Small-scale farming used to be a way of life in Italy, but has diminished in recent decades. In the mid-1980s, the Italian government created a legal definition for "agriturismo" that allows – and sometimes funds – the restoration of abandoned rural buildings and estates. These "agriturismi" allowed small farmers to make some extra money by hosting tourists and letting them experience the rural way of Italian living.
Many small farms can still be found across Italy, especially for cheese, wine and olives. An estimated 20,000 registered Italian farmers supplement their incomes through agriturismo, and help preserve Italian farming practices, traditions, and cuisine.
Many of these farm stays are affordable; each one is unique, with different experiences. Some require a minimum number of nights; others will let guests stay just one night, and sometimes with a last-minute booking. It’s important to remember that hosts are farmers first, so don’t expect concierge service, and some rooms might not have air conditioning.
Some agriturismi do have specialties, such as total immersion in nature; a wellness experience with spa services; or activities such as horseback riding, swimming, and other sports. Many are centered on culinary experiences, with cooking lessons and/or local food tastings and tours. You may be allowed to feed farm animals, pick fruits and vegetables, sample local wines and olive oils, or watch farmers make cheese, salami and other specialties. Some agriturismi even offer truffle and mushroom hunts.
Typically, guests who stay at an Italian agriturismo will dine on authentic Italian meals prepared in the farm kitchen from foods produced on the farm or from local merchants. Some serve just breakfast, others also serve dinner. In addition, guests can sometimes participate in simple farming activities such as picking vegetables or milking cows – although exchanging labor for lodging is prohibited.
The best way to find the perfect match is to search accommodation booking sites such as the Agriturismo.it website, which has reviews, photos, and other details. It’s important to consider the location; some are deep in the countryside and will require a car; others are located near cities and towns, with some owners willing to pick you up.
Rooms also vary with each agriturismo. You may stay in a cozy, basic room, or a separate small apartment with its own kitchen. In recent years, some agriturismo have become quite luxurious. One of the most famous is Il Fontanaro, an organic farm in Umbria, where guests stay in large cottages with Wi-Fi, king-size beds, and infinity salt pools overlooking vineyards.
Other notable agriturismi include: