Lombardy & Valle D’Aosta
Lombardy & Valle D’Aosta make up a prosperous, confident corner of the North of Italy that is dominated by the commercial and cultural powerhouse that is Milan. Milan is an interesting and important city though mainly in contemporary urban terms. A more classic Italian experience can be found in some of Lombardy’s other cities; renaissance venues such as Mantua, Pavia and Cremona for example or the likes of Brescia, Bergamo and the surprisingly under-visited Lecco, on the shores of Lake Como.
Lake Como is one of the world’s most iconic lakes and has been for hundreds of years a place for sophisticated people to try and outdo each other with the grandeur of their lake-side villas. Things haven’t changed at all, and a lake-side villa at Lake Como is still the preserve of the super rich. It is also very much a centre for water-sports, hiking, horse riding and mountain biking. And particularly golf; it has a full seven courses in the surrounding area
There are other lakes around too, so don’t spend too much time staring at the back of giant houses on Lake Como wishing you were richer. Lake Maggiore, a famous windsurfing centre, Lake Isio and Lake Garda are the three most obvious alternatives.
Lombardy and Valle D’Aosta creep nicely up into the Alps to the North which form a dramatic, inspiring backdrop for Val Grande national park, a relatively unknown Lombardy treasure, and one of the most stunning natural landscapes in the country.
It is also rich agriturismo country, even quite near Milan, and farm stays here are a high level, relatively expensive, affair but you can really expect quality and service to be excellent.
The city of Venice, one of Italy’s, and the world’s, tourism’s jewels, dominates the small province of Veneto like few other cities could, historically, politically and culturally. Probably no tourist in the world has ever come to Veneto without visiting Venice, it would be unthinkable. After the requisite gander on a gondola and photo at Harry’s Bar they might then go on to Padova, Verona or maybe Vicenza. Its cities are famous but the countryside, and the agriturismi, can certainly be wonderful too.
Sandwiched between Lake Garda and the Adriatic Sea it has the Dolomite mountains to offer a rugged backdrop as well as providing winter skiing and in the summer lots of good hiking and mountain biking. There are many wilderness areas with abundant wildlife and bird watching opportunities; the Po Delta or the Venetian Lagoon for example and there are some lovely inland villages too, Abano and Montegrotto for example are two that serve as spa resorts due to their abundant thermal springs. It is inspiring countryside, where a farm stay at a country cottage or farm house is a well established means of enjoying nature at its best.
Trentino-Alto Adige where the jagged peaks of the Dolomites meet the Alps is famously spectacular. The regional capital Trento is a pretty town with great mountain views and serves as a base for the large tourism and winter sports industries that surround.
In the surroundings there are many upmarket spas and thermal baths among the dark, deep forests and vineyards. And everybody from professional skiers and mountaineers to amateur hill strollers and photographers can, with the help of the numerous spectacular cable car routes, find much that will greatly appeal.
It is a strange mixture of Germanic and Italian. The Northern part Alto Adige or South Tyrol only became part of Italy at the end of World War One and to this day German is the dominant language. The landscapes, the architecture and the food feel a lot more Austrian than Italian too. It’s quite a unique place.
The southern part Trentino is almost fully Italian in language and spirit, though many Italians from further South will also feel a little like they crossed the border too. Everybody rubs shoulders very well here though and together they are autonomous areas with a degree of separation from central government.
It is one of country’s best areas for agriturismo too, and how could it not be? Sandwiched as it is between Italy and Austria, two countries with some of the world’s biggest farm stay traditions.
Between Piedmont and the coast is Liguria’s Italian Riveria, a follow on of the French Riviera, though a lot less visited and so more laid back and stress free. To the east of the Riviera is Liguria’s capital and main city, Genoa, the ancient sea port which was once one of the world’s premier cities. Though now still having a busy port, a lively, pleasant old quarter and lots of rough and ready charm, it is pretty much off the tourist radar.
The coastline around Liguria is fairly developed, not as much as its French counterpart though and you can still find some relatively isolated rural areas. Even around one of its premier resort towns Portofino, and the majestic Cinque Terre coastal region leads to some wild, dramatic terrain overlooking the Mediterranean, with vineyards and small farms dotted among the mainly rocky, barren land.
Around Riviera di Levante to Genoa’s east is another good area for exploring. It’s mountainous terrain with some little villages along the coast, some of which are only accessible by boat.
Inland is as nice as you would expect, with olive farms and vineyards hugging the slopes of the Alpine Apennine foothills. And a wholly different experience to the coastal tourist areas. You can find beautifully scenic farm stays and country houses here of course but around the coast too, despite the dominance of semi glitzy hotels, many choose agriturismo holidays, some within a very short distance.
Piedmont is a refined and sophisticated state bordering France and Switzerland in the far North West of Italy. It’s name means ‘foot of the mountain’ and is very much Alpine country to the North, with the slopes of the Matterhorn and Europe’s highest peak Mt. Blanc to be seen, and very much wine country to the South.
Some of Italy’s best wines are produced here. Asti Spumante and Barbaresco for example are produced among the hills of Monferrato and Langhe, which is also famous for its truffles
The majestic Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta have been tourist favorites for the last at least two hundred years and the valleys of Val di Susa and Val Chisone have in later years became extremely popular as ski resorts.
Again, this being Italy, agriturismo is a very popular way for the people of Turin, the regional capital, to escape the grind of city life as well as the many foreign tourists who are increasingly seeing rural Piedmont as a sophisticated getaway, and not just because of winter sports. Standards are high at these farm stays and the local food is great.
This interesting little province in the far North East is surprisingly under visited by tourists. It has a wealth of history and culture that mixes Italian, Slovenian and Austrian culture and is a particularly interesting place for a rural holiday.
Its capital Trieste was built as a showcase port by the Hapsburgs, as it would be the Austrian empire’s only port. And today it still looks grand in a very Central European way. Around the city there is a mini Riviera with some nice, though fairly developed, beach resorts.
Inland you have the Carso, or Karst, a huge barren limestone plateau that is quite spectacular in parts and a great place for hiking. Beyond that there is plenty of fertile farmland, with vineyards and olive groves and all in the shadow of The Alps and the Frulian Dolomites. There are numerous nature reserves and many national parks around like the mountainous Dolomiti Friulane Park and the forests at Tarvisio.
Amongst the agriturismo here you can find German, Slovenian, Italian or Fruliano (the local dialect of Italian) speaking hosts, such is the mix in this very unique corner of Italy.
(For a more detailed report on where to go and where to stay in Tuscany check out our special Agriturismo Tuscany guide.)
Tuscany, having some of the best farm stay agriturismo in Italy, and indeed the world, is also important for tourism generally. In a country of historical and cultural treasures the city of Florence stands out as a rival to Rome and there is surely no need to describe the attraction of Florence to any, even rare, visitor to Italy. The city chokes with tourists, almost uncomfortably so but outside the city it’s a different story, where the rolling hills of rural Tuscany can offer supreme respite.
As just mentioned, the area is possibly the most popular in the world for farm stays or agriturismo as we should call them in Italy, and many foreign visitors have also caught on to it as undoubtedly the best way to really discover the beauty of the Tuscan countryside and its associated culture.
Olive farms, wine groves, rustic red tiled farmhouses and huge, hearty meals of the finest local produce; the Tuscan landscape and lifestyle have beguiled many for generations and, for those that can afford it, is extremely popular for second (or third!) homes.
Chianti is usually the first place tourists from Florence, and from the similarly popular Siena, encounter rural Tuscany. It forms a rough triangle between Florence, Siena and Arezzo, and is an area steeped in food and especially wine heritage. Chianti wines are perhaps Italy’s most highly regarded and there is a huge amount of wine tourism in the region; many agriturismo in Tuscany will have their own vineyards, and in Chianti more so again.
Around Siena there are many other highlights of rural Tuscany, especially in terms of the spectacular, hillside villages have become emblematic of the whole region. The most famous is San Gimignano, just to the north west, which is a stunning sight though can become like a mini Florence sometimes, especially in the summer.
Tourists, especially foreign ones really can’t get enough of it though, and so for those of you whose romantic sensibilities might be crushed by the multitudes of baseball caps, high waisted shorts and fanny packs; get there in the quiet of an early morning, when that haunting medieval atmosphere can still work its magic.
There are many other villages though that offer pretty much the same beauty and atmosphere but with, well comparatively anyway, a trickle of visitors. Pitigliano or Volterra are two good examples, and there are plenty more. A particular mention too must go to the Val d’Orcia to the south of Tuscany, with very historic, though quite touristy, towns like Montalcino and Pienza along the ancient pilgrim routes to Rome, some really gorgeous countryside and some of Tuscany’s best wines, especially in the Brunello area. For all this and much more Val d’Orcia has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This whole region is the home of the agriturismo concept and so Agriturismi in Tuscany are generally top range, and quite luxury affairs, with a quality and aesthetic that’s hard to beat. You’ll be spoiled for choice.
Umbria, the heart of Italy, is lush and green and slowly becoming a new hotspot for agriturismo. Outside of the main city attractions of Assisi and Perugia, especially in the east, with its acres upon acres of unspoiled woodland and hundreds of streams and rivers running through its valleys, it is wild country, and charmingly unspoilt.
Over the years rural Umbria has evolved from being a remote feeling backwater to something of a new Tuscany and has become enormously popular with cultured holiday makers and aspiring second home owners, both Italian and foreign.
Piano Grande and Valnerina are rugged and wild, and Umbria contains Italy’s largest lake, Lago Trasimeno, a well known spot for watersports.
Not surprisingly, the agriturismo experience is becoming extremely popular, with some parts of Umbria already rivaling Tuscany in this regard and you can expect the same Italian countryside atmosphere though in a slightly less pricey way.
Little Le Marche sits neatly down facing out towards the gentle Adriatic with the Apennine mountains at its back. Though also a well known place for agriturismo, it’s probably more famous for beach holidays with its coastline hosting a huge amount of ltalian tourists during the summer months. Ancona is the capital and though an unremarkable place it has its own certain charm. Just above and below Ancona the coast is filled with busy beach resorts, it’s difficult to find anywhere that hasn’t been overdone with basic beach tourism but they are there, with the spectacular Concero Riviera being perhaps the best example.
The town of Pesaro, on the north coast nearby San Marino, is the birthplace of the composer Rossini and its annual festival in his honour is a huge draw for international tourists. Inland Le Marche, away from the coast is beautifully unspoiled, especially to the south west, with hill side stone cottages and sleepy villages leading you on up to the Mont Sibilline range where hiking and hillwalking can be done in peace and solitude. Further north the scenery is less rugged but there is the lovely city of Urbino with its Renaissance era palace to be enjoyed and the great fortress of San Leo.
Le Marche’s wines are a great source of pride and there are many wine tasting and vineyard tours, many of which double as vineyard hotels, and you’ll also find a few more regular farm stays amongst the many vineyards.
Abruzzo & Molise
These have only been two separate provinces since 1963 and though quite similar in nature, and certainly in terrain, the journey between Abruzzo in the north, south to Molise, is really somewhat of a journey from the North of Italy to the South.
The both share the great Apennine mountains, with Abruzzo making a bit more of its picturesque setting where its, only recently well visited, hill towns offer a glimpse into past centuries and whose unique culture, food and dress especially are the result of centuries of isolation from the rest of Italy. Farmhouse holidays here are a slighter newer concept than in say Tuscany, but probably provide some of the most special experiences a tourist could have. It’s coastline too is gaining popularity, with the great golden sands of Pescara a particular attraction.
Its southern twin Molise is less known for agriturismo and in general is a gentler place with less mountain terrain and less obvious tourist destinations, but a day spent visiting the splendidly isolated Roman ruins at Saepinum is a day well spent and all around Molise there are ancient trails known as Tratturi, along which shepherds once walked their sheep and are now starting to be used by adventurous travelers as hiking, horse riding and mountain bike trails.
Lazio lies very much in the shadow of Rome and thus struggles to have a touristic identity of its own. The south of Lazio might be fairly unremarkable for many tourists in many parts, though with the exception of the Parco dei Castelli Romani/ Park of the Roman Castles, which has some great scenery, hiking trails and historic ruins spanning the centuries of Rome’s long history. Once beyond the city’s sprawl the south of Lazio very much farming land and hosts quite a few good agriturismo farm stays.
The north is generally considered much more beautiful and in some ways, despite being so near to Rome’s urban sprawl, it could rival the more famously rural areas of Umbria to its north. There are gentle hills here and acres of lovely woodlands which many people tour by car on day trips from the capital. Viterbo is a lovely medieval city with a strong connection to the Vatican and it can serve as a good base for exploring the more remote hinterlands, and, happily enough, for those who need more than a day to get the big city out of their veins, the surrounding countryside will also have some good agriturismi, even quite near Rome.
Emilia-Romagna, with Bologna as its capital, is another popular agriturismo farm stay location, and it’s all about the food. It was here that lasagna, tagliolini, tortellino and prosciutto were first produced to name but a few. Its cheeses are famous throughout culinary circles as is its balsamic vinegar, piadina bread and albana wine. Eating, and the appreciation of food is hugely important here and it is one of Italy’s, and the world’s biggest centres of culinary tourism.
Of course it’s beautiful too. Even its modern capital, Bologna is a surprisingly pretty city while ancient Ravenna needs no introduction. But outside the cities, among the low hills and old stone houses there are hard working farms that add authenticity and integrity to some gorgeous countryside.
Agriturismo here involves food and lots of it, some of the finest in the world. This is why most people come to Emilia-Romagna and if it wasn’t why you came in the first place, it might just be why you return.
South of Lazio and Rome, from the Garigliano River to the Gulf of Policastro, lies the province Campania, the place where, most will agree, the south of Italy, the mezzogiorno, begins.
Though the great port city of Naples dominates the region, for the majority of visitors it is the magnificent coastline that impresses the most. Salerno’s Amalfi Coast in particular is hugely popular with tourists from every corner of the world, with the dramatically beautiful, postcard perfect, town of Amalfi at its heart. Other towns such as Positano, Atrani and Ravello are popular too, and in high summer the area can be somwhat choked with visitors.
Despite the huge numbers of tourists Campania receives, it never fails to inspire. The striking ruins of Pompeii are one of Europe’s most famous, and the islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia are nothing short of paradise for those with the means to enjoy them fully. The resort town of Sorrento too, on the southern end of the bay of Naples is a confident, sophisticated place that easily lures visitors to stay a day or two before hopping on one of the busy ferries to Capri. Capri itself is glitzy and glamorous but also has a quieter, more traditional side; the so called Anacapri, which covers most of the western half of the island, and which can be surprisingly peaceful even during summer months.
Relatively speaking the agriturismo industry isn’t particularly strong in these parts, such is the allure of the coastal hotels and beaches, and the agricultural interior of Campania is very much under the radar for tourism generally. This will make it all the more interesting for some, and those that do venture inland after spending time on the packed coast will find the quiet roads and open spaces something of a relief. Like pretty much everywhere in Italy though, the farm stays agriturismi you will find in Campania will not disappoint and you don’t have to venture very far either, you can find some its best agriturismo near Naples and the Amalfi Coast too.
(For a more detailed report on where to go and where to stay in rural Sicily check out our special Agriturismo Sicily guide.)
Agriturismo might not come to mind on this island of volcanos and sun parched rocky hillsides, but the scent of orange and lemon trees everywhere will remind you of its agricultural nature. Rural Sicily is full of rugged beauty and has been coveted for thousands of years by so many of the world’s great civilizations.
The columns of Segesta’s 5th century BC temple, hidden away amongst the rocky mountains, or the amazingly well preserved Valley of the Temples at Agrigento. The spectacular Mount Etna or the other giant volcanic beast; the island volcano of Strombali dominating the sky amongst the Aeolian Islands are inspiring sights that punctuate a landscape where farming and fishing have been a mainstay for thousands of years.
Being so sparsely populated there are many areas that are untouched by human hand, farming or otherwise. Nebrodi National Park for example is lush and green woodland while Lo Zingaro, less than an hour West of Palermo is a stunning nature reserve that straddles the rocky coast.
Among the farm stays here you can sample food from some of Sicily’s finest natural ingredients. Wild herbs are abundantly used, seafood is plentiful and you’ll find recipes handed down for generations with each part of Sicily having their own slight variations.
The heel of Italy, Apulia/Puglia has quite a remote feel and though usually ignored by foreign tourists plenty of Italians know it well, especially the coastline and they know just how lovely it can be. The town of Lecce, the Florence of the South, deserves far more attention, but is all the better for the lack of it, and the area’s sparsely populated countryside is dotted with ancient Basilian churches and prehistoric standing stones to be enjoyed almost completely alone.
Even the beautiful coastline, though in some places well visited by local tourists, is, for the most part, wild and untouched. You can find charming fishing villages like Santa Maria Al Bagno surrounded by miles of empty beaches with clean, golden sands.
Likewise the Gargano national park area is to be treasured. With its white cliffs, rocky paths and old forests overlooking the Adriatic it is a wonderful hiking and mountain biking destination.
Apulia for many Italians is one of the country’s secret tourism havens but many foreigners are starting to appreciate it too, for its un-spoilt landscapes, its hospitality and its old fashioned charm.
(For a more detailed report on where to go and where to stay in Sardinia check out our special Agriturismo Sardinia guide.)
Sardinia wouldn’t be known for its agriturismo because it is of course a beach heaven for those who can afford it and that style of holiday has come to define it. The famous Costa Smeralda these days has almost become a ghetto for the super rich, though Sardinia generally with a nearly 2000km long coastline can still offer something for everyone.
You can find isolated beaches with golden sands that anywhere else would be flooded with tourists but you can have all to yourself. And in the west of Sardinia you’ll find the lagoons of Sinis, a peninsula brimming with bird life including flocks of pink flamingos.
The isolated interior as well keeps many secrets and has possibly Sardinia’s best, most authentic agriturismos. And especially in the east and north you will find some really spectacular scenery. Tough rocky mountains looking down on forests of cork trees and scatterings of sweet smelling of macchia shrubs.
So in Sardinia, despite its reputation as a billionaires playground, outside of the Costa Smeralda you’ll find accommodation, agriturismo included, very reasonably priced.
The ‘toe’ of Italy, where it reaches down to meet Sicily is Calabria, and it really wouldn’t be a stand out destination for any tourist. Quite the opposite in fact. In the Italian imagination it is still only somewhat of a byword for poverty, corruption and underdevelopment. Its cities are grim and not very attractive but outside in the countryside it really is an ideal farm stay holiday destination where you can see and feel real Italian rural life.
It has some great coastline dotted with pretty little villages and its inland mountains contain a full three wildlife filled national parks. The parklands are nicely isolated and for the more adventurous, are superb areas to explore. It truly is a beautifully natural region and will undoubtedly become more of a major destination for tourism, and especially agritourism.
Basilicata, in the centre of Southern Italy, is very similar to its southern neighbor Calabria, in being traditionally underdeveloped and neglected. In modern times though it has developed itself at a relatively fast pace, in tourism too, including agriturismo, but not yet to the same extent as other states to the North. Its countryside is classic rural southern Italy and can make for a really authentic farm stay destination.
Its most famous tourist draw is the amazing cave houses of Matera, while towns like Melfi and Venosa are as atmospheric as you’ll find anywhere. The countryside in between is in many parts quite barren, but beautiful too in its own rugged way, and along the roads you’ll find a few sparsely populated small villages and settlements where life hasn’t much changed for most people for decades.
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