Everybody has an idea of the Italy they want to visit. It usually involves vineyards, copious carbohydrates, a Domenico Modugno backing track and few old fiat 500s. Essentially, we all want to visit Italy in the 1960s.
This is why a cursory glance at booking.com will no doubt leave you disappointed (unless you are partial to overpriced 3* hotels). Villas are a better bet, but you'll probably need to make some more friends to fill up numbers.
Do not be disheartened my fellow Italophiles. You just need to find yourself an Agriturismo.
What is an agriturismo?
Agriturismo is the beautiful marriage between Agriculture and Tourism, where working farms, cantina and vineyards throw open their doors to tourists, offering authentic meals and accommodation on site.
Whilst they are technically ‘farm stays’, you won't need to forgo any modern amenities and luxuries. Agriturismo differ hugely in price and type, from tiny Trulli to sprawling country estates with swimming pools and spas.
… and a Masseria?
A Masseria is just a particular type of agriturismo, traditionally found in Puglia but also found in Campagna and Sicilia. These are fortified farm houses, once owned by wealthy barons who ran the farms and lived on the premises.
How to find them
Type ‘best masseria’ into google and you’ll be greeted by hundreds of masserie with fabulously well-translated websites and price tags to match.
To find the best, use agriturismo.it as your research tool. It’s a fairly comprehensive listing of agriturismo throughout the country, ranging from €10 to €300 per night. Once you’ve found a few you can envision yourself staying at (glass of wine in one hand and plump fig in the other), give them a call or drop them an email. Don’t be dissuaded by listings which specify a ‘minimum week’ stay, hosts are often flexible. When calling, bear in mind you may have to call upon some basic Italian as lots of owners don’t speak English.
Case in point: Agricola Dell'Arneo
My sudden interest in Agriturismo was sparked by my recent stay at Agricola dell’Arneo.
Agricola dell’Arneo is the sort of place which makes you want to burst into a rendition of Volare and marry an Italian. It is so pretty and so Italian you won’t ever want to leave.
The Agriturismo is located just outside of Leverano, a small town around a twenty minute drive from Porto Cesario, one of Puglia’s prettiest beaches. Leverano is totally unmarred by international tourists, and home to a small but excellent selection of restaurants, bakeries and bars, though that does mean it is the sort of town which packs up shop for riposa between 1pm and 5pm and shuts down entirely on public holidays.
Agricola Dell’Arneo is the archetypal ‘agriturismo’ - a family run business (run by two cousins and their spouses), located on acres of vineyards. The cantina is small and uses traditional tools and methods to produce just over 300HL of traditional Salenteian wine.
The Masseria dates back to the early 19th Century and consists of a large reception area, kitchen and four rooms, each named after the first children of the family. The rooms still hold original period features, like an old fireplace for making cheeses and the sorts of beautiful high ceilings and exposed brick work which go down a storm on Pinterest
Since we hadn't arranged dinner, the family thoughtfully offered to prepare us an aperitivo. What followed was a blissful evening of stuffing our faces full of homemade frisse, fresh ricotta, plum vine tomatoes, aubergines and assortment of other fresh vegetables, as well as a whole lot of wine to wash it down with, straight from the Cantina.
Breakfast was another homemade affair. I managed to exercise a half-hearted attempt at restraint the first time I visited the kitchen, before returning a second time, armed with huge slices of fresh Fig Crostata, Orange Tarts and a Ham and Cheese Bread which I ate approximately half an entire loaf of.
The ultimate quintessential Italian experience and the perfect introduction to agriturismo in Italy.
For more information visit: http://www.agricoladellarneo.it