The sheets may not be frette and the Internet is still dial-up, but if you don’t mind a wake-up call from a rooster, picking your own tomatoes for dinner, or sharing the pool with the proprietors’ little kids, then you’ll love an Italian agriturismo. Despite stringent guidelines, the number of farmstays across the country has flourished and is now estimated at around 20,000. Unpaved country roads lead to centuries-old farms where intimate family meals and evening pasta lessons with mamma hark back to a simpler way of life. And even more memorable than the kitchens are the prices, usually a third of what you’d pay at a hotel (and that’s with dinner thrown in).
“I cried when I saw the stream of green liquid emerge from the centrifuge,” confesses California-born Pamela Sheldon-Johns about her first batch of organic olive oil made at her Tuscan estate. Known among fooderati for her excellent cookbooks, Sheldon-Johns moved to Tuscany with her family 10 years ago after falling hard for a 17th-century stone sharecropper’s house shaded by huge olive trees just south of Montepulciano. The Johnses converted part of the structure into three antiques-filled apartments—plus a small double room—where guests are encouraged to cook using fava beans and cavolo nero (black-leaf kale)from their garden. Sheldon-Johns is happy to arrange a Sangiovese tasting at her friend’s enoteca near Montepulciano or a lunch at nearby Avignonesi, producer of the world’s most prized vin santo. For her cooking classes, guests gather in the kitchen, which is anchored by a wood-burning stove. She might share minestrone secrets—start with only olive oil and add veggies one at a time—or explain how a soffrito of carrots, onions, and celery will add flavor to any soup or sauce. Poggio’s biggest allure is its family vibe: Sheldon-Johns’s teenage daughter, Alaia, draws up activity-pac