I’m lucky enough to be no stranger to Tuscany.
Over the past few years I’ve been able to enjoy a few visits to the region, mainly to Florence itself.
This time, however, I was looking to escape the mad(ding) crowds of Renaissance masterpiece seekers in Florence, as the heat, humidity and sheer volume of people got the better of my patience.
The rolling hills of rural Tuscany called to me. Memories of plane and poplar trees lining the curving roads, highlighting the cerulean sky above came rushing into my head. Most of all, what called to me was a few days of peace and quiet.
The quiet life was what I got, but as usual, not quite in the way that I expected.
Over the coming days my taste of rural Tuscan life included simple, rustic food made from the produce of vegetable gardens, a village fete where I was the only non Italian, and a visit to an Agriturismo that arguably embodied more of the standards of responsible tourism than many hotels with ‘eco labels’.
The advantage of being in the countryside is space. Although rural Tuscany is challenging (though not impossible) to explore without your own set of wheels. And unless you’re a practised mountain biker, that means four wheels rather than two. I’d made it to within 20 kilometres of the village where I was staying by train, but resigned myself to car for the last part.
On my second day in rural Tuscany, I visited a local Agriturismo. Agriturismi are farm-stays, and used to be one of Italy’s best kept secrets when it comes to accommodation. These days Agriturismi are plentiful in Italy, and range from offering simple, basic accommodation to a boutique luxury experience complete with pool.
I visited Agriturismo Arte Natura Le Caselle near Terranuova Bracciolini, in southern Tuscany. Run by a local family, Arte Natura is typical of Agriturismi, being a self-sufficient as possible. Vegetables, herbs, olive oil and eggs are all grown and produced on site. Guests can enjoy one or more home cooked meals a day, prepared with produce from the farm and vegetable gardens. The agriturismo is set amongst acres of open fields and olive groves, and is set on the borders of a vineyard.
Aside from farm animals, Arte Natura also has a menagerie of domestic animals (including, at the time of my visit, baby kittens). But the star of the show, without doubt, is their gorgeous Pyrenean Mountain Dog, ‘Golia’ (literally – ‘Goliath’) who is a true gentle giant and guaranteed to steal even the steeliest of hearts.
After visiting the Agriturismo, it dawned on me, that more than anything else, this is the type of place that embodies most of the principles of responsible tourism. Most agrituismi don’t have eco labels or market themselves as sustainable, yet they offer an experience that prides itself on being offered by local people, on a small scale, enjoying local produce, and being able to relax and unwind in the beautiful Italian countryside. If this sounds like just your thing, you can book Arte Natura Le Caselle (and other Agriturismi) online.
The second experience that stood out from my time in rural Tuscany, was my experience of a local village fete. The village I was staying in, Campogialli, was holding it’s annual august celebration, called ‘Calici di Stelle’: an opportunity for some ‘walking and tasting’ under the stars.
For the ticket price of 18 euros, an evening of tasting local wines, food, to a background soundtrack of different bands, music and theatre was mine. Local restaurants had stands where they were each serving up their best dishes in taste-friendly size portions, and sommeliers advised on local wines. Feeling full of good food and wine (pappardelle with wild boar was simply incredible), I felt privileged to be part of an event that clearly many tourists do not get to see. The whole village and neighbouring area had come together: young, old, and everyone in between. This was a chance to see the heart of an Italian village community at its most active.
Next time I go to Italy, I do know that I will seek out more experiences like this. Tourist boards can be great sources of information when planning your trips. Look out for posters in villages, especially at local bars or at churches about local events. Many festivities happen in the summer months of July and August, when tourism to Italy is also at its peak.
My main take away from my trip was that going forward, I will try and stay in Agriturismi as much as possible. They’ve definitely found a fan in me!
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Have you travelled around tuscany recently or stayed in an agriturismo? How did you find your experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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