Farm stays: Translating from Italian 'agriturismo'

Road Journals Blog—In Italy, farm stays are known as agriturismo; they offer those who experience them a backstage pass to the Italian countryside. The industry blossomed in the 1980s, when the Italian government incentivized farmers to return to—and restore—the country’s traditional small farms that had been in decline since the 1950s.

My introduction to Italian farm stays came in 2004 when I was a college student abroad in Rome. I chanced upon an explanation of the concept in a guidebook, and was immediately smitten. The idea of sleeping in a centuries-old farmhouse only steps away from where my dinner had been grown sounded like the best kind of travel.

Giandriale, a farmstay in the Italian countryside. | Michelle Nowak

I chose agriturismo for the topic of a research project, and I enlisted my family for help. When they came to visit, we rented a car and set off to for three very different agriurismi, all near sites that we wanted to tour. In addition to basing my choices on location, I also wanted to visit farms that produced a diversity of products.

First we drove south, to Azienda Agrituristica Seliano, near the well-preserved Greek temples of Paestum. Seliano has been in the same family since the 1700s. The owners make fantastic buffalo mozzarella that is the centerpiece of the farm’s meals, which are served around a long convivial table shared by the guests and owners.

Italy's Seliano farmstay. | Michelle Nowak

Our second stay was at an organic winery and olive orchard near Florence called Tenuta San Vito in Fior di Selva. We roamed the lovely orchard, sampled the estate’s wine, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, and enjoyed dinner at an on-site restaurant.

Our third stay, and our favorite, was Agriturismo Giandriale, a small, organic vegetable farm high in the mountains above Cinque Terre, a string of five towns that hug Italy’s rugged northwestern coast. The air was crystal clear, the owners incredibly welcoming, and the food—regional specialties like chestnut polenta and apple cake—was divine.

I left Italy wondering if something like agriturismo existed in the United States, since I had never heard of such a thing. I was happy to discover that as wonderful and unique as these Italian agriturismi were, similarly rewarding experiences can be found much closer to home.

The difference was this: In Italy, farm stays were visible, numerous, and well known. In the U.S., however, farm stays were hard to find, well-kept secrets without a coherent network (aside from the Farm Vacation Associations that had been around for decades in Pennsylvania and Maine).

I wanted to help foster the nascent network of farm stays in the U.S., so after searching high and low for lodging on working farms, I started a blog, where I could tell the fascinating stories of the farms I visited and the farmers I met.

Shortly thereafter I teamed up with Scottie Jones, who owns Leaping Lamb Farm, a popular farm stay in Alsea, Oregon. Scottie had a great vision for building a U.S. farm stay website, and asked if I would contribute. In summer 2010, Farm Stay U.S. launched, and today the site features more than 620 farm stays throughout the country.

Michelle Nowak writes about farm stays for an upcoming issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.


Thanks for the eagle eye!