January seems to be all a-twitter with people planning and booking their summer holidays. Unsurprising really that we should dream of warmer climes and new experiences during the short, cold days of winter! We too love to make holiday plans at the start of a new year, so if like us you are wondering what adventures summer 2019 will have store for you, then let me tell you all about our experience of staying at an ‘agristurismo’ in Italy last summer. We flew direct to Naples from Belfast with Easyjet, hired a small car and headed south, past the well-known (and pricier) Amalfi Coast, to the undulating and unspoilt region of Cilento.
We had booked to stay on an agriturismo – basically a farm which offers accommodation – named ‘Il Forno Antico’, in the heart of the Cilentan National Park and it turned out to be a truly memorable experience for us all. If you are on the search for a holiday that’s interesting, peaceful, close to nature, slow-paced and that gives you an authentic taste of Italy, well then, a getaway to an agriturismo might just be the very thing you are looking for!
10 REASONS TO STAY ON AN ITALIAN FARM THIS SUMMER:
1 OUTDOOR SPACE…and lots of it too!
On arrival at our agriturismo, we couldn’t quite believe just how much outside space there was for us to explore! We’re talking olive groves, fields, vineyards, rolling hills, veg patches…there was just green space every which way we looked! If you like the idea of easy strolls around the countryside within the safe parameters of a farm then you will really enjoy a stay on an agriturismo. Being city dwellers, our 3 boys loved the freedom to roam and explore. Where we stayed there was also a small playground in the shade of some trees where the kids would all hang out to cool off after their very sweaty football matches. It was simple, but truly charming, and being able to breathe in the fresh country air and enjoy the unspoilt views was the idyllic way to unwind and recharge.
2 VALUE FOR YOUR HARD-EARNED CASH…
If you spend a little time looking through the many options listed under the agriturismo filter on any booking site, you will find that some of them offer excellent value for money. Our accommodation was basic, but spotlessly clean and maintained daily by the lovely housekeepers, with clean bedding and towels brought every day. Also, on site, were 2 swimming pools, one of which was right outside our accommodation and which we basically had sole use of for our entire stay. There was also another larger pool located at the top of the hill near the main buildings and restaurant which we could also make use of.
3 TRY THE LOCAL FOOD
One of the perks of staying on an agriturismo is that there is often a restaurant on site with a resident chef who cooks using the produce grown on the farm and from the local area. We were also treated to two pizza evenings, with pizzas galore, made to our own specifications, cooked on the outdoor ovens. While the enticing scent of the pizzas cooking wafted across the farm, the kids ran about with the farm cats and puppies, while my husband and I enjoyed a glass of local wine under a starlit sky. There was a plentiful breakfast served each morning and dinner in the evenings where you could put in requests, and seeing as we were out and about most days we usually packed up a picnic with produce from the village shop, or stopped to dine in an inexpensive café or pizzeria. The Italians do food so well there’s never a worry that you will go hungry!
4 EXPERIENCE FARM LIFE AND TRY NEW EXPERIENCES
Many of the agriturismos offer organised ‘experiences’ such as horse-riding, hiking trips, guided tours, art classes and so forth. We personally, didn’t pre-book anything, preferring to decide each day what we would like to do. We were made to feel so welcome just relaxing and doing our own thing and were happy to watch the farmers at work – training the horses, feeding the animals, tending the land and getting a feel for how day-to-day life is on a farm in southern Italy. How they work so hard in such warm temperatures is beyond me! We spent a lot of time in the swimming pool, with the horses popping-by to say hello and to try and share our lunch, and also searching for lizards (and snakes!)! One of the highlights for our middle son was having a praying mantis spend the entire evening chilling out on his shoulder while we played countless games of Top Trumps around the pool with new-found friends!
5 MEET NEW PEOPLE
As mentioned above, it didn’t take too long for the 3 boys to make some new friends to while away the hours with! Kids are so great at this! On our second day on the agritourismo, we met a German family with 3 children of their own, and despite the language barrier, we hit it off straight away and felt like kindred spirits. It didn’t matter that the kids didn’t speak the same lingo, they were soon chasing after one another, making up games, figuring out funny ways to communicate and eventually teaching one another a few phrases from their own language. It was precious for us to watch and the boys’ list of pen-pals from around the world is steadily growing! We enjoyed several meals and day trips with our new German friends and spent many evenings chatting, eating and laughing until way past bedtime!
6 NO CROWDS OR QUEUES
If getting away from it all for you means actually getting a break away from the hectic, day-to-day business of work, crowds and the non-stop routine of life in general, and the idea of spending 2 weeks on a crowded resort trying to entertain kids is your worst nightmare, then a break to an agriturismo will be right up your street! They are often small, family-run businesses and therefore are not jam-packed with hoards of tourists. In fact, we were the only English-speaking family at Il Forno Antico the whole time we were there, with the majority of guests being Italians who come year after year to enjoy the countryside. There was no entertainment in the typical sense – no discos or kids’ clubs. However, if you’re fine with this, and like to make your own entertainment and get back to basics: enjoying nature, swimming, eating good food and having space and freedom to explore and visit uncrowded sites, then you too will enjoy time on an Italian farm and its surroundings.
7 ENJOY NATURE
Being immersed in the daily life of a working farm is a truly wonderful experience. Work starts at first light, with tractors rumbling down the lane, people working in the vegetable plots and olive groves and all around you are surrounded by plants and wildlife. The number of lizards is remarkable and many hours were spent trying to gently capture a small one by our wannabe palaeontologist. There were horses roaming free on the farm and when we ventured out for day trips to the local villages, there was still the sense of being surrounded by nature and of life being built around the landscape and the weather. So much time is spent outdoors here, and it’s not hard to see why, when every new bend in the road (and there are many, many, many of these in Italy!), offers up and dazzling new display of the land in all it’s glory.
The undulating hills of the Cilento region mean that it has the most bizarre weather – scorching temperatures with the odd torrential downpour which can last from minutes to hours – and perhaps leave you stranded high up at a tiny little church in the middle of nowhere when you decide to go exploring off the beaten track and wondering if you’ll ever make it home before dark!
8 A GREAT WAY TO EXPERIENCE A REGION
If like my family, you like to holiday ‘slow’ and get to know a small region and savour what it has to offer, then staying on an agriturismo is a great idea. You can use it as a base to easily access the surrounding villages and towns, and the owners and other guests will be only too happy to recommend the best places to visit and to eat in their region. Italians love to live life well from my observations during the times that I have visited and they will love to regale you with their stories and boast about their beautiful country. We visited so many stunning villages along the majestic coastline and spent many hours ‘getting lost’ on winding streets and secret stairways, sampling ice-cream everywhere we went as well as trying the delicious pastries from small bakeries. Nothing beats shopping small and local!
9 THE VIEWS, THE VIEWS…
As I mentioned above, the views in Italy are simply picture-book, breathtakingly perfect in most directions and your eyes won’t want to stop feasting on them. If you’ve been to Italy, you’ll understand what I mean, if not, then you must experience it for yourself. I promise you will not be disappointed. This is the land that inspired the Romantic poets, painters, sculptors, writers, composers and many more besides. There is beauty everywhere to delight in.
10 TOTALLY UNIQUE
By staying on an agriturismo you can tailor your holiday to suit your lifestyle. As a family that tries to live sustainably – to waste less, care about the natural world, to shop locally and buy natural and generally aim to keep our impact on the world gentle and to a minimum – then a holiday immersed on a working farm aligns with our values and encourages us to keep learning about the world around us and how we can live more consciously in it. With no real agenda or pre-planned itinerary you can do as much or as little as you like each day.
There were days when we simply read books, swam and played silly games, ate fruit from the trees, patted the horses and enjoyed each other’s company – and in all truth, those are the days that linger most warmly in my memory – the things we chat about over and over again. The day trips to the surrounding villages were slow and leisurely, the heat ensuring we were unable to rush around! What stands out most for me about our family experience of staying on an agriturismo is the sense of togetherness we were able to enjoy. Yes, hot days and sticky nights meant there were moments when all wanted to escape to a cold room for a breather and a lie down, and there was the initial concern that the boys would be bored due to the lack of entertainment or things ‘to do’. But, we quickly grew accustomed to the heat and the gentle pace and enjoyed a holiday that was totally precious and unique to us. What more could we want?