The picturesque region of Umbria is one of most popular destinations in Italy for a lot of reasons. It has a spectacular array of medieval towns, verdant hills (they don’t call it ‘The Green Heart of Italy’ for nothing), and earthy, mouth-watering cuisine that often highlights seasonal, foraged specialties like mushrooms, wild asparagus, and truffles. If you’re after this rustic ideal, when it comes to choosing lodgings for your trip to Italy, one great way to get it is by staying in an agriturismo in Umbria.
With so many Italian agriturismi sprinkled throughout the Umbrian countryside (Tuscany and Le Marche, too), choosing the right one for you can be overwhelming. But if you follow a few simple tips you’ll find the perfect place to spend a vacation that you’ll never forget.
What is an agriturismo?
An agriturismo is a working farm offering bed and breakfast rooms or self-catering apartments for holiday stays. Plato’s famous proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention” perfectly describes how Italy’s system of rural accommodation was born.
Farm stays were originally conceived of in response to the crushing financial crisis in the late 90s that wreaked havoc on Italy’s agricultural community. Small farms, rural villas, and ancient castles found themselves struggling or disappearing altogether without viable sources of income. But while the Italian domestic economy was shrinking the international tourism economy was only growing and these family-run businesses saw a way to tap into it by offering a unique form of accommodation in Italy. By turning themselves into agriturismi, an untold number of family farms literally saved themselves from extinction. Along with helping to generate an extra stream of income for the proprietors, the agriturismo model also provided an incentive for restoring and conserving hundreds of historic buildings, many of which had long been abandoned. In general, the business model of the agriturismo in Umbria and beyond has been a grand success for owners and travelers alike.
Because the main motivation for creating farm stays was to preserve Italy’s family traditions, a rural lodging can only be called an agriturismo in Italy if it meets the following criteria:
- The owners must be farmers
- The property’s main income has to come from agriculture
- The accommodation size cannot make up more than a set percentage of the farm’s total acreage
Should you stay in an agriturismo or a hotel?
The main selling point of an Italian agriturismo over a hotel is that if you stay in an agriturismo you can be sure that you are supporting a local business – a bonus for any devotee of slow travel.
Since 1997, American Rebecca Winke has owned and operated Brigolante Guest Apartments, a stone farmhouse outside of Assisi. She and her family are deeply passionate about safeguarding agriturismi in Umbria, believing they hold an important place in the country’s rich, national identity.
“The most important thing I tell potential guests considering an Italian farm stay is that it’s really, truly a sustainable way to travel, Winke says. “By choosing an agriturismo over a hotel, you’re directly supporting a family business as well as contributing to the preservation of Italy’s world heritage and culture. That heritage includes its cuisine, the landscape, and the ancient traditions of the countryside that would have otherwise been lost.”
With success comes variety. While a majority of farmhouses fall along the simple to rustic-chic spectrum, Italy has seen a rise in luxury, full-service country villas in recent years.
But before you decide, we think it’s a good idea to consider what type of holiday you have in mind. For example, if you plan to use an Umbria agriturismo as a base for day trips around the region, you’ll want to rent a car. Farms are almost never served by public transportation, and can be quite a distance from town. A 40-minute car ride from the main highway, along a dirt road (strada bianca), is not out of the ordinary.
Maybe you prefer spending lazy days next to the pool reading your favorite romance novel? In that case, a resort-style country estate might be more to your liking. Many upscale agriturismi offer concierge services and a long list of pampering amenities such as on-site restaurants, wineries, and culinary lessons.
Insiders’ tip: If you happen to time your visit for the early-to-late autumn, some farms permit guests to participate in the harvesting of grapes (vendemmia) and olives (raccolta).
The Devil is in the details
We recommend you spend a little time researching rental options before you book an agriturismo in Umbria or anywhere else. Surf websites and check out photos to get a feel for the residence. Note amenities offered and, most importantly, read former guest feedback. Remember when reading reviews that one bad review does not a reputation make. Almost every accommodation in the world receives the occasional poor review so what you really want to look for is trends: do a couple of bad reviews mention the same complaints? Do the good reviews mention the same or similar praises? By reading at least five reviews per accommodation you can usually get a feel for what kind of experience an agriturismo will offer.
Here are 6 basic questions that we always ask ourselves before booking an agriturismo:
- Look at a map. Is the farm a long way from civilization (grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, coffee bars, etc.)? This is especially important if you are planning to stay for an extended period and would like to be partially self-sufficient.
- Does the owner offer train station or airport transfers? We usually drive when we stay in an agriturismo, but if you can’t or don’t want to, getting to and from the accommodation is a key detail.
- Are meals included or is it self-catering (with a kitchen or kitchenette)? Once again, this relates to how self-sufficient you want to be.
- Is it family-friendly or geared towards couples?
- Are pets allowed?
- Is there a minimum stay rule?
Armed with the most information possible, you’re more likely to make the best choice – one that’s perfect for you and your travel companions. Remember, whichever farm stay you choose, you’re about to embark on one of the best holiday experiences of a lifetime.
by Toni DeBellaView more by Toni ›
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