Accommodation in Italy

Where you lay your head at night can make or break your holiday. Your accommodation seems a simple thing to choose. You go to Tripadvisor, read the reviews and make your booking. You’re looking for a bedroom with a comfortable bed, a bathroom, a decent continental breakfast, cleanliness and friendly attentive staff. That’s probably exactly what you’ll get; a secure place to retreat to after visiting the famous works of art and architecture in some of most beautiful cities in the world. But at the heart of every country are its citizens, people who live differently from you. By your second or third trip, you can begin to think about getting to know them. This is what my tours are about. I want my guests to experience how Italians live their everyday life, which is something you still can’t do on the internet. It’s a compulsive reason to travel to Italy.

I seek total cultural immersion, and so I usually choose an agriturismo for my guests, farm accommodation in the countryside, often on the edge of a village. Each one has a character completely its own determined by the personality of the owners, the setting, the architecture of the farm buildings and the produce of the farm. Here are some examples from my part of Italy, the area around Lucca and the spectacularly beautiful Garfagnana.

Al Benefizio

Al Benefizio (photo: Cindy Rosendorff)

I didn’t choose Al Benefizio; it chose me. Early in my sojourn in Italy I was at an agricultural meeting near Barga, feeling totally out of my element, when two women approached me and introduced themselves in English. One was Francesca Buonagurelli, the owner and farmer at Al Benefizio, and she is one of the main reasons for staying at Al Benefizio.

Francesca is an expert pizzaiola

Francesca is an expert pizzaiola

She went to art school in Florence and worked as a graphic designer before making a life change and becoming a beekeeper and olive oil producer.

Francesca shows a young guest how to open a honeycomb

Francesca shows a young guest how to open a honeycomb

Next to her farmhouse was an old stall and hay barn which she converted to two apartments and a double bedroom, all tastefully decorated with that artist’s eye of hers.

The former hay barn

The former hay barn (photo: Francesca Buonagurelli)

A second reason for staying is the incomparable view from your balcony of Barga in the golden glow of sunset.

Barga from your balcony at Benefizio

Barga from your balcony at Benefizio (photo: Andrew Bartley)

The swimming pool shares the same panorama.

Swimming at Benefizio

Swimming at Benefizio (photo: Cindy Rosendorff)

There are fashion chickens, a donkey and a vegetable garden, herbs and fruit trees from which you may pick your fill.

What the well-dressed rooster wears

What the well-dressed rooster wears (photo: Andrew Bartley)

Which hotel would organise a pizza party specially for you at which you learn to make pizza in a wood-fired oven? All Francesca’s friends arrive, many of whom speak some English, and you become an honorary Italian.

Learning to make pizza with Francesca

Learning to make pizza with Francesca

...and eating it

…and eating it

As perfect as Al Benefizio is, it’s not suitable for groups of individuals or couples, each of whom wants a room with en suite bath. Francesca helped me find Agriturismo Venturo, higher up the Serchio River Valley from her.

Venturo farm

Venturo farm (photo: Venturo)

Ismaele and Cinzia Turri and their five children bring this place alive. Their cheerful industry is a model for our ailing economies, but not many of us could stay the course. Ismaele and the children rear the animals; Ismaele is the butcher and cures salumi;

Ismaele butchering his own pig

Ismaele butchering his own pig

Cinzia looks after the B&B (and the family);

Even the laundry is done by the family.

Real life happens at Venturo.

Ismaele’s cousin Pierluigi and his wife Marina run the farm restaurant where you can enjoy home-cooked meals;

Our salumi course enjoys dinner at Venturo

Our salumi course at dinner at Venturo

Ismaele's farro served at the restauaran

Ismaele’s farro served at the restaurant

grandparents help out when needed. Ismaele also cuts the firewood for winter heating and for the bread and pizza oven,

My guest Rebecca learns how to make bread at Venturo

My guest Rebecca learns how to make bread at Venturo.

Off the bread goes to the wood-fired oven.

Off goes the bread to the wood-fired oven.

cleans the pool and supervises building works, converting yet more old farmhouses and buildings to guest apartments.

Cavorting in the pool at Venturo

Cavorting in the pool at Venturo

I've always wanted to sleep on a balcony.

I’ve always wanted to sleep on a balcony. (photo: Venturo)

Oh, and he has a tiny café which he mans from 5 to 7 am when a local woman comes to relieve him, and he scoots back to the farm to light the bread oven and then up the mountain to feed the pigs, cattle and donkeys. The Turri family welcome your interest in everything they do. We usually have a sausage and polenta lesson, and walk to the water mill where the corn is ground.

Ismaele is a good teacher!

Ismaele is a good teacher!

But you’re also free to lounge by the pool, walk in the woods, ride horses at the stables across the lane, walk into town and explore the hinterland of the Garfagnana.

Tasty sign welcomes you to Fattoria Colleverde

Tasty sign welcomes you to Fattoria Colleverde (photo: Margie Isom)

It was the wine that first attracted me to Fattoria Colleverde and its owners Piero Tartagni and Francesca Pardini. The vineyard and its buildings formed part of the Guinigi estates, from which the Pardini’s are descended. The landscape is all rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards.

View from Colleverde

View from Colleverde (photo: Margie Isom)

When I think of Colleverde, I feel warm sunshine flooding over me. Piero is a filmaker and both are interested in art. If you can manage to engage Piero in conversation, you’ll find his English nearly impeccable, and that he’s widely read in English literature plus much else. A true Renaissance man.

Renaissance men need wine.

Renaissance man and his wine (photo: Debra Kolkka)

This is a place for families who can share bathrooms or friends who don’t mind stepping outside their bedroom to get to their private bath. If you decide to cook in your own kitchen, at least one of the seven excellent biodynamic wines plus a sweet dessert wine and grappa will compliment any menu.

Wine tasting at Colleverde

Wine tasting at Colleverde

In the village up the hill, there’s a family pork butcher where I take my clients to find out all about salumi. Lucca is a 20-minute drive away, so it’s the ideal place to combine rural and urban culture in one stay.

Villa Orsi

Villa Orsi, Alle Camelie

I put my guests at Alle Camelie for the activities they can do right on the farm, especially in autumn during the olive harvest.

Olives ready for picking

Olives ready for picking (photo: John Morrison)

On the slopes of the Pisan Mountains, Claudio Orsi and his wife Eleonora farm an organic olive estate that has been in the Orsi family for several generations. They live in the villa, and guests stay in the adjacent farm buildings, converted in authentic Tuscan style by Claudio’s father Augusto.

Walking through the vineyard with Augusto Orsi

Walking through the vineyard with Augusto Orsi

Every year new solar panels sprout from the roofs so now the farm is nearly self-sufficient for energy. From the end of October and throughout November you can help pick olives and see them pressed into oil at the olive press on the farm.

Picking olives at Camelie

Picking olives at Camelie

Look at what we picked!

Look at what we picked!

There's always something you need to ask Claudio at the olive press.

There’s always something you need to ask Claudio at the olive press.

The Slow Food snail of approval on Alle Camelie's olive oil

The Slow Food snail of approval on Alle Camelie’s olive oil

Claudio’s school friend Elena is an accomplished cook. She and Eleonora prepare meals for guests, simple dishes with an intensity of flavour that comes from using the freshest local ingredients.

We deserve a good lunch after our hard work picking olives

We deserve a good lunch after our hard work picking olives (photo: Brian Marshall)

The best oil you've ever tasted.

The best oil you’ve ever tasted. (photo: Brian Marshall)

November is also the time for foraging for wild edible plants. You can participate in a tradition that’s being kept alive by young people like the Orsi’s and their colleagues in Slow Food Lucca Compitese.

Near Lucca we make zuppa using wild plants and new olive oil.

Near Lucca we make zuppa using wild plants and new olive oil.

If you yearn for urban pleasures, Lucca is only 20 minutes away.

Lots of authentic Italians also live in cities, but it’s much harder to get to know them. To have a more personal acquaintance with Italians being Italian, stay at an agriturismo. 

Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won't find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

This entry was posted in Erica Jarman, Food, Italy, Lucca, Slow Travel Benefits, Travel Tips, Tuscany. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Accommodation in Italy

  1. So many of my favorite memories at the above locations with Heather! An amazing tour guide where you leave never accepting store bought olive oil again and you understand how much work goes into cheese and honey and bread…these days have been life changing for my family.

  2. Heather Jarman says:

    Melonie, I’m so glad I could help change your life for the better, but please remember, your family is pretty wonderful anyway. Baci, Heather

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