Picture the scene. Your day begins with a leisurely breakfast of freshly laid eggs as you gaze out over bloom-filled gardens and pastoral scenes of grazing animals. Then you might lounge by the pool for a few hours or take a leisurely stroll through an olive grove or a swaying wildflower meadow. As the sun sinks, your attention turns to dinner, the ingredients for which have invariably been harvested from the surrounding fields.
Who would not be seduced by the promise of this bucolic bliss? Except these days you are more likely to slip between crisply laundered linen sheets than lie on a bed of straw, and your day might also involve a spot of yoga, a spa treatment using a cult holistic brand such as Susanne Kaufmann, and a tour of the garden to learn about permaculture.
The pool will be of the infinity variety – or better still, free-form, chemical-free and cleansed by aquatic plants – and your organic farm-to-table fare will be drizzled with your host’s own-label, hand-pressed, extra virgin olive oil. Welcome to rural redux: the rebirth of the “agriturismo”, or farm stay.
Farm stays with five-star frills
Agritourism has come a long way from its origins in 1960s Italy, where farmers began welcoming tourists into their homes in an effort to both earn extra income and reverse the post-war trend of migration from country to city. Captivating a whole generation of travellers eager for a more authentic experience, a new holiday phenomenon was born.
There are now more than 20,000 agriturismi across Italy, preserving livelihoods and historic buildings all over the country. Bound by official regulations set out by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and specific region-to-region rules regarding how much produce served to guests must be from the local area, farms range in comfort from the very simple to the more sophisticated.
Like many good ideas, the farm stay has flourished by retaining the original ethos, albeit in a more relaxed fashion and with the addition of more five-star frills. But what all farm stays have in common is the celebration of life’s simple pleasures, a slower pace and a back-to-nature appeal.
Opened in April, the Oasyhotel in Tuscany’s Apennine mountains is Italy’s most recent, next-level iteration: 16 custom-built eco cabins nestled in a 2,500-acre nature reserve managed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), where wild boar and wolves roam free. This is rural tourism on a sumptuous scale, with one of the luxuries being the remoteness of the location. With its own farm and food label, the hotel’s income also supports the work of the Dynamo Foundation, which provides holidays for disadvantaged and terminally ill children.
Fancy farm stays are not just an Italian thing, however: the rural renaissance has spread to the citrus groves of Andalucia, olive estates of Portugal’s Alentejo and sheep farms of Scotland. Hitherto known for its hedonism, Ibiza is another hotspot, featuring boho-chic boltholes such as Can Martí, Can Sastre and Can Gasi. Even the recently opened Six Senses Ibiza channels an agrarian vibe, with vintage Porsche tractors parked outside the entrance and its own farm to supply its restaurants.
This new wave of rustic yet refined stays is growing in popularity throughout the UK. David Hall, a director of Farm Stay UK (farmstay.co.uk), a not-for-profit farmer-owned listing site for this type of accommodation, has also noted the increasing demand. “Members that have joined Farm Stay over the last few years have been pushing the boundaries,” he says. “Many now have hot tubs, wood-burning stoves and sophisticated interior design.”
Coombeshead Farm, in Cornwall, and Glebe House, which opened last year in Devon’s Coly Valley, are standout examples of how the farm stay has gone fancy at home. You might decide that the only mud you want to be slathered in is during your spa treatment, but there are now plenty of options for even the most discerning traveller to get down on the farm.
This farm cum nature reserve sits more than 3,280ft up in Tuscany’s mountainous San Marcello Piteglio region and is just one part of a large-scale philanthropic and conservation project that includes the WWF-protected reserve, the charitable Oasi Dynamo Foundation and the Oasi Dynamo Farm. The farm-to-fork ethos here is strong, with almost three quarters of all food served produced on the reserve, while guests sleep in 16 custom-built, low-impact yet luxurious eco-lodges scattered throughout the wilderness. Limousin cattle and Cinta Senese pigs roam the landscape and there is orienteering, wolf tracking, foraging, swimming and paddle boarding on a natural lake to enjoy. The farm’s open-air Casa Luigi – one of two restaurants – hosts lunches and outdoor barbecues.
Doubles from £475, including breakfast (00 39 057317 160623; oasyhotel.com)
Five generations of the same family have worked the fields and forests of Masseria Susafa, which unfurls across undulating golden fields near Polizzi Generosa. The current custodians, brothers Manfredi and Tommaso Saeli-Rizzuto, have given this historic farm a sensitive and stylish update that retains all its essential charm, with chic rooms and inviting spaces in which to relax and recharge, such as picnic spots under the cherry trees. This is a full immersion into Sicilian country life: there are free cookery lessons and guests can choose to join the cherry, tomato and wheat harvests.
Doubles from £155 B&B (0800 048 2314; slh.com/hotels/susafa)
Agriculture – particularly the growing of almonds, figs and olives – has been the mainstay of life in Puglia for centuries, and Masseria Moroseta is one of the chic new breed of farm stays in the region where sustainability and style go hand in hand. With its six smart but simple bedrooms, it offers a more modern take on the vernacular architecture: all whitewashed courtyard and picture windows looking out on the ancient landscape. At the core of the farm is a 13-acre olive grove producing extra virgin oil and a biodynamic vegetable garden that guests are free to enjoy.
Two Australian chefs, James Henry and Shaun Kelly, who have worked at some of Paris’s most fashionable neo-bistros, came together to open Le Doyenné, a farm and restaurant passion project in the grounds of the historic Château de Saint-Vrain in Essonne, about 20 miles from Paris. The farm, which already supplies some of the French capital’s top dining spots, also provides ingredients for Le Doyenné's restaurant. Housed in a former stables of the estate, it opened earlier this summer and is already a hit with those in the know. Eleven rooms are also set to debut soon in the carefully restored heritage buildings: expect a tasteful melange of wooden beams, terracotta floors, flea-market finds and classic-with-a-twist bathrooms.
Doubles from £180 B&B, opening September (ledoyennerestaurant.com)
Le Barn Hotel
A bucolic escape for urbanites craving some rural hipster charm, Le Barn Hotel, forming part of Haras de la Cense horse farm, is just 45 minutes’ drive south-west of Paris near Bonnelles on the edge of the Rambouillet forest. This is a bosky retreat worthy of the boho set and anyone seeking a get-back-to-the-land holiday. Meals, which comprise ingredients grown in the surrounding gardens, are served in one of the estate’s two restaurants, one of which, La Serre, is housed in a soaring glass-paned conservatory-like space. Activities on offer include horse riding, hiking through flower-filled meadows, biking, cookery and cocktail lessons, yoga – and even horse-whispering classes.
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Domaine de Murtoli
With chicly done shepherd’s huts and stone-built villas scattered throughout the fields, forests, coast and maquis, it would be difficult to envisage a more idyllic setting than that of Domaine de Murtoli, a vast 6,000-acre farm on the south-western tip of Corsica. Lavender fields, vegetable gardens, olive groves and bee hives dot the land, which is also grazed by Aubrac cattle, sheep and a herd of 500 goats – the latter being the source of the farm’s brocciu cheese. Last year, the Domaine also opened the new nine-room Hotel de la Ferme that showcases the same effortless style.
Doubles from £425 B&B (0033 4957 16924; murtoli.com)
La Donaira is a nine-room cortijo farmhouse that sits amid a 1,700-acre patchwork of fields, orchards and gardens in Andalucia’s Serranía de Ronda. This biodynamic farm is a serious agricultural endeavour, featuring everything from natural beekeeping to a soil academy and an equestrian centre with 90 Lusitano horses. Each room embraces an interiors magazine-worthy country aesthetic and guests take meals at the organic field-to-fork restaurant. They can also ride or hike the trails, take a dip in a pool fed by a natural spring, practice yoga, relax in the spa and take tours of the farm to learn about its agricultural practices.
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Small is beautiful at Can Martí, a six-roomed finca or ranch in the protected Can Martí valley – one of the new breed of farm stays promoting the quieter, more pastoral, side of Ibiza far away from the island’s fleshpots. Sustainability is one of the cornerstones of the 42-acre farm, which provides produce for the menu, and there are chickens and friendly donkeys, who help recycle some of the excess organic waste from the kitchens. Occasional pop-up dinners under the stars are put on for guests, there is a natural swimming pool and the whole place exudes an air of spontaneous, laid-back charm.
A little over 10 years ago former lawyer Pedro Franco Pinto decamped from Lisbon and bought some land amid a magical tableau of olive and cork groves, vineyards and fields in southern Alentejo. Last year he opened Craveiral Farmhouse, which has a distinctly back-to-nature vibe, together with a collection of 38 smartly done cottages that mimic the vernacular architecture. Set 15 minutes from the beaches of Zambujeira do Mar and Carvalhal, this is an educational farm with donkeys, horses, pigs and goats, a permaculture garden, four pools, and a restaurant showcasing the eco-farm’s ingredients.
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Several members of the Soares family work together to ensure the smooth running of Malhadinha Nova, a rural resort and flourishing farm estate in the Alentejo countryside. As well as producing highly regarded wines, the estate engages in farming activities with vegetables, honey, fruit and olive oil, while its fields are roamed by black pigs, Alentejana cattle and Merino sheep. The restored house has 10 rooms decorated with antiques and décor chosen by Rita Soares, who also masterminded the farm’s latest additions: four converted villas in the nearby Albernoa.
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Opora Countryside Living
Lush olive groves and orange trees surround Opora Countryside Living, a 99-acre estate tucked into a hillside near Nafplio in the Peloponnese, arguably one of the Greek mainland’s most underappreciated regions by visitors. There are four separate houses set within the estate, divided into six residences done out in a restful rural theme with every comfort you might want, including natural mattresses made by Greek brand Coco-mat. All of the food served in the restaurant uses produce from the farm or ingredients sourced locally. Guests can learn how to harvest olives and take a class in beekeeping, soak up the serenity by the pool or strike out into the surrounding countryside for visits to Epidaurus and the nearby islands of Spetses and Hydra.
Doubles from £90 B&B (00 30 27520 22259; oporacountryliving.com)
Crete might be known for its beaches and spangled seas, but Greece’s largest island is also renowned for its food, and Metohi Kindelis is a standout contributor to the local gastro-culture. Originally built by Venetian landowners in the 17th century, this pioneering agricultural estate outside Chania was one of the first farms on the island to be awarded organic status in the 1990s. The latest evolution was the addition of three gorgeous self-contained suites, each sleeping between two and four, and with its own kitchen. On arrival guests will find fridges and cupboards stocked with produce from the farm, including fruit, herbs, vegetables, eggs, olive oil and cheese. You can rustle something on your own, avail yourself of a DIY dinner kit, or the owners can arrange deliveries from local restaurants or a chef, accompanied by local wines.
Doubles from £210 B&B (metohi-kindelis.gr)
Glemmtal Valley, Austria
Wiesergut is an updated Alpine escape in Austria’s Saalbach Hinterglemm ski area and its radical redesign sets it apart from its more rustically inclined neighbours. Set on a working farm occupied by the third generation of the Kröll family, the 13th-century building’s architectural reinvention incorporates tactile materials such as glass, granite and wood, with wide-angle windows to drink in the glorious views. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and 24 luxurious suites scattered across the manor house and hidden in the gardens. The farm’s Pinzgauer cows provide the milk and beef for the restaurant, and everyone here is involved with food production – including the general manager, who makes the bread, butter and bacon.
Art meets agriculture at Wanas, something of a one-off that is part 15th-century castle, part art foundation and part vast organic farm. Set in Skane, equidistant between Malmo and Copenhagen, it has 11 bedrooms fashioned from an 18th-century barn. Its interiors – mixing antiques and clean lines – display perfectly judged Nordic style. There is also a welcoming farm-to-table restaurant serving some of the region’s best seasonal food – mostly grown and gathered from the surrounding fields. When you are not wandering the vast organic farm, there is the Wanas Foundation to explore: a sculpture park set in the castle’s leafy beech woods with works by some of the contemporary art world’s biggest stars, including Marina Abramovic and Antony Gormley.
Vesteralen archipelago, Norway
Norwegians take pride in their diverse and high-quality ingredients and none more so than the proprietors of Kvitnes Gard. This 200-year-old farmhouse, now run by one of Norway’s most talented chefs, Halvar Ellingsen, sits in splendid isolation in the Vesteralen archipelago amid western Norway’s spectacular coast.
The farm was originally built by Ellingsen’s great-great-great grandfather, but opened its 15 rooms to guests two years ago and is drawing diners to this remote spot eager to try the chef’s hyper-local approach to Nordic cuisine. The farm is almost totally self-sufficient so contributes all the ingredients used in its tasting menus – which can extend to 22 courses.
Doubles from £550 B&B (047 4690 8055; kvitnes.com)
Co Kildare, Ireland
It is very much a family affair at Burtown House, a handsome Georgian manor lodged amid the green fields of Co Kildare that has been called home by the Fennells for more than 150 years. The latest generation to run the farm are photographer James Fennell and his interior designer wife, Joanna – and its boho-chic decor reflects their talents. The Green Barn, the farm’s all-day restaurant, uses produce from the walled kitchen garden, one of 12 acres of flower, woodland and vegetable gardens. James’s grandmother, botanical painter Wendy Walsh, planted many rare specimens in the grounds, while his mother, artist Lesley Fennell, has reshaped the gardens over the past 20 years. Guests can stay in one of two properties in the Stable Yard, though more cabins are planned in the grounds.
Doubles start from £160, room only (00 353 8626 31485; burtownhouse.ie)
The Cairngorms, Scotland
When it arrived on the scene in 2015, there was nothing quite like Killiehuntly Farmhouse, a game-changer with head-turning Scandi-Scottish style. Surrounded by 4,000 acres of working farmland amid the rugged beauty of the Cairngorms National Park, it remains reassuringly rural and there is very little to disturb the peace – apart from the odd stag that might cross your path on a walk. Killiehuntly Farmhouse forms part of Wildland, an ambitious legacy conservation project operated by Danish businessman Anders Povlsen who, as the owner of estates totalling more that 220,000 acres, is Scotland’s largest private landowner and is on a mission to protect and regenerate this huge swathe of Scottish wilderness.
The four-roomed farmhouse and two self-catering cottages are decorated in a smudgy palette reminiscent of rain-soaked hills and misty mountains.
The Black Isle, Scotland
Part of a barley farm that supplies the local whisky distilleries, Newhall Mains opened the doors to its nine smartly done rooms and cottages last year. The elegant interiors feature just a touch of tartan and quilts made from the wool of the sheep that dot the fields outside – all housed in a coach house and quadrangle-shaped farm building that dates from the 18th century. Set on the Black Isle peninsula, some 20 miles from Inverness, the farm is a perfect jumping-off point for the North Coast 500 scenic route, a tour of any of the region’s distilleries, some bottlenose dolphin spotting in the Moray Firth – and scenic flights from the farm’s own airfield, which will afford you jaw-slackening views of the Scottish Highlands and the North Sea.
Doubles from £240 B&B (01381 632032; newhall-mains.com)
Daylesford Organic is the mothership of the farm-as-aspirational-lifestyle brand and has pioneered organic farming through its shops, cookery school and eateries. The heart of this very tastefully designed enterprise just outside Kingham in the Cotswolds is the farm and its adjoining shops and restaurants. It has five self-catering cottages, converted from outbuildings, which sleep between two and six. Each one is done in soothing hues of tan and grey, and natural materials abound. There are ample opportunities to explore and learn about the land as well as numerous workshops, from flower arranging to wine tasting. You’re also a short walk from the farm’s newly opened gastro-pub, the Fox.
Doubles from £350 per night (01608 731670; daylesford.com).
Seven years ago, chef Tom Adams left the heat of the London restaurant scene and teamed up with New York-based chef April Bloomfield to open Coombeshead Farm, a 66-acre plot surrounded by swaying meadows and forests near Lewannick in the depths of rural Cornwall. People come as much for the food as the surroundings; most of the ingredients on the four-course menus are grown on site. Dinner, served from Thursday to Sunday in addition to Sunday lunch, happens in an atmospheric, converted barn and there is an onsite bakery, farm shop and courtyard café. The 10 bedrooms, done in a considered country style, are divided between the farmhouse and a converted grain store and there is also a self-catering cottage that sleeps four.
Why a farm stay can be great for families
What happens to family travel writers when they have found the hotel holy grail and their quest is over? I think I may have found mine in a rugged corner of Portugal’s Alentejo region. Sao Lourenco do Barrocal’s owner, José Antonio Uva, calls it a “hotel and monte” – a Portuguese word that describes a small farming village and harks back to the grand estate’s 200-year history, housing workers’ cottages, a schoolroom, a bakery and more for a self-sustaining community of wine-growers and agricultural workers, until the Salazar dictatorship.
When Uva inherited the 780 hectares in 2002, it was all derelict. The estate is now a working one again, and fully organic. The farm-to-fork restaurant, converted from an old kennel building, serves a short, deeply enticing menu created from the estate’s produce: olive oil, wine and cattle. Uva’s own children dine in the restaurant with him and they chatted with ours, ages eight and 10, while we were there. A host of young guests eat from a simplified, fantastically fresh menu, then race into the night where a fire pit smokes and the farm’s patient horses wait behind fences to be stroked.
Out in the vast blue of nearby Alqueva lake, we learned how to catch bass from local competitive fisher Duarte Cebola. Our eight-year-old’s glee upon eating hers later in the hotel restaurant was rapturous. On a birdwatching safari through the surrounding hills, ornithologist Nuno Guegues taught us how to tell a crane from a stork and which birds build nests like igloos. Foraging in the estate’s forest with him at sunset, we learned how to tell sweet acorns from bitter ones before roasting them, and how to judge what daylight hours remained with one hand.
Under blankets, we saw the rings of Saturn in a private stargazing session with local astronomers and learned how to navigate compass-free. The children mastered donkey cart driving under the tutelage of the stable grooms and the art of picking prickly pears from the gardeners. For parents, there is a minimalist spa, with treatments by beauty editors’ favourite Susanne Kaufmann. The vast olive mill has been transformed into a chic hotel bar, leather sofas between its rustic white columns. Two swimming pools have been carved into the former kitchen garden, the cogs and stone irrigation system retained as sculptural features. Workers’ homes have become 24 rooms and suites, while cowsheds and stables are now 16 luxurious self-catering cottages (estate produce available to order).
We were allotted No 37, a cottage whose sitting room alone is the size of a barn. Each of the two bedrooms has its own rustically beautiful bathroom. On one side, shuttered doors open onto a peaceful lime-plastered courtyard with reflecting pools; on the other, panoramic views across the estate’s vineyards. In the early evening, guests sit in director chairs on the cobbled boulevard, watching the near 360-degree sunset seep across the surrounding hills until the hotel’s white-washed walls turn peach. They browse the little shop, which now sells local handiwork online too, creating an international market for these once-dwindling crafts. This is, after all, a place for people who expect not only style but substance too; for things to be both useful and beautiful.
How to do it
Sao Lourenco do Barrocal (00 351 2662 47140; barrocal.pt) offers Farmland Families packages from £3,674 for a family of four in a two-bedroom cottage. Includes four nights’ accommodation (full board), a children’s gardening class, bird-watching workshop, birdhouse and feeder workshop, ethnobotanical hike, sport fishing masterclass, pottery class and stargazing session. Read our full review here.
By Hattie Garlick