A Guest Post by Douglas E Morris, author of Open Road’s Best of Italy
Though they have been a part of many aficionado’s Italian travel experience for over a decade now, for many people the concept of an agriturismo vacation is still a mystery. If you want an authentic introduction to rural Italian life, featuring locally grown and prepared food and serene, scenic surroundings, read on.
Agriturismo is a combination of the words for “agriculture” and “tourism” in Italian, and is basically a creative take on farm stays, Italian style. Agriturismi (the plural form of agriturismo) are set on farms, vineyards, and other rural settings, and you will almost always get delicious local Italian meals prepared from food produced on the farm where you are staying or nearby.
The agriturismo program began because beginning in the1950s, small-scale farming in Italy became less profitable, and farmers began abandoning their land in search of work in larger towns. This was not only devastating to agricultural output in Italy, but began to have a dramatically negative impact on the small town economies that were dependent on local farming. Rural Italy was experiencing a serious crisis.
Not just an economic crisis, but also a crisis of identity, a crisis for the survival of what Italians perceive as the purity of their rural traditions. Italians almost universally treasure the local customs associated with rural life; so with the decline of small-scale agriculture, the Italian government knew something needed to be done. Not just to preserve the beauty, charm and quality of life in the countryside, but to help preserve the very soul of the country.
So using their collective creativity, something Italians are universally known for, in 1985 a law was passed that allowed farmers and rural estate owners to receive tax breaks if they converted buildings on their property to vacation rentals. In conjunction with the lucrative tax breaks, the agriturismo law most importantly allowed small farmers to dramatically augment their agricultural income.
With this one law, rural Italy was saved. In fact, the program was such a success, that similar programs have been implemented in France, the United States, Belgium and many other countries around the world.
Despite the rural nature of the lodgings, one might expect agriturismi to be rustic; yet many feature luxurious accommodations including swimming pools, saunas, and the like. In general, what you will receive is the equivalent of 3-star accommodation for about one-third the price you would pay in a large Italian city. The rooms are generally commodious, the food exceptional, the vistas inspiring, and the pace of life incredibly relaxing. In other words, the perfect place for a vacation.
In many cases two meals a day are served for residents — breakfast and dinner — but lunch of local cheese, breads, meats, fruits, pasta, vegetables, wine and more can easily be added to the menu. For many cognoscenti, staying at agriturismi is all about the food and the wine. Fresh local seasonal produce, with home-made pasta, all prepared in the local traditional way and served with unique local vintages bursting with flavor. Many agriturismi also offer guests cooking classes, horseback riding, guided tours of the area, or wine tastings. Of course, if you’re on vacation to relax, you can also choose none of the above and just chill out on the terrace or by the pool with a good book.
However, if you’re staying at an agriturismo, renting a car will be necessary. Though it’s not impossible to have the agriturismo experience without a rental car, if you want the freedom to explore the surrounding area, you will need motorized transport. But if that is the only drawback to staying at an agriturismo, that should not be much of a hindrance.
So if you are looking for something new and different for your next trip to Italy, think of staying at an agriturismo. Two excellent websites that list a plethora of places to try are www.agriturismo.net and www.agriturismo.it.