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Episode #126: What is an Agriturismo? (and why you should stay in one)

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Staying in an agriturismo is both a special and immersive experience. It is a great opportunity to see and feel the real Italy, but what exactly is an agriturismo and where do you find one?  Agriturismo loosely translated means farm stays but can encompass a simple self-catered stay on a farm through to some incredibly luxurious settings. This unique form of accommodation is not well known outside of Europe but it’s beloved by Italians and Europeans alike. 

Show notes

We talk to Sarah and Salvatore who have run boutique B&B, La Cuccagna, an agriturismo in the beautiful Umbrian countryside, for 20 years. We hear how not just any farm or countryside property can call itself an agriturismo but must meet some demanding criteria, many of which mean you are ensured an experience unique and local to the area in which you’re staying.  We talk infinity pools, pizza nights, and the connections you can make both to the land, local traditions, and the local people, by staying in an agriturismo. 

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. When Sarah and Salvatore decided they wanted to run an agriturismo in Italy, they originally started their search in Tuscany because, of course, Tuscany is a dream location for many of us. Then one day, Sal said to Sarah, “Come on, let’s nip across into Umbria” which she did so initially un-enthusiastically but then quickly fell in love. That first day they went to Umbria they found their dream – La Cuccagna, which was perfect in every way – including the most extraordinary views they’d ever seen in Italy
  2. The concept of an agriturismo comes from the simple idea to have a farmer making a bit of extra money by letting people stay on his property.  In the last 20 – 30 years farming has been very difficult and this income stream can be very helpful. From this simple idea, we now have a vast range of styles of an agriturismo – from one-star to five-star style but you don’t just get a stay – you are also connecting with the farming life of that agriturismo
  3. Depending on what the farm does, you can often participate and learn. At La Cuccagna for instance, during the olive season, you can go and help pick the olives and see the cycle of how we make olive oil. They pick during the morning, they have a nice lunch in the olive groves and then in the afternoon they go to the frantoio (which is the oil press) and they make the oil. A very different experience to going into a shop and picking up a bottle from the shelf. The same can be done for whatever the farm produces – chestnuts, flour, fruit, wine etc. It is a way to connect to the farming world
  4. La Cuccuagna certainly has some luxuries – an infinity pool, sauna, gorgeous rooms – lots of comforts but you also have that connection with the farming – they have a vegetable patch where all the fruit and veg they use come from. They farm organically, not just because it makes better products but because it’s much better for the environment. Most agriturismo take very seriously that they are looking after the environment around them and they know that environment well. It’s a great way for visitors to learn to be more responsible tourists
  5. In Umbria, at least 85% of the products an agriturismo uses, have to come from the local area. They cannot go and shop in the big supermarkets for the food they provide their guests.  Most of the time La Cuccugna uses their own olive oil and vegetables, which can sustain them from June to October. Then there are other local farmers that provide other products. They have accommodation with kitchens, so guests can cook themselves and are free to rummage in the vegetable patch – pick their own tomatoes,  courgettes (zucchini) and peppers etc. As well as the vegetable patch they grow apricots, peaches, figs, plums, strawberries, and melons.  Guests always exclaim how very different things taste to the ones right from the supermarket
  6. In Italy generally, agriturismos are heavily regulated – they have to follow very strict rules. You can’t just say, right, I’m going to be an agriturismo – you’ve got to be a certain type of farm and meet very specific and demanding criteria. For Umbria, almost everything that you’re going to eat or drink will either come from your farm or from local farmers. This includes raw ingredients – so flour needs to be milled from wheat grown in Umbria. So even before you’ve chosen your agriturismo, you have a guarantee of experiencing local connections and ingredients
  7. One of the things that makes Italy so rich is the diversity between the regions so when guests come to an agriturismo, they’re really getting to appreciate the taste and flavors of that specific region, and of course in Italy, things will always be seasonal
  8. The level of catering differs between different agriturismi. Some will have full-blown restaurants with large dining rooms, maybe even with a wine cellar. Many offer breakfast or you can stay somewhere which has self-catering accommodation but local food is available for you to make yourself
  9. La Cuccagna is small and aims to take care of its guests on a personal level. They only have maximum of 12 or 13 people staying at the same time. They have self-catering accommodation and do breakfast and occasional meals – particularly Sals’ famous wood-oven pizza!  For their dinners, everyone eats together, like a family meal
  10. Most agriturismi offer breakfast, apart from those that only have self-catering accommodation
  11. Why would you choose an agriturismo?
    You can stay in a hotel and you get a very good service but an agriturismo is more of an experience. Not only do they farm, but they’ll often show you how they do it and you get to try what is produced. Guests will be part of a different philosophy and way of life to that which they are used to in their busy lives at home. They love the countryside, and care for and look after it. You can experience really quiet, beautiful places with amazing surroundings – landscapes and wildlife. There’s a connection with the land and if you weren’t staying at an agriturismo, it would be impossible to find and have that connection and that authenticity
  12. When people think of Italy, if they are focusing on a first visit, then they’ll think of these big destinations like Rome, Florence, Venice, Amalfi Coast, and Cinque Terre – but if they are just conjuring up a picture of Italy then it’s often of a kind of rural or village idyll, with countryside and family and food. Agriturismi – these tiny little spots on the fringes of everything yet right in the middle – offer a window to a whole culture and lifestyle that’s happening in small towns and villages in the countryside. That’s what an agriturismo is really offering you – that you can actually go and be a part of that
  13. Places like Rome or Venice are amazing and we definitely encourage people to go. But Rome isn’t Italy – Rome is Rome. A stay at an agriturismo really allows you to understand what real Italy is all about. Italy has thousands of beautiful little towns and villages, all of which have their own festivals and Sagres. By staying in an agriturismo, you’re more likely to find out about and be involved in those. An agriturismo is like a portal to the local culture
  14. Many of us lead very busy lives, and sometimes we don’t even stop to recognize the seasons or the changes going on around us. When you visit the countryside in Italy and you see how everything is seasonal and it moves with a rhythm of nature – you start to find yourself become a little bit more at peace with yourself and understanding what is important. You can get off the treadmill of life and stop all the rushing around, and can just sit back and notice what’s going on around you and appreciate what you’ve got, where you are, and just enjoy it. Many who visit La Cuccagna are stunned by the lack of the sounds, fast pace, and stress of the city and because there’s no light pollution in the countryside – they are awe-struck by the stars
  15. The local city to La Cuccagna is Gubbio, which has a fascinating history and a strong culture  – one of the oldest cities in Italy. In Gubbio, on the 15th of May each year, they have the La Festa Dei Ceri (the race of the candles).  A big medieval festival and on the morning of the 15th, you’ll hear the drum going to the city, waking everybody up on the way.  The statues of St. Ubaldo (patron of bricklayers), St. George (patron saint of haberdashers), and St. Anthony the Abbot (patron saint of donkey breeders and peasants) are placed on 3 big, heavy wooden Ceri – which are meant to represent candles. There is then a race where they carry the Ceri on their shoulders and run down the city streets to the basilica of S. Ubaldo on top of Mount Ingino
  16. Where to find an Agriturismo?
    Italy has a site called agriturismi.it, which is a good place to start. Most agriturismi are listed on the site and you can filter your search and put your dates, the regions etc.
  17. They have their own rating system (sunflower rather than stars), but it’s not a majorly reliable benchmark as each place is so different. As we recommend with all things with travel to Italy – read the reviews. When you read the reviews you can really pick up on the vibe of a place, the hosts, and bits and pieces that people have enjoyed. If guests are just talking about the rooms, then it means they haven’t really had much participation in the farm and with the hosts
  18. We often don’t know exactly what we’re looking for, but when you hear people talk about what they liked best about their stay, then you’re given the idea of something you’d maybe never thought of or heard of, and can decide that you’d like to do that too. Sarah can always tell when somebody inquires with us that has read some reviews because they ask for specific things like “Can we go truffle hunting?” “Can we have a pasta-making course?” and more often than not ” can we try Salvatore’s Pizza?”
  19. On agriturismi.it, each agriturismo has its own page and they have the opportunity to write a bit about their farm and what they offer – there you can generally get a feeling for how warm and welcoming people are and the kind of experience you might get at that agriturismo
  20. It’s worth thinking about what you might want to experience and search on activities – if you want to do olive picking, you obviously need to be looking in an appropriate region and for agriturismi that farm olives. If you’ve got small children, you may want an agriturismo where kids can go and pet the donkeys and goats. Look to see whether the agriturismo may have what you want to get out of your experience
  21. Why La Cuccagna?
    There are a few things that guests rave about when they stay at La Cuccagna. Firstly, they are made to feel welcome and special during their visits. First and foremost La Cuccagna is Sarah and Salvatore’s home, so when guests go there, they are welcoming them into their home. From the moment they get out of the car, they are greeted and then brought into the guest dining room and offered a drink and helped to check-in. The guest are offered suggestions and tips for the local area and guidance to make reservations – everything to give them the best possible experience, not just of staying on their property, but also for enjoying the local area. They want people to feel like they are a part of everything that is going on here. Naturally, they have guests that return year on year and for those guests, they like to find new and interesting things to experience – they love finding things off the beaten track and finding hidden gems
  22. They like sharing their business and guests with the locals around them. There are lots of companies out there that offer lots of activities and experiences on a commercial level and at a huge cost. For example, generally, people are paying around €300 to go truffle hunting. They’ve got a couple of local neighbors who are only too happy if they’re going out truffle hunting,  for guests to join them. Not only would this be at a 10th of the cost but the guests love it because it is a completely real experience – nothing is staged
  23. They love nothing more than a chat with their guests over a glass of wine on the terrace in the evening when the sun’s setting, the crickets are humming and the fireflies are buzzing around. They now travel through their guests and love meeting interesting people and hearing their stories. Their motto is – people come and guests, they go away as friends
  24. Sal is constantly maintaining and updating the property (hence the new sauna!) but they never wanted to add more rooms because they don’t want to lose the experience that we offer their guests. La Cuccanga is big enough so that there’s a bit of company if you want it, but the size of the property means there’s always plenty of privacy
  25. Their ethos is the care and respect for the land and the locals and being sustainable to have as little negative impact on their beautiful surroundings. Care is everything at La Cuccagna – for guests, for the locals, and for the land

About our guest – Sarah and Salvatore of La Cuccagna

English Sarah and her Italian partner Salvatore met while paragliding and discovered a mutual passion for adventure and sustainable travel. After many experiences around the world interacting with ‘real’ locals, being invited into their homes and being shown hidden gems off the beaten track, they decided to find a little piece of paradise in Italy.
At La Cuccagna, they open their own home to offer guests a unique and authentic experience in the best possible accommodation at an affordable price. They love the Umbrian way of life and all the sights and activities its countryside has to offer and it gives them great pleasure to help their guests enjoy the very best stay in the stunning surroundings.

They do everything possible to minimise the environmental impact of La Cuccagna, and observe sustainable practices wherever possible, working with small local businesses and tradesmen, local materials and natural-based products from the local area. Original materials from the house have all been re-used in the restoration project and around the grounds. The property has an under-floor heating and hot water system that is run by solar power in the summer and from their special boiler fuelled by olive nuts in the winter months.

Their suppliers are carefully selected for the quality of their produce but also for their impact on the environment and local community. Most of the fittings, fixtures and furniture are locally sourced. Their beds are made by the local iron monger and much of their tableware and ceramics are from various local potters and artists. Where they have to go further afield from their local shops and markets, they use Umbrian suppliers to ensure their business stays within the regional economy.

When catering they use home grown produce whenever possible (they grow herbs, fruit, and vegetables and make all their own passata, wine, limoncello, olive oil, chestnut products, and plenty more) and as a registered organic farm all their produce is free-range and organic.

You can find La Cuccagna on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Perugia – the capital city of Umbria 
  • Gubbio – city in Umbria, located on the lowest slope of Mt. Ingino, a small mountain of the Apennines
  • Marlborough Downs – hills in Wiltshire, England

Resources

  • frantoio – the olive press
  • castagne – chestnuts in Italian
  • Gubbio’s Ceri festival – La Festa Dei Ceri (the race of the candles) takes place in May 15th each year
  • www.agriturismi.it – website, where you will find most agriturismi in Italy listed

An Untold Italy Tour of Umbria

If you like the sound of Umbria and its medieval towns and cities, like Gubbio, we’d love you to join us on tour later this year as we explore Umbria during the harvest season. There’ll be delicious porchetta, local wine, and freshly pressed olive oil for which the region is celebrated. You’ll find all the details on our website at tours.untolditaly.com/umbria

Resources from Untold Italy

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Transcript

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