Hotels, motels, hostels, Airbnbs, bed & breakfasts, self-serviced apartments, villas and the list goes on. Where to stay in Italy is not a simple question. The options for accommodation when travelling are endless these days thanks to online booking engines. In my opinion, the way to get the best possible experience when travelling is to stay places that give you a sense of your surroundings. Somewhere that’s unique and true to the local style. Whether it’s historic architecture, local art, home-made food or most importantly, the chance to make connections with local people, these are the things that make a stay memorable. I tend to avoid major hotel chains for this reason as they’re generally the opposite and feel generic and uniform no matter which city or country you’re in. Smaller, family run places are always going to offer a more authentic experience. In main cities a B&B or self-serviced apartment with a friendly owner will do the trick but for something really unique I always turn to agriturismi.
Perhaps Italy’s most unique hotel alternative is the abundance of agriturismi or farm stays available, sometimes in very close proximity to cities. These are properties that bring ‘agriculture tourism’ to the forefront by offering travellers the chance to do more than simply check-in and check-out. Agriturismi were a government initiative of the 80’s aiming to help small farms stay operational. After many farmhouses were abandoned as families moved to cities in search of work, the goal was to encourage travellers to get outside of the main tourist hubs, support smaller communities and farmers and immerse themselves in the local culture.
For a property to be officially classified as an agriturismo it must meet a variety of criteria. It must be a working farm in some way, either growing and cultivating their own produce, flowers or raising animals. This doesn’t mean that you need to do any farm work yourself. It means that any produce needs be used by the farmers in their cooking or products that are offered to the guests. In fact, more than 50% of the food served in agriturismo restaurants needs to be sourced from the property or from farms in the surrounding area. For this reason, agriturismo are some of the best places to stay for foodies because you can enjoy home-made meals, cooking classes or buy jams and other products made with the home-grown fruit and veg or even olive oil and wine. Some agriturismi even operate their restaurants for public visitors who aren’t staying the night.
When considering where to stay in Italy, keep in mind the size of the farm, rooms and facilities offered at an agriturismo can range from very small and basic, to homey and rustic, to totally luxurious. The thing to remember is that under Italian regulations, agriturismi have a separate set of rules to hotels which may mean that this option isn’t for you. Agriturismi can’t have an unlimited number of guests so the amount of rooms are usually capped at around 10 and it’s unlikely to get 24 hour service, in-room entertainment or daily room cleaning. In some places you may not even get confident English speakers, a functioning website or social media channels.
It’s also important to consider that given most agriturismi are in rural areas you will need to do some research on how to get there. You will likely need a car or the owner might be kind enough to collect you from the nearest station. Even if you’re driving you should study the roads well before departing as it’s common to lose phone reception in remote areas. If WIFI and phone service is crucial for your stay, makes sure you confirm with the owner that they have a reliable connection.
What you can expect is warm, welcoming hospitality, delicious food that you won’t find in the restaurants and a taste of the local way of life. You can have as much or as little involvement with the owners as you like. They are usually happy to assist in organising any activities or outings in the area and can advise you of the best things to do and see. So when you’re looking for where to stay in Italy, consider thinking a little outside the box, switch off, un wind, and slow down. An agriturismo will be the part of your holiday you won’t forget!
So how do you find an agriturismo? Most of these lesser known properties won’t be listed on major online tourism agencies like booking.com but you can find many of them by simply Google searching ‘Agriturismo in (location)’ or by using agriturismo.it or agriturismo.net
When looking for Where to Stay in Italy you can also reference recommendations on a domenica here.