I’m not a huge fan of Italy’s hotels. I find that far too often they rest on their laurels, safe in the knowledge that Italy will always have tourists who need a room. There’s charm in the ancient buildings, but not in the 1970s interiors. The wifi is dim and in some places, like overcrowded Liguria, the rooms are simply dirty, even at four-star hotels.
I’m no primadonna, but at four-star prices, I expect a bit more than broken ACs, stiff beds and cold service.
Hotels can gain a full star for being located near a major site. Meaning that steal of room in a three-star hotel down the street from the Duomo is actually just an extremely overpriced two-star hotel.
Luckily, Italians in the tourism industry have created a wonderful solution to this: the agriturismo.
What is an agriturismo?
A mix of agriculture and tourism, an agriturismo is a farm designed to also receive guests, whether for a meal, accommodation or a combination of the two. An agriturismo is a sort of farm-stay, or accommodation in a farm house resort. Usually translated as a farm-stay, the idea was created to save rural architecture and along with it Italy’s farms.
The idea came after traditional small-scale farms were being abandoned en-masse for financial reasons. By the 1980s the Italian government passed the agriturismi laws promoting the rehabilitation of rural buildings and estates into bed and breakfasts and allowing small farmers to have a second-source of income.
Of course, there are some rules to having an agriturismo. First, you can’t build new structures on the farm. Accommodations are often in farmhouses or repurposed barns. You can only have a maximum of 25 people and a restaurant that can hold no more than 60 people. In that restaurant, you have to serve at least 51% of your dishes from original products of the farm, or a part of a cooperative of nearby farms.
It may sound strict, but when done well, agriturismi can create a solid source of income for rural Italians, build cultural awareness for tourists and serve as an easy, relaxing place to stay.
Why should I stay in an agriturismo?
It’s good for your budget
Sick of being ripped off on the tourist trail? An agriturismo has less skin in the game and tends to be the perfect budget accommodation. Prices depend on what the agriturismo has to offer. Some have a shared bathroom, making it more like a hostel than a hotel, others run as efficiently as a hotel with all the amenities. In general, you can expect prices in line with a classic B&B.
Options range from rustic to luxe
I know what you’re thinking, “So you want me to stay in a barn on my next vacation to Italy?”
Absolutely not! Though typically an agriturismo tends to offer basic rooms and amenities in a country house on real working farm, that’s not your only option. Actually, Italy has thousands of agriturismi to choose from, with options ranging from rustic to luxurious. Sometimes these accommodations have been more recently updated than any of the hotels in Rome’s central neighborhood. Keep in mind that these are typically family-run affairs – you’re not going to have a concierge following your every move. But luxury agriturismi with wifi, swimming pools, saunas and other modernities can be found.
It’s the best way to experience Italy’s countryside
An agriturismo gives visitors a unique first-hand experience of rural life in Italy. No, I don’t mean that you’ll be working on the farm. I mean that you’ll be enjoying all the aspects of the Italian countryside with the ease of a vacation. Typically located in an idyllic country residence, they are prime vacation locations. Enjoy the slower pace of life with nothing but birdsong, a book, and the beautiful landscape around you.
Of course being so far out in the country, they’re not typically easy to reach. You absolutely need to have a car, and a GPS along with it. Though some stays might offer pick-up from a major train station, once there you’re more or less stranded without your own transportation.
It’s the perfect introduction to “real” Italy
So you’re in the country, get to know your hosts! An agriturismo is known for its informal family-style service and meals and great hospitality and with just a small amount of guests allowed, you might get to know the others as well. These are people who are happy to have you. You’re helping them live the life they want and they are helping you enjoy the vacation you’ve dreamed. This isn’t the waiter in Florence who isn’t even Italian, it’s a generational farm that has found a way to survive in our fast-paced world. Not only that, but many agriturismi offer cooking classes, give tours of the farm and the operations there and let children help with small tasks such as collecting eggs.
You’ll eat great food
With most of the menu produced on the farm, you can’t get more local, fresh and seasonal than lunch at an agriturismo, and since the dining rooms tend to be small and recipes repeated, you can usually expect the cook to know what he or she is doing. Agriturismi meals have a reputation for being abundant, inexpensive family-style affairs, and Italians often head to the agriturismo just to eat, with no plans to get a room.
It’s good for the environment
An agriturismo is the perfect solution for conscientious travelers. Here you support the local agriculture, minimize your impact and provide direct financial compensation for conservation of rural activities and agriculture. Agriturismi are less wasteful than a typical hotel and much more in tune with its environment.
At an agriturismo I feel more attuned to my destination, more relaxed and less picky. I’ve never been in one where the price price isn’t right, the location beautiful and the wine divine. As one of our 2017 New Year’s Italy Travel Resolutions, I can’t help but reiterate: stay in an agriturismo this year to get off the beaten track, slow down and enjoy an entirely new type of accommodation in the Italian countryside.
*I’ve never stayed at any of the agriturismi pictured in this post and have no idea if they are suitable or not. Aren’t the pictures pretty though?