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Telegraph / Life - Entertain

14 beautiful ghost towns where you can now spend the night

Due to natural disasters and urbanisation, the world is filled with abandoned villages – often is remarkably beautiful locations. But not all have been left to ruin. Here are 14 that have been reinvented as hotels.

1. Castello di Gargonza, Italy

“It’s hard to imagine accommodation with a richer history,” says Oliver Smith, Telegraph Travel’s Digital Travel Editor. “The Castello di Gargonza (Castle of Gargonza) hotel, in the Tuscan town of Monte San Savino, served as a defensive outpost from the 12th century, and was reputedly visited by an exiled Dante Alighieri, but slowly lost its role as a medieval fort, becoming instead a rural hamlet occupied by a community of farmers. Post-war migration saw it all but abandoned, and left to ruin, but in the 1970s Roberto Guicciardini Corsi Salviati, the landowner, sought to turn around Gargonza’s fortunes, and began restoring it to its former glory – but as a historic hotel. It is now run by Guicciardini’s son, Neri.

“Staying in the circular hamlet is like stepping back in time. The 13 medieval buildings, which cluster around a central courtyard, complete with well, retain heaps of character. Among them is a church (which still hosts weekly services) and an olive press (now a sitting room), while the crowning glory is a crenellated tower.”

2. Corte della Maestà, Italy

This cosy retreat sits in the beautiful hilltop town of Civita di Bagnoregio, which has seen a revival following its initial abandonment. Tourists now flock there and are willing to pay €3 (or €5 on Sundays or public holidays) to enter the crumbling settlement. As many as 850,000 were expected to visit last year.

“This semi-abandoned village perched on a precarious rockstack is just an hour’s drive north of Rome but it looks, from afar, like something out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth,” says Telegraph Travel’s Italy expert, Lee Marshall. “Once inside it’s all cute, flower-decked lanes and sudden vistas over a classic slice of Italian countryside.” 

The hotel features five suites with plenty of vintage flair that pays homage to the town’s history, including a four-poster bed that once belonged to an abbess of a monastery.

3. Castello di Postignano, Italy

“Postignano is less of a hotel and more of an entire village,” says Hannah Frances. “It’s an albergo diffuso – a hospitality trend adopted by many dwindling communities across Italy to revive abandoned towns – with 60 apartments, an acclaimed restaurant and an atmospheric bar occupying its immaculate, labyrinthine streets.

“It is located in the heart of Umbria’s mountainous Valnerina: one of the wildest and most beautiful parts of the region between the Sibillini Mountains and Terni. Accessed on mountain roads from either Spoleto to the south-wetst or Foligno to the north-west, the drive through this vast, largely uninhabited landscape is spectacular.”

4. Sextantio Albergo Diffuso, Italy

“The medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in southern Italy remains largely abandoned, with many of its ancient buildings having been restored in recent years, such as the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso complex,” says Anna Lebedeva. “The hotel is located in the historic centre of the village with stunning views over the mountains. The reception is reached on foot along the winding narrow cobbled lanes (a porter is always available to help with bags). The famous ruins of the ancient fortress Rocca Calascio are six miles (10 kilometres) away.

“Most buildings occupied by the hotel date back to the 13th-16th centuries and everything has been done to preserve their character. Low ceilings, small windows, uneven walls blackened by age and smoke, dim lighting, and stiff, heavy wooden doors with large skeleton keys give guests a taste of humble living, along with old wobbly chairs, woodworm-scarred tables, and a few old jugs.”

5. Citta dei Nicliani, Greece

Forged from three 18th-century tower houses, this family-run seven-room retreat sits in the village of Koita on the unspoiled Mani peninsula, which is dotted with beach-fringed coves of crystal-clear water. The partially abandoned village housed only around 100 residents back in 2011, with most of its population having left the area since the Second World War.

Guests at the hotel are greeted like old friends and, before you know it, you’ll be eating the family moussaka and drinking the finest Greek wine at an old stone table beneath a carob tree.

6. Lofou, Cyprus

The historic listed village of Lofou, one of the island's most picturesque and thought to date back to the Bronze Age, was abandoned is now home to only 100 or so permanent residents. Howeer, several traditional stone-built guest houses, such as the 18th-century Oinoessa (pictured), as well as the Lofou Agrovino, remain. Of the latter, March Dubin says: “Although the studios have self-catering facilities, the food is one of the main attractions at this comfortable, rustic hotel in the stone-built village of Lófou, near Limassol. Its affiliated restaurant serves interesting mezé, and the wine bar has a convivial atmosphere.”

7. Aman Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

“Sveti Stefan lies a few miles south of the medieval-walled town of Budva, and is part of the so-called Budva Rivijera, noted for its fine beaches. Nearby attractions include the Bay of Kotor and Kotor's Unesco-listed old town. The nearest airports are Tivat and Podgorica,” says Telegraph Travel expert Jane Foster.

“Here, the iconic tombolo (a rare geographical feature, made up of an island connected to the mainland by a sand spit) is home to the superb Aman Sveti Stefan island hotel. Several beaches come within the complex. To each side of the causeway you have a curving pink sand beach, one public, one managed by Aman. A 10-minute walk away, in front of Villa Miločer (the former summer residence of Queen Marija Karađorđević), lies the small King's Beach, backed by gardens filled with lush exotic planting, and nearby, accessed through woodland, you have the diminutive and secluded Queen's Beach, open exclusively to Aman guests.”

8. Dunton Hot Springs, US

Across the pond in the US, this former Colorado mining town - dating back to 1885 - began as a cluster of log buildings that housed less than 50 residents, with mines set about a mile down from the community. Its population peaked at about 300 (along with its ore production) in the early 1900s, before the town became deserted in 1918.

It was bought and developed into a bar and lodge thereafter by one of its oldest resident families who began charging miners to rent cabins and use the town’s hot springs, and it soon became a popular tourist destination for families in Colorado as well as the nearby states of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

“Set near a waterfall and hot springs in an old mining town from the 1800s, Dunton Hot Springs is my favourite hotel in the world,” fashion model David Gandy told Telegraph Travel.

“All the guest cabins are original buildings that have been restored. You're basically in the middle of nowhere and it’s lovely to watch the sunset sitting by the hot springs.”

A stay in the now luxury resort, where rooms were once rented for $5-25 per night back in the Seventies, now sets you back more than a $1,000.

9. The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens, US

The oldest European settlement in the US is St Augustine in Florida, established by the Spanish in 1565. It served as the capital of Spanish Florida for more than 200 years. It is full of historic interest, with two beautifully preserved 17th-century castles, many other Spanish colonial buildings, such as those that make up the Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens. 

Much of the settlement was abandoned in the early 20th century, while South Florida became popular holiday destination following the southern extension of the Florida East Coast Railroad to Palm Beach and Miami.

The now luxury hotel features centuries-old brick pathways and adorned with antiques, artefacts and sculptures from the Dow collection.

10. Capella Shanghai, China

“Shanghai’s former French Concession is a soulful and enchanting neighbourhood, and Capella Shanghai, Jian Ye Li places you in the heart of this tree-lined, heritage retreat. The urban resort offers a rare Shanghai experience of tranquility and privacy while remaining close to the urban action. Leafy avenues, home to creative restaurants, boutiques and cocktail lounges, are ideal for exploring on foot or by the city’s fleet of app-sharing bicycles,” says Telegraph Travel’s Amy Fabris-Shi.

“Transforming a remaining pocket of traditional shikumen (stone-gate) laneways, originally built in the 1930s by French settlers, the all-villa resort gives visitors a taste of traditional lane life – in highly stylised fashion, of course. Guest-only red-brick lanes, once housing more than 200 local families, are now home to just 55 private residences and 40 villas with embellished stone entrances and lush inner courtyards. Flowering vines and bronze sculptures adorn secret gardens, while a cosy library enhances the residential vibe.”

11. Brickyard, China

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall was originally built and restored between 1368 and 1644 during the early Ming Dynasty as a fortification to provide protection from nomads in the north. While the Mutianyu area was made into a tourist attraction in the Eighties,  its rural communities on the outskirts of the Great Wall have retained their authentic character and way of life.

Visitors can experience a taste of this remote village at the Brickyard Hotel, which sits “beside a chestnut orchard in view (and hiking range) of the Great Wall. It’s a lovely rural spot that makes for an ideal retreat from the city; growing numbers of valley-side villas and holiday homes attest to the area’s popularity. The hotel can organise return transfers to downtown Beijing, taking about an hour and a half each way,” says Telegraph Travel’s Thomas O'Malley.

“The old domed firing kilns now house several hotel buildings and meeting rooms, whilst reclaimed shards of turquoise and terracotta glazed tile are set, mosaic-like, into paths that wind through manicured grounds.”

12. The Pavilions Himalayas, Nepal

“Located south-west of Pokhara and set on land still farmed by the resort’s Anglo-Nepali owners, this boutique luxury resort stands beside a small river in a secluded and very rural valley, and enjoys prime views of the Annapurna range,” writes Telegraph Travel’s Ed Peters.

“The adjacent farm is run organically, employees are drawn from nearby with the conscious desire to forestall emigration to the cities or further afield, and a substantial portion of the profits is donated to community projects. Having stepped off very much on the right (bright green) foot, The Pavilions follows up with a sensational design that marries mod-cons with its elementary natural surrounds. The prayer wheels which line the wall at the entrance set the tone perfectly.

“Taking part in the day-to-day action on the farm is readily encouraged, and there is plenty in the way of trekking and exploring to be done in the hills.

13. Candela, Italy

Last year, Italy announced it was giving away 103 of its historic buildings for free, with one catch - all takers will need to commit to transforming the properties into tourist facilities including hotels, restaurants or spas.

Radical measures were also taken in this idyllic town in the southern Italian region of Puglia, surrounded by green hills and forest, which pledged to pay people (including foreigners) up to €2,000 (£1,792) to move there in a bid to reverse the declining fortunes of his town. Once known as "Little Naples" for its crowded streets, its population plummeted from more than 8,000 to just 2,700 today.

The town has received a major facelift in recent months, with public funds thrown into the rebuilding of old palazzos, streets and piazzas, which are now open for guided tours, as well as the hosting of local activities and events, such as bonfires and folklore festivals, to uphold its historic traditions.

The picturesque town is dotted by white houses with wraparound terraces, Baroque buildings and churches (where ceremonies for the town’s few births - and more frequent funerals - take place), as well as quaint alleys, including the 35cm-wide Trasonna - which is claimed to be the narrowest alley in Italy.

14. Albinen, Switzerland

Another potential resort in the making could be the Swiss town of Albinen, located in the scenic canton of Valais, which is also considering launching a scheme to pay people 25,000 Swiss francs (£18,900) each to move there to help revive a town whose population has dwindled to just 240 residents.

Six square miles of Alpine land makes up the municipality of Albinen, huddled at an altitude of 4,300 ft in the south-west of Switzerland and dwarfed by its surrounding mountains. Most of Albinen is farmland and forest, with its settled area of buildings and roads accounting for little over three per cent of it.

There's little going on in the town's centre, save for its narrow cobbled turns, centuries-old houses, a church and a shop. But hop in the car and it's less than four miles to Leukerbad, home to one of Europe's largest medical wellness, beauty and thermal baths complex. Charlie Chaplin, Tolstoy and Goethe were among those who travelled to the village to bathe in the calcium- and sulphate-rich thermal waters.