The phenomenon of agritourism—or agrotourism, or rural tourism, or farm stays, or guest ranches, or farmhouse B&Bs, or whatever you choose to call the chance to stay on a working farm—has been growing since the 1990s
• Agriturisms in Europe
• Agriturisms in the U.S.
• Dude ranches in the US
• Agriturisms in Canada
• Agriturisms in Australia/ New Zealand
• Agriturisms in Latin America
• Agriturisms in Asia
• Agriturisms in Africa
Even if you can't afford your own farmhouse in Italy—or Montana, or Ireland, or New Zealand, or Argentina, or wherever your dream countryside resides—staying on a working farm, or agriturism, gets you up close with the rural heart of a destination.
You don’t even have to milk the buffalo for mozzarella or stomp the grapes for wine (though sometimes being a temporary farm hand for fun is an option).
Farm Stays 101
Some pecorino and a bottle of the red wine grown on those very vines in the background at La Rignana, an agriturismo in Tuscany's Chianti region.The concept behind agritourism (or rural tourism, or farm stays, or dude ranches, or farmhouse B&Bs, or whatever you want to call it) is simple: you spend the night as a guest on a working farm. From there, though, the concept flies off in many directions.
Sometimes you just hole up for the night in a B&B converted from a farmhouse.
Sometimes you actually stick around to do volunteer work for a few days (a week, two months, a year), as with Israel's Kibbutzim or the worldwide WWOOF network.
Sometimes, just renting a cottage in a rural area where sheep wander past your window is enough to count.
Ideally, the property's owners live on-site and are farmers who derive the bulk of their income from agriculture, using this newfangled form of tourism merely to help make ends meet.
In some countries, the practice of agritourism is highly regulated; in others, it’s a wild west of opportunities, and you have to pick carefully to avoid spending the night in a barn atop a pile of hay (unless that's what you want—I've done it, and it's great).
Sadly, few are listed in English-language guidebooks—but (again, in Europe) there are often agriturismo guides available in local bookshops—in Italian, French, or whatever the local lingo is, of course, but the important bits are easy enough: addresses, prices, and phone numbers, photographs, and icons for private baths, swimming pools, etc.
You can always just look for agriturismo signs on country roads, pointing down rutted dirt tracks toward a farmhouse set among the vineyards.
If you want to find and book a few before you leave, here are more than 170 of the best online resources for finding farm stays from our neighbors to the north to our friends across the Atlantic, farm stays in Costa Rica to kibbutzim in Israel, agritourism in Australia to... well, you get the idea.
Resources by destination
Agrisport (www.agrisport.com) - It's very much a homemade site, and far from the best organized around, but it's loaded with links once you drill down. These are not only to specific guest farms and dude ranches, but to other outdoors and agritourism links as well, all grouped by country or state. One annoying factor: you have to open a site in a new window to see what its actual url is (otherwise every page is masked as "agrisport.com").
Organic Places to Stay (www.organicholidays.co.uk) - OK, nearly two-thirds of the listings here are lodgings that happen to offer organic food. The other third, however, are B&Bs, rental cottages, or homestays on working organic farms. The bonus is that there are tons of listings ranging all over the world (Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania).
Agritourism World (www.agritourismworld.com) - Ladies and gentlemen, behold: a list of thousands of farm stays around the world... in alphabetical order by name. Not even sure why I bother including this sits, since the results are nearly random—a farm B&B in rural Pennsylvania wedged between one in Italy and another in Belize. How useful is that? Still, if you just want to roll the virtual dice when it comes to location, you'll find plenty of agriturismi here.
WWOOF: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org) - If you really want to get your hands dirty, sign up to become a temporary farmhand though this collection of volunteer organizations in 50 countries around the world devoted to supporting and helping teach about organic and environmentally sound farming techniques...
EuroGites (www.eurogites.org) - The European Federation for Farm and Village Tourism is a links page to the biggest and, more shall we say, "official" farm stay organizations in 27 European countries (most have Web site links, a few just contact info and email).
ECEAT (www.eceat.nl) - The European Center for Eco Agro Tourism is a Dutch concern selling guidebooks to agritourism establishments across Europe. Its sister site www.groenevakantiegids.nl (all in Dutch, but the details are easy enough to savvy) lists more than 1,000 agriturisms in 24 European countries.
Rural Tourism International Training Network (www.ruraltourisminternational.org) - Aimed at helping European farmers set up agriturism operations, but since it lists local resources in each country, also useful for we potential guests as well.
Double rooms at an agriturismo run anywhere from $7 to $200, but usually around $40 to $70 in Western Europe, around $12 to $50 in Eastern Europe.
I've stayed at loads of agriturismi: vineyards and dairy farms, barns amid olive groves and frescoed villas next to horse stables.
Each stay has offered me a different experience of farm life for a fraction the cost of a hotel.
Many agriturisms require a three-night minimum stay (for some, a week).
Roughly half accept credit cards.
Sometimes you get four-star luxury and satellite TV. Sometimes you’re a straw's-width from sleeping in a stall.
Most, though, are just what you'd expect from a farmhouse B&B: simple comforts, solid country furnishings, and rural tranquility—barnyard noises excepted.
The hosts tend to be a sight friendlier than your average hotel desk clerk. Some invite guests to dine with them, family-style, in the farmhouse. One shepherd let me stir a bubbling pot of sheep's milk to help it on its way to becoming pecorino cheese. Vineyard owners love to crack open bottles of their best to guide you through the finer points of wine tasting.
Breakfast is usually awesome: farm-fresh and farmer-hearty.
Those of us trapped in the cities, suburbias, and endless mallscapes of the so-called "developed" world are increasingly seeking out the simple pleasures of the farm life on vacation.
(Farmers: we call them "simple pleasures" because we don't actually have to get up at 4am to do back-breaking work all day only to watch some natural disaster, commodities market crisis, or simple bad weather whither the annual yield.)
Well, if there's one thing that connects and binds all human beings, across cultures and languages, races and religions, it’s agriculture.
That might sound funny coming from a guy who lived most of his life in Philly and New York City—who’s being read by folks squinting at glowing computer terminals—but think about it.
Conventional wisdom holds that humanity as a collective culture began when our distant ancestors settled down in the fertile Tigris/Euphrates river valley and began cultivating the land and domesticating the more docile of the meat-on-the-hoof creatures handy.
Our very existence as a social species with an advanced culture and ever more inventive tool-making capabilities (behold: the iPhone) has its roots sunk deep in the rich soil of agricultural pursuits.
There's a reason that farms in Europe are so heavily subsidized and America's amber waves of grain are immortalized in song. Agriculture is more than just a food source.
Somewhere, deep down, we all realize that to lose our farmers would mean to lose something fundamental about our very way of life—even if all we do all day is sit inside the fat trunks of the glass-and-steel trees that forest our postmodern concrete jungles and tap away endlessly at computer keyboards.
Perhaps it's that very disconnect from our species' fundamental mode of survival and community life—sit still, plant food, raise livestock, be friendly to the neighbors—which is driving the development of the agritourism movement.