The Question: We're trying to find an agriturismo than can accommodate about seven people and is a perfect home base for day trips. We'd like Tuscany, but are open to other ideas. Suggestions?
Sometimes it's a tough life spending my day job dreaming about other people's vacations. Carina Ayriss, owner of Vancouver-based ClassicVacationRental.com, does it for a living, driving the back roads of Tuscany and through the streets of Rome and Paris in search of self-catering accommodation.
In her 12 years on the ground, the former international-banker-turned-tourism-entrepreneur has seen apartments, villas, converted gatehouses and farmhouses. And she has watched Italian agriturismos – which earn the government stamp by offering tourist accommodation while continuing to grow hazelnuts or make olive oil – change in many locales from rustic spots to high-end living quarters.
"The range is large. As is the quality," Ayriss says.
Also, just because you're on a farm doesn't mean you have to be in the middle of nowhere.
"Some are located in very rural settings and take some time to get to the main sightseeing places. Others are conveniently located."
Travellers love the idea of the agriturismo, but in the end, they may want a country property that is closer to the famed cathedrals and masterpieces than just chickens and pigs, she notes. People have a dream of Italy "and that dream takes different shapes."
These Tuscan estates – why not stick to this large region that offers so much – may hit the mark (choose "Tuscany" on Classicvacationrental.com and then look through the page listings):
* La Picconaia: This restored agriturismo, with a farmhouse dating to the 16th century, is located on a sprawling Chianti wine estate. It offers a variety of apartments and homes, suitable for parties from two to 20. Here, you can sample wine and olive oil and cross the vineyards on foot to reach the town of Greve, with its restaurants, shops and Saturday market.
* Borgo di Marcello: Located near the walled town of Lucca, this property is part of an olive oil estate. The grounds include apartments, as well as several restored villas (one dining room features the contessa's collection of Hermès and Ferragamo scarves in frames).
* Podere Vittorio Tobi-Sotto: This agriturismo near Cortona, the town Frances Mayes made famous, features two larger houses that have been restored into individual apartments. Outside, there's a wood-burning oven and views of wheat, sunflower and alfalfa fields. The property is three kilometres from Cortona, 60 kilometres from Siena and 110 kilometres from Florence.
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Follow Karan Smith on Twitter: @karan_smith. Special to The Globe and Mail