgiven for rarely venturing outside the doors. It would be easy to get so comfortable that you’d forget there’s an entire city outside waiting to be explored. Guests at ‘dispersed hotels’, however, have no choice but to leave their hotels, they’re designed to keep them exploring.

The front of TOMI II, one of the five buildings that make up the hotel. Photo by Satoshi Asakawa

A ‘dispersed hotel’ is essentially apartments or small homes throughout a town that share one central reception office and general amenities in town. Guests who stay here enjoy all the conveniences of hotel services, such as restaurants or spa services but with more individual charm. In October, Kyoto welcomed Enso Ango, Japan’s very first dispersed hotel. A collective of five buildings all within walking distance of one another, the hotel’s properties are described as being “out of the static loop of large hotels and staged photo opportunities”. The idea is to allow guests to experience the authentic Kyoto. Guests can immerse themselves in local culture with activities including night yoga, morning zazen meditation, and cooking classes that concentrate on typical Kyoto dishes.

‘Dispersed hotels’ can be found in Italy’s hilltop towns, including the Tuscany region. Image by ©David Pinzer Photography/Getty Images

The trend is based on a typically Italian concept known as ‘albergo diffuso’, which revitalises dwindling communities across Italy’s ailing hillside hamlets. Rather than building a new hotel to lure tourists to a picturesque village, an ‘albergo diffuso’ takes the more sustainable route of repurposing abandoned buildings into ‘dispersed hotels’. In Semproniano in southern Tuscany, Borgo di Sempronio is one such hotel where rooms are dotted across a labyrinth of cobbled lanes. Most of the listed buildings were built before 1400 and everything has been done to preserve their traditional character. Staying here is about experiencing medieval life but with some modern comforts thrown in. The reception is just up the road from the bar and guests enjoy breakfast in a former medieval storehouse around the corner.

Locals in Corippo, Switzerland are turning their ailing town into a ‘dispersed hotel’. Image by Getty

In the picturesque Swiss village of Corippo in Verzasca Valle, the country’s smallest municipality, the community is working together to turn the town into a ‘dispersed hotel’. By doing so, locals hope to save the town from depopulation by securing its future and reserving its heritage. The restaurant in the main square will be transformed into a hotel reception and dining room, the village square will be the lobby, the streets will serve as hotel corridors and some of the 60 stone cottages will be turned into hotel rooms, decorated in authentic local style. Other plans include turning the town hall and village church into open-air meeting places, as well as introducing local tours and cooking classes.