If you want to experience Italy in a mindful way and stay true to the values of Local Travel by connecting with Italians and travelling in a way respectful of their environment, history, culture and economy, try staying in an agriturismo.
Not only do you reap the benefits of knowing you have done your part to save the disappearing rural way of life in this beautiful, but rapidly globalizing, country but you will probably also have one of your most memorable stays in Europe.
How did the farm holiday/agritourism begin?
About 30 years ago, the family farm in Italy – once one of the cultural, culinary and economic backbones of this country – was in deep crisis. Small farms could no longer compete financially and were disappearing; historic, rural farmhouses, castles and villas were being abandoned all over the countryside. A solution was needed to help farming families integrate their traditional production with something innovative enough to inject funds into floundering farms and provide incentive to restore and conserve the historical farmhouses often found on them.
One of Italy’s main markets has always been tourism, and the idea of the agriturismo – farm holidays in which families provide holiday rental accommodation, be it entire farmhouses, apartments or rooms – was launched with huge success. Now, 25 years after the law creating the category was passed, the Italian countryside is dotted (in some regions, like Tuscany and Umbria, saturated) with agriturismi of all shapes and sizes.
What is a farm holiday?
In keeping with the primary goal of preserving the farming tradition and conserving rural historic farmhouses, all farm holidays must have some main features: the proprietors must be farmers; the main income of the farm must come from agriculture; and there must be a proportional relationship between the size of the accommodation and the amount of land owned. If all of these criteria are met, a property can officially be registered as a farm holiday.
What kind of accommodation can I expect at a farm holiday?
Farm holiday accommodations range from simple rustic campgrounds to four-star luxury lodging. The vast majority are restored historic country farmhouses, which rent either bed-and-breakfast rooms and suites or vacation apartments. Some also have small restaurants or special features such as wineries, cooking lessons or equestrian facilities.
What should I look for in a farm holiday?
One of the most pleasurable aspects of spending your vacation on an agriturismo is that each is unique and sure to enhance your understanding of Italy and its customs.
There are three features you should especially look for in an agriturismo:
1. Choose an agriturismo that offers lodgings in an historic structure.
Not only are historic country houses more charming, you can also feel proud knowing that you have contributed to the preservation of the history of rural Italy by offering incentive toward restoring rather than abandoning these endangered farmhouses.
2. Choose an agritourism where the hosts reside.
One of the most rewarding aspects of staying at a farm holiday is getting to know your hosts – who welcome you as personal guests to their home – and through them authentic Italy and its people. You will surely be steered toward the most beautiful off-the-beaten-track towns, the best hidden trattorias and the little known but memorable local festivals.
3. Choose an agritourism with food.
At a family-style restaurant or in a self-catering kitchen, you have a chance to sample your hosts’ homemade fare and their farm’s bounty. What is a stay in Italy without good food? Some of the best is made by farmwives across the Italian countryside.
To learn more about agriturismo, visit the author’s Brigolante Guest Apartments Farm Holiday website