To say that Italy is full of charming sites would be an understatement. From its chaotic capital to its off-the-beaten-path villages such as Orta San Giulio, this country never ceases to amaze travelers. If you’re planning a trip to Italy and looking for an authentic Italian experience, why not try out the country’s agriturismo options?
Guest contributor, Kris Bordessa, is showing us how to forgo the swanky hotels in favor of spending some time in family-run Italian farms at a farm stay in the Umbrian countryside. Will Kris tempt you to discover the pleasures of going off-the-beaten-path in Italy?
During the planning stages of our trip to Italy, pondering the art scene in Florence and the architectural wonders of Rome left me both thrilled at the prospect of visiting these wondrous cities – and worried a bit about big city burnout. I’m a country girl at heart. While I find city noise, hustle, and bustle exciting for a short stint, dealing with crowds and traffic wears me out.
Turns out, Italy has a booming agriturismo movement, much to this country girl’s delight. All across the country farms and ranches are opening their doors to visitors, inviting them to spend time in the orchards and vineyards and barns that produce the food that’s so prevalent at fresh markets wherever we roam.
Farming is a tough business. Hosting guests helps to regulate an income that’s largely dependent upon Mother Nature’s whims.
Rustic Romance in Umbria
The Cimbolello Farmhouse in the Umbrian region is a far cry from the cobbled streets of Italy’s famous cities. Bouncing down the rutted driveway, we passed chickens scratching happily, olive orchards, vineyards, and what appeared to be a woodlot. Luisa and Francesco greeted us effusively, in spite of the fact that we’ve arrived during the afternoon siesta hours.
Our home base for the next five nights is a rustic one-bedroom apartment that Luisa tells us – contrary to what we might think – was built in this century. Hand-hewn beams, worn brick, and walls painted with a muted non-toxic milk paint make it an easy mistake to make.
As they walk us through the apartment, our hosts tell us that they’ll be harvesting grapes the following morning. I ask if they make red or white wine – both – and Francesco asks which I like. “Red,” I tell him, nodding.
And thus I have ordered my first bottle of wine directly from the farm. He returns with a bottle of last year’s vintage (a crazy blend of grapes that California vintners would surely disapprove of) that is quite good.
Many farm stay lodgings make their products available for sale. Dive in and try something new!
Growing Their Own
We make an early morning trek into nearby Città della Pieve – a medieval town built almost entirely of brick – the next day for supplies and by the time we’ve returned, the small vineyard is stripped of fruit. We join Francesco and Luisa, along with their son and his girlfriend, as they de-stem the grapes and fill a giant vat with crushed grapes oozing their sweet juice.
Boomer Travel Tip
While public transportation is a great option for getting around much of Italy, it’s not always convenient in the rural countryside. You’ll want to have a car to explore!
The farm produces food primarily for personal use and for sale to guests, so while it’s a small operation, it offers a great example for someone like me, who’s striving to produce much of our own food.
We strolled the garden, Luisa and I comparing notes about what we could grow in our respective gardens; she pointed out quince trees and let us try some amazing miniature plums and I rattled off the tropical fruits that we grow in Hawaii.
Boomer Travel Tip
Remember to arrange for an international driver’s license when driving in Italy. The rental car companies might not ask for it, but a police officer will!
Relaxing at Cimbolello
My husband and I spent our days exploring the nearby countryside and our evenings sitting outside at a small table, sharing a bottle of wine and cheese, salami, and fresh bread.
On our way out every morning, we stopped at the outdoor kitchen to see what was in the works. Let’s just say the work didn’t stop at the wine.
One morning, Francesco and Luisa were bottling grape juice; another day, cooking quince to make quince/grape jam. And when they weren’t in the kitchen, they were feeding animals or up on rooftops or tending to any number of other farm chores that needed to be done.
Clearly, a farm stay in the Umbrian countryside isn’t the right option for everyone. For us, though, it was the perfect way to catch a glimpse into life in the Italian countryside and to meet some lovely people.