BY STAFF WRITER
Food and wine tourism is not a new concept in the world for the discerning tourist or for societies living in and around the wine belt of Europe, which includes Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Switzerland and France, among others. But it is Italian cuisine and wine that stole the hearts of foodies and wine enthusiats from across the globe since the mid-1900s.
The Ancient Greeks used to call Italy “Enotria” in reference to its production of extraordinary wines. And the British’s love affair with Italian food and drink goes back much further than the famous Spaghetti Houses of the 1950s.
Food experts say 2 000 years ago the Roman Empire brought olive oil and exotic vinegars which changed the history of British cooking forever.
The Italian enogastronomic excellence dominates the Mediterranean region and is highly popular around the world. Enogastronomy is a word of Greek origin and simply refers to food and wine; and Italian cuisine became even more popular as it was a melting pot of Mediterranean diets as a result of its position in the ancient trade routes matrix, as well as its documented political and socio-economic significance historically.
The staple foods of the Mediterranean diet — the health benefits of which are well-known — are basically bread and olive oil.
However, food and wine tourism — the Italians call it “agriturismo” (agritourism for English or simply farm stays) — has seen a 25% jump in the past five years in the Bel Paese or “Beautiful Country” as the peninsula is also known.
The impressive leap is attributed to mainly an increase in the number of farms offering overnight accommodation though the momentum was disrupted by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent closure of tourism worldwide. It is also due to the deliberate drive taken by the Italians to revamp its decades-old enterprise of agritourism or what is generally known as farm stays in other Western regions.
The origin of the word agritourism is frequently attributed to Italy, where — in the 1970s and 1980s — many “agriturismos” or lodging on farms, became a popular way to experience the countryside. In Italy, agritourism is known as having begun in 1965, but the first official Italian farm house was created in 1973.
Literature on the history and origins of agritourism indicates that rural recreation and tourism can be traced back to the late 1800s, when families visited farming relatives in an attempt to escape from the city’s summer heat. But it gained interest again in the 1930s and 1940s by people seeking an escape from the stresses of the Great Depression and World War II. These demands for rural recreation led to widespread interest in horseback riding, farm petting zoos and farm nostalgia during the 1960s and 1970s.
These farm stays now allow visitors to enjoy their vacation to a chosen region and enjoy its food and wine in its traditional setting either on a villa, village, farm or old ranch of choice — and there are over
1 000 of such in Italy — as a couple, group of friends or with the whole family.
Activities include horseback riding, exploring historical landmarks, wine tasting, stomping grapes and musical events. Farmers offering farm stays are, however, encouraged to promote traditional culture, social customs and foods; sell value-added farm products, including locally produced wines, olive oils, pasta, prepared meats, cheeses, jellies and jams, honey, baked foods and crafts.
The Italian National Tourism Agency (http://www.italia.it/en/travel-ideas/gastronomy.html) says visitors cannot afford to miss the nation’s enogastronomic culture — its culinary and wine itineraries — in search of ancient recipes, genuine products and simple food inspired by classic Italian cooking and innovative creations.
“World-renowned products such as Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese, Parma and San Daniele ham, Modena balsamic vinegar, Genoa’s pesto, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, Alba truffles and cured meats are just some of the symbols that make Italy the land of good food. And how could anyone forget pasta and pizza, universal synonyms for Italy?” the tourism agency says.
“Italy’s wines, those noble ambassadors of Italian excellence throughout the world, must not be neglected. The pleasure of tasting a fine wine in its native environment is unparalled — a glass of Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino in Tuscany, of Barbera or Barolo from Piedmont, of Prosecco di Valdobbiadene in Veneto, of Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna, or the Sicilian wines or the white wines in Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige, or the great reds of the Valtellina, just to provide a fine few examples. Italy is a world of tastes that tempt the palate, eyes and heart!”
Each region from the north to the south boasts a tradition of tastes, typical flavours, recipes, delicious wines and DOP (Denomination of Protected Origin)-certified products.
With Agriturist (https://www.agriturist.it/en/farm-holidays-italy/1-0.html) you can find your ideal agritourism adventure in any part of Italy, choosing among villas, villages, farms and old ranches with the options of food, active holiday, wellness or green holidays.
The Italian embassy cultural attaché Massimo Amadeo says farm stays is “everything Italian” as it “proposes an immense variety of different (Italian) regional dishes and recipes”.
“Visitors can expect to enjoy fine Italian wines from the source and also enjoy the food. A vast majority of the exotic food in the world has Italian origin such as the pizzas, gelatos, cheese and pasta,” Amadeo says.
Besides the food and wine, he said, the Bel Paese has a scenic landscape and is home to various world-renowned fashion brands such as Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Versace, Ferragamo, Benetton, Valentino, Max Mara, Trussardi, among many others.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 travel restrictions measures still persist in Italy as in many other countries worldwide. The National Tourism Agency (http://www.italia.it/en/useful-info/covid-19-updates-information-for-tourists.html) provides updates to those who wish to travel to Italy.