For a long time, agriturismi (Italian “farm-stays”) have been Italy’s best-kept accommodation secret, at least until now. But what, exactly, is an agriturismo? Well, yes — it’s a “farm-stay.” But it’s also much, much more… and, we think, the best way to experience Italy’s countryside! Here’s why — plus three myths, and one often-forgotten truth, about Italy’s farm-stays.
The term agriturismo, in its most basic definition, refers to combining agricoltura and turismo (agriculture and tourism). In other words a working farm that offers accommodations to guests. Although agriturismo is neither a new concept nor a solely Italian practice, Italy has perfected the experience so that guests are immersed in the customs and traditions of Italian farm culture.
Farms in Italy are far different than the types of farms we in the U.S. are accustomed to seeing. The traditional Italian farm was once a place where the farmer grew all he needed to sustain his family. If there was excess, it was sold for spending money. The typical farm in Italy remains 25 acres or less, unlike the American farms that grow hundreds of acres of crops or many head of cattle or livestock.
A Way to Preserve Rural Italy
The practice of agriturismo began as many people in small towns across Italy abandoned their rural life for more modern day opportunities. Large farmhouses, built to house generations of family members emptied out to just a single family. In 1985, in an effort to breathe new life into these agricultural homesteads, the Italian government officially recognized the concept of agriturismo. This new practice began to revitalize flailing family farms and bring in much-needed income. Agriturismo has another benefit as well. It allows for the preservation of a way of life that was all-but disappearing 50 years ago. Family farms, rural landscapes, farmhouses and entire communities benefit from agriturismo in Italy.
Because the main motivation for creating farm stays was to preserve Italy’s family traditions, a rural lodging can only be called an agriturismo in Italy if it meets the following criteria:
- The owners must be farmers
- The property’s main income has to come from agriculture
- The accommodation size cannot make up more than a set percentage of the farm’s total acreage
Should you stay in an agriturismo or a hotel?
The main selling point of an Italian agriturismo over a hotel is that if you stay in an agriturismo you can be sure that you are supporting a local business – a bonus for any devotee of slow travel.
“The most important thing I tell potential guests considering an Italian farm stay is that it’s really, truly a sustainable way to travel, Winke says. “By choosing an agriturismo over a hotel, you’re directly supporting a family business as well as contributing to the preservation of Italy’s world heritage and culture. That heritage includes its cuisine, the landscape, and the ancient traditions of the countryside that would have otherwise been lost.”
Agriturismo is so much more than simply combining tourism with agriculture. It’s more than a farm B&B. Agriturismo is the gift of slowing down, relaxing, and realizing how precious and beautiful tradition and culture can be and why we need to preserve this particular lifestyle.
Insiders’ tip: If you happen to time your visit for the early-to-late autumn, some farms permit guests to participate in the harvesting of grapes (vendemmia) and olives (raccolta).
A typical agriturismo room – cozy, clean, and cute!
Rooms also completely range, from large, independently-built mini-apartments to cozy, basic rooms in the bigger house. It’s important to note, though, that in our extensive agriturismi experience, we’ve yet to be experience a room that was unclean or too expensive for what it was.
One of the best parts of staying in a traditional agriturismo? The food. At most farm-stays, your 30 to 50 euros per person gets you a full dinner and breakfast — made from the produce, eggs, meat, and often wine and olive oil that’s fresh off the farm. (Probably even from those chickens that woke you up that morning). And, since many of Italy’s best food traditions aren’t found in swanky restaurants, but in nonna’s house in the countryside, there’s often no better dining than at an agriturismo.
One of the best things about an agriturismo is… the food!
Other bonuses, for us, include that agriturismi are, of course, in Italy’s gorgeous countryside, and they’re really everywhere.
Today there are around 17,000 agriturismi across the country, the majority of which are family owned. There are many options available depending on your desired level of accommodation. You can find agriturismo that are the pinnacle of luxury, or something a bit more rustic. Rest assured your comfort is first on the priority list, no matter the standard of agriturismo you select. You’ll have a chance to dine on very local farm-to-table food and wine, and you may be invited to take part in some of the meal preparation.
By staying at an agriturismo in Italy you have the unique opportunity to experience rural Italian life that’s rich in culture and authenticity. You’ll spend time getting to know your hosts, the community and farm life as the Italians do it. And you’re doing good! You’re allowing your hosts to preserve a lifestyle that likely goes back generations.
So, if it’s not clear already, we love agriturismi! And we can’t imagine better accommodation value for the money. Compared to spending 225 euros for a standard hotel room and dinner for two in Florence, you could spend 100 and stay in the Piemonte rolling hills, with incredible food to boot.
Despite how great they are, though, some myths about agriturismi still abound. Here, three stereotypes of agriturismi that aren’t really the case — and one truth that not many people think about.
Myth #1: You have to stay for at least a week to experience an agriturismo.
Nope! While some farm-stays have a minimum three-nights’ (or more) stay, we’ve found that the vast majority allow you to stay for just one night. Just make sure you call at least a couple of days ahead so they can make the necessary arrangements.
Myth #2: Staying at a family’s farm isn’t good if, say, you’re on a romantic holiday and want some privacy.
We don’t agree. At most of the farm-stays we’ve been at, the owners have been super-friendly and accommodating — but completely unintrusive. As for the idea that everyone sits and has dinner together, well, for better or for worse, we’ve only ever experienced that once. If privacy is what you want, you can find it as easily at an agriturismo in the countryside as at a 5-star hotel where you have breakfast in a room with 60 other guests and where you have to put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door just to keep strangers from entering your room!
Myth #3: If you’re looking for high-end amenities, a farm-stay’s not for you.
While a majority of farmhouses fall along the simple to rustic-chic spectrum, Italy has seen a rise in luxury, full-service country villas in recent years.
Generally, yes. If you’re the kind of person who relies on a concierge, a complete room cleaning every day, and other amenities (impeccable air-conditioning, television, or shower and bathtub), then your average agriturismo, or at least one you haven’t researched extensively, might not be for you.
However, a new type of agriturismo has started popping up across Italy: luxury farm-stays. We’re talking about places like Il Fontanaro, one of many of our favorite retreats in Italy, where you’re on an organic Umbrian farm… but also where guests’ cottages are some 540 square feet and have Wi-Fi, satellite television, king-sized beds, and modern bathrooms.
Not to mention, when you’re relaxing over a glass of local wine and watching the sun set over the rolling vine covered hills, we doubt you can feel anything but in the lap of luxury — concierge or no concierge.
And one often-overlooked truth:
Getting to agriturismi can be tough! Since they’re in the countryside, very, very few are connected by train or bus. And while some kind agriturismi owners will pick you up from a station, if it’s even nearby, without a car, you’re then stranded there for the length of your stay. (On second thought, maybe that’s not a bad thing…).
But even if you do have a car? Be aware that agriturismi can be very difficult to find. Driving around Italy’s countryside is one of the more confusing experiences you’ll have; many roads are unmarked (or the signage is misleading), and even with a good grasp of Italian and a mobile phone, the lack of cell service can make continually calling the owner for new directions impossible.
Not to mention that the roads can be interesting: Our agriturismi adventures range from following a road that, on Google maps, looked legitimate but turned out to be an hour on a one-way dirt road through a forest in the dark, to driving down switchbacks on a gravel road that were so sharp, we had to take each one as a three-point turn.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily bad. Getting lost can be half the fun. But if you’re on a schedule to hurry up and relax (or if getting lost on one-way dirt roads just, understandably, stresses you out), then be warned. That said? We’ve never regretted making it to one of these farm-stays. Because as interesting as the journey was, the destination was always more than worth it.
Here are 6 basic questions that we always ask ourselves before booking an agriturismo:
- Look at a map. Is the farm a long way from civilization (grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, coffee bars, etc.)? This is especially important if you are planning to stay for an extended period and would like to be partially self-sufficient.
- Does the owner offer train station or airport transfers? We usually drive when we stay in an agriturismo, but if you can’t or don’t want to, getting to and from the accommodation is a key detail.
- Are meals included or is it self-catering (with a kitchen or kitchenette)? Once again, this relates to how self-sufficient you want to be.
- Is it family-friendly or geared towards couples?
- Are pets allowed?
- Is there a minimum stay rule?
Armed with the most information possible, you’re more likely to make the best choice – one that’s perfect for you and your travel companions. Remember, whichever farm stay you choose, you’re about to embark on one of the best holiday experiences of a lifetime. At Travels with Audrey we ensure our clients get the best vacation, and that entails offering at least a few nights in an agriturismo in an off the beaten path location when we design their itineraries.