Wednesday, 25 November 2015

My First Agriturismo: Podere il Casale, Pienza (Italy)

Pienza, Italy (Pienza, Italia) 
Funnily enough, we stayed at our first agriturismo by accident. The only remnants of the campsite we had planned to stay at were a couple of signs so worn they looked post-apocalyptic. Using precious 3G data, we found a site nearby that had only eight tent pitches, and decided to try our luck. The website (www.podereilcasale.com) didn't much sound like the kind of campground we were used to, and with the limited number of pitches we thought they may have been fully booked. But we found the agriturismo (even our SatNav Synthia was trying her hand at making us turn back, stating the last two kilometres would take twenty minutes to traverse). 
What we discovered was a wonderful spot with tent pitches available overlooking the Tuscan hills. A number of animals were out and about, including a few peacocks who roamed free, a couple of donkeys and a pen of goats near our pitch. 
One peacock busied himself with cleaning our car - we hadn't put it through a car wash since hiring it so there were a fair few bugs for the taking. It seems that even after being squashed flat at high speed, splattered bugs make for a better meal than foraging in the grass for fresh specimens. 
The agriturismo sources food from their own farm, or neighbouring ones when they can't provide the ingredients themselves (a rosé I ordered, for example). We enjoyed an antipasto of cured meats, followed by goat's cheese wrapped in bacon, mutton ragu over pasta, and finished with apple pie and fruit cake. At Podere il Casale, they focus on using every part of the animal so nothing goes to waste. I have to say that I didn't mind eating mutton for the first time in my life, and wouldn't necessarily choose lamb over it in the future, especially knowing that the animals have a far surperior quality of life here than many farm animals. 
We enjoyed our meal so much that in the morning we booked another night's stay and dinner reservation. The wifi reception was sketchy, but when sitting at the outdoor tables it worked just fine. And look at that view!
The problem with this was the temperature. Autumn was in full swing and we took to wrapping ourselves in sleeping bags to keep warm. (And my feet required 24-hour sock coverage.) But the views over the Tuscan countryside were well worth it! 
Each morning we awoke to the crowing of roosters and the barking of dogs. Upon emerging from our tent, we were hit by a smell of goat poo. I'm not a country girl, but I loved the atmosphere. (However, I don't think I could have spent much more time there than those two days. I love city sights and good wifi.) On our second evening, we dined on eggplant parmigiana and chicken cacciatore (hunter's style) followed up by biscotti paired with dessert wine. The owner of the property was our server, and she told us all about how each year kiwi sheep shearers are employed to fleece their flock of sheep. I knew that shearing within New Zealand was a big thing, but I had no idea we were known for it worldwide! Apparently they can charge €2 per sheep, and do a roaring trade in Europe and South America. As the sheep aren't bred for their wool, most of it is sent to China to be used as insulation. 
I relished my time at the agriturismo, and would stay at another in a second. The problem is that most seem to only have rooms available and not tent pitches, meaning that the price is much higher than for camping. The term "agritourism" is vague, and can mean any type of activity that brings visitors to a working farm, whether it be dining, accommodation, products for sale, or even feeding the animals. In Italy it usually refers to a farm stay, but the majority seem to be rooms in a farm house rather than my preferred accommodation of camping. 
If you're in the area of Montepulciano or Montalcino, I highly recommend you look into staying or at least eating at Podere il Casale. They'll make you feel like one of the family!
Currently they are running an IndieGogo campaign to improve their fencing and increase their number of animals. If you're interested in receiving some delicious cheese or sponsoring a peacock or lamb, take a look here! Even €10 would help them towards their goal, and they also have many more rewards for higher donations.