Experience Tuscany: Sleep (and Eat) at an Agriturismo

The rustic farmhouse called Cretaiole perches on a ridge overlooking postcard Tuscan farmlands, less than a 10-minute drive outside of Pienza. Its generous lawn is framed by pointy cypress trees and a gentle olive grove.

The resident cats are just how I like them: curious, playful, and starved for attention — they wait outside your door, looking for any chance to slip inside your room and make themselves at home.

And in the evening, an aging farmer named Luciano makes the rounds — knocking on doors, clutching his bottles of homemade grappa and Vin Santo, and cajoling everyone and anyone to come join him for drinks on the veranda.

Cretaiole is an agriturismo — one of more than 20,000 farms subsidized by the government to introduce travelers to Italy’s unique pastoral lifestyle. Agriturismi are required to be working farms — that is, they must actually produce something — while also offering accommodations, restaurants, educational activities, or all of the above. Sleeping at an agriturismo is the ultimate in Italian country living.

Cretaiole is the joint effort of husband-and-wife team Carlo and Isabella. Years ago, Isabella came on vacation from Northern Italy to this part of Tuscany. She fell in love with a local farm boy, Carlo, and decided to stick around. Soon she persuaded her father-in-law, Luciano, to turn their working farm into an agriturismo. And now, about a dozen Americans gather here each Saturday to begin a week-long stay in the comfy apartments that Isabella has carved out of the antique farmhouse.

This isn’t just a place to stay; Isabella has come up with a tempting array of experiences that guests can take part in: olive-oil tastings, truffle hunts, vineyard visits, pasta-rolling classes, and guided excursions to Siena.

Luciano, the old farmhand, has slowly grown accustomed to the visitors from around the world who travel thousands of miles to sleep in his old olive-oil mill. He enjoys knocking on doors after people have returned from dinner, inviting guests to join him for a nightcap of homemade grappa, Vin Santo, and limoncello. While he clearly adores these interactions, Luciano enjoys playing the curmudgeon; one time, observing clueless guests trying to be helpful during the olive harvest, he nudged me and muttered, “That’s the problem with an agriturismo — too much turismo, not enough agri.” But the twinkle in his eye told me he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Cretaiole is the agriturismo that I know best, but there are many, many choices — some more rustic and remote, others on the outskirts of big cities. We recommend our favorites in the Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook, and you can also find a comprehensive list at Agriturismo.it.

One word of caution: Be aware that an agriturismo is truly a working farm. While some are more refined than others, expect muddy roads, manure smells, and tractor engines firing up in the wee hours. Some travelers who think they want an agriturismo would actually be more comfortable with a more polished “countryside hotel” experience. For example, the owners of Cretaiole just opened a brand-new hotel called La Moscadella that’s purely posh — offering higher-end amenities and furnishings, if less of the down-home barnyard charm of the original.

Be honest with yourself about what type of rural Tuscan accommodations you’re really interested in — then find the perfect fit.

If Cretaiole sounds good to you, read this full rundown on what it’s like to spend a week there. Then book it.

While I’ve stayed at Cretaiole several times, the most memorable was the wonderful Thanksgiving week that Isabella arranged — an ideal off-season alternative.

Heading to Tuscany? I share a dozen of my favorite Tuscan experiences here.

Our new Best of Tuscany in 12 Days Tour — which begins in 2020 — incorporates many vivid experiences in Italy’s heartland…including a stay in the countryside of Chianti, plus three nights at Isabella’s wonderful new rural hotel, La Moscadella.

Or, to do it on your own, you’ll find all of the details you need in our Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany guidebook.

9 Replies to “Experience Tuscany: Sleep (and Eat) at an Agriturismo”

  1. My husband and I have stayed in agriturismos for years. We never meet Americans, and I don’t know why they haven’t discovered these lovely and reasonable places to stay. Maybe it is because you have to have a car. Nowadays, when the cities are so packed and you have to buy museum tickets even before you get to Italy, we love visiting small towns with their fascinating museums, castles, and churches.

  2. We stayed in an Agriturismo in Vinci last August for my daughter’s wedding. It was such a great experience. It was close to the train so Florence was a quick trip. The town of Vinci was exactly what I imagined an Italian village would be like.

  3. Thanks to your guidebook and articles Rick, my wife and I started at the Agriturismo Podere Marcampo and had an absolutely amazing and fulfilling experience. Thank you so much to you and your entire staff for the amazing job you all have done making your guidebooks and articles!

  4. Thanks to your guidebook and articles Rick, my wife and I stayed at the Agriturismo Podere Marcampo and had an absolutely amazing and fulfilling experience. Thank you so much to you and your entire staff for the amazing job you all have done making your guidebooks and articles!

  5. I am a solo Canadian traveller and love the idea of the agriturismo. I use public transport for my travels and I am wondering does a traveller HAVE to have a car to take experience agriturismos.

    1. We stayed at one outside Cinque Terre, arrived by train and made arrangements to be picked up. When we were ready to go to town, our host, who is also the the “wait staff” would take us to the train station. Never needed a car.

  6. I lured my husband, with our son, to Europe in 1999 with a fabulous three weeks at Montestigliano, just outside Siena. Very easy to day-trip to Firenze, San Giminano, Pienza, and more. Loved it and need to plan a return one of these days.

    1. I am from South Carolina in the USA. I have been to Italy twice but my vacation was very touristy! I had a chance while there to have a rental car and drive to various locations. I really like the true connection of seeing and being a part of the everyday life of a family on a working vineyard/farm. I would really like to be involved with a family whom I could experience the life in reality on a daily basis. I would love to partake in daily activities on a functioning farm. Getting to know you..eat together… work together etc. Maybe make friends for life! I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon

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