I don’t know about you but when I travel internationally, especially in Italy, I want to live like an Italian family through Tuscany agriturismo.
So I opt to stay at Italian farm houses—known as agriturismo—when I am hiking. Real Italian families (often three-generation) run the farm and winery as well as rent out a portion of their house for guests. There is even an Agriturismo.it organization to book a stay. It is fun to just browse the listings for different regions.
My first experience is staying at a small farm in northern Tuscany as part of a hiking expedition in October 2017. It is located in the Garfagnana region near Lucca and Pisa.
From the moment we arrive in the chill dark Saturday night, I feel unloosed and cut off from my city life. The farm nestles in the hollow of a rolling green lawn. The long curving driveway takes us past groves of fruit trees and deciduous trees. The mountains hug the horizon as northern Tuscany is surrounded by the striking peaks of the Alpi Apuane and Apennine mountain ranges. I see smoke spilling out of the chimney. Blackness surrounds us except for the stars in the skies and the light in a few windows.
Before dinner, I settle into my bed room which I will share for a week with a fellow hiker. I unpack my suitcase quickly because we are already late for dinner due to late arrivals at the Pisa airport.
When we walk outside, we join a procession of hikers walking a stone path down for our dinner. I hear my stomach rumble. The crisp autumn night makes me crave something warm like zuppa (soup).
One of my favorite aspects of staying at an agriturismo is that all guests eat together at a “communal dinner.” For one week, we will share all our meals like “familia.”
The table seats 15 which is the size of our group. There are 13 Brits and two Americans. Our ages span four decades—from late 20s to early 70s.
It is a night created for slow dining—we eat rustic bread dipped in olive oil, greens from the garden and plates heaped with pasta covered in beef ragu. Three tall carafes hold red and white wines produced from grapes grown on the estate.
The rules are strict to be classified as an agriturismo in Italy. The family must run a working farm. More than half of their revenue must come from agricultural activities as opposed to hotel operations. In addition, the food served must be grown on the farm. This is why we will eat homemade strawberry and blackberry preserves, Tuscan farro soup, fresh eggs, vegetables harvested during the summer. And of course we will consume vast quantities of the delicious wine produced from the farm’s own vines. The food is simple and hearty. After days spent hiking 8 to 10 miles in such far flung places as Orecchiella National Park, Apuane National Park, Monte Sumbra and Tosco-Emiliano Appennino National Park, I am always famished at dinner (and always accept second helpings!)
The next morning I wake early so I can explore the farm before we go hiking. The crowing rooster is my alarm clock. I marvel that I will eat eggs all week produced by the farm’s own chickens. I like to stand on the hill and just watch them clucking away.
Another delight is meeting the Braccicorti farm cats. The striking white cat has a partial black mask, with pale pinkish white ears. The tortoiseshell cat follows me with her olive green eyes. I will spend a week trying to persuade them that my lap is a great place to cuddle. I rotate to different locations—chairs, recliners, grass and near the pool—desperately seeking their attention.
Over the course of seven days we will come to know a lot about each other including breakfast preference (porridge or toast with jam) as well as cocktails (gin and tonics or “GTs” to the Brits are the fav). But equally important we will come to know the family that opens their home and their heart(s) to welcome us. It is intimate and unlike anything I ever experienced before, despite previously staying at a B&B (bed and breakfast) during my travels. An agritourismo reveals Italy—especially its bountiful land and warm-hearted people—in a way I could never discover at a hotel.
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