Southern Italy: Rescuing Hill Towns
Daniele Kihlgren is a collector: he buys dying hill towns in southern Italy. "I look for wasted landstreasures that Italy hasn't taken care of," he says. He now owns 10 towns and has worked with historians to revive two of them, adding fascinating small hotels. At Sextantio in Abruzzo, rooms have soot-stained walls and tubs by Philippe Starck. In Basilicata, the 18 rooms at Sassi di Matera Albergo Diffuso are built right into tufa-stone caves.
Jalisco, Mexico: Reviving Tequila's Spirit
"Cheap, mass-produced tequilas were jeopardizing our craft," says Jose "Pepe" Hermosillo. So in 1988, he took over his family's distillery, Casa Noble, and began obsessing over each step of the tequila-making process, starting with using only organically grown, hand-harvested blue agave. He recently opened four cottages on the estate, and now visitors can experience the agave harvest and production. "It's one thing to enjoy tequila at a bar, but I wanted to bring my family's craft to life," he says. Doubles from $190; www.tequilacofradia.com.mx.
Jordan: Saving a Dying Sea
Scientists say the Dead Sea could evaporate into salty puddles in 50 years. A group called Wild Jordan is raising awareness with projects like Mujib Chalets. The 15-room hotel on a Dead Sea promontory is the newest of six eco-accommodations operated by the group; each one is located in a nature reserve. All follow the same ethos: local food and water-efficient design. (Feynan Eco-Lodge for example, only uses water from a nearby spring.) "We are showing tourists another side of Jordan, beyond archeology," says Wild Jordan director Chris Johnson.
Trancoso, Brazil: Keeping the Bahian Beat
Like many a fashionista, Wilbert Das first came to Trancoso, a town in the Brazilian state of Bahia, to hang out on the beach. But the former creative director of Diesel developed a passion for the local culture and stayed. His new Uxua hotel, built with help from Trancoso's artisans and Pataxó Indians, celebrates Bahian foods; a fishermen's co-op he helped form supplies the seafood. Instead of yoga, guests try the Brazilian sport capoeira at the dance academy Uxua helps fund.
Fogo Island, Canada: Merging Fishing & Art
"Boat-building and cod-fishing were not sexy businesses when I was a kid," says Zita Cobb, recalling her childhood on Fogo Island in Newfoundland. In 2008, she founded Shorefast Foundation to reinvigorate the island's economy by reviving those "unsexy" fishing traditions and promoting them through tourism. Shorefast's new artist-in-residency program is centered around old fishing cabins that have been converted into art studios. Next year, Shorefast will help open a boutique hotel with a contemporary art gallery and a locavore-focused restaurant. "I'm thinking we're going to make traditional Newfoundland jiggs dinners of salted beef and cod cool again," says Cobb. shorefast.org.
Pedralva, Portugal: Repopulating a Village
Four years ago, the town of Pedralva along Portugal's west coast had just nine residents; back in the 1970s there were about 100. António Ferreira, an advertising executive, came across it while searching for a holiday home. "I remember thinking I could revive this town," he says. He purchased the entire village and signed on three friends as investors. It took two years to track down the owners of 31 abandoned houses so he could buy and restore them, naming them after nearby beaches in Costa Vicentina. Aldeia da Pedralva opens for guests this September. Locals who left Pedralva to work at big hotels are slowly returning, lured by Ferreira projects like the computer-training school he opened; his village garden that sells produce to guests; and a new tapas restaurant, L-Colesterol. "To think this was going to be my retirement home," Ferreira says. "Instead I have a second career as a village-saver."