If you're lucky enough to visit Italy, then you undoubtedly need to experience one of Italy's great initiatives, agriturismos. If you're lucky enough to travel to Italy with Backroads, we'll take you there. For lunch! Agriturismos are farms with lodging for travelers. They make it easy to have an authentic rural Italian experience. They also, more often than not, have great restaurants where travelers can come for day trips.
In order to be officially known as an agriturismo, a farm must generate more money from farming than from tourism. This ensures the land is worked and preserved as intended--as a farm. Thus, farmers are incented to stay on the land and maintain their farming practices. It all began in the 1970s, when the Italian government noticed many farmers could not stay afloat financially by farming alone. Now, families that have had farms for generations can better afford to keep on farming. The quality of accommodations can vary greatly, but typically, they are fairly inexpensive. Some are "rustic" while others are much fancier and have amenities like pools or access to riding stables. Often, a traditional Italian breakfast and lunch or dinner is included in the price. (Farms that offer sit-down meals are required to supply at least 60% of those meals from their own farms and a further 25% must be from the immediate surrounding area. Talk about fresh!) Some farms even offer activities, like horseback riding, hiking, pasta-making classes or even an opportunity to help with harvest. Last year, for example, I spent a day picking olives, which I don't mind telling you was an honest day's work. Two days later, our host-farmer taught us to press the olives into oil, and we were able to take it home. These little cans of golden goodness made great gifts. What an incredible experience that was--something I'll never forget! On Backroads trips with Casual Inns we try to utilize agriturismos when possible for occasional lunches. They add a fantastic local flavor and a sense of rural life in a bucolic setting. The authenticity is unbeatable. In Sicily, for example, Backroads takes guests to meet Amedeo, an Italian who (surprise!) loves to cook and tell a good story. Every time Amedeo sees us pull up we get big hugs and he offers us caffé. He produces his own olives, olive oil, wine, honey and various cured meats on his sprawling farm, which also has a restaurant perched atop a hill so we get fantastic views of the valley below.
Once, I asked Amedeo how important agritourism was to his livelihood. He said it was essential, and that he didn't think he could still be a farmer otherwise. It allows him to keep his farm in his family (which they've had for seven generations). He's very passionate about this side of his business and loves to talk to our guests about local goings on and the history of the area. Our guests enjoy meeting someone so "real." Amedeo is just one of the many farmers Backroads uses to show guests another, deeper layer of Italy. Italy is a place where sharing a meal is such an integral part of life, after all, and an important social tool to boot. All important matters are discussed around dinner tables: politics, finances, gossip and, of course and most importantly, calico (soccer)! To experience this in such an intimate setting is a true blessing. Many globe-trotters crave unique experiences. Agriturismi give us an opportunity to lose ourselves in a few days living la vita dolce, the sweet life, as the Italians say.