For the past 8 years we have been spending Christmas at home wherever that was, either Seattle or California. By ourselves or with family that came to visit. Doing the traditional thing of waking up, opening gifts, prepare a Christmas breakfast and then go skiing or to the movies. Last Christmas we decided to do something different. We rented a car, packed our stuff and with dogs included, we headed to Italy.
I always wanted to experience staying in an “agriturismo” (farmhouse in English). An agriturismo is primarily a farm and has a number of rooms and / or apartments available to rent. Many agriturismo’s produce wine or olive oil, but sometimes also cheese, honey or jam. You can find anything from rustic, recently restored farmhouses on quiet and beautiful estates to very fancy with pools and all amenities. Sometimes there is also a restaurant serving local specialties, often prepared with own products of the farm. I like to go with the more rustic experience which is usually conveniently less expensive and more authentic.
We chose Agriturismo San Mattia in Verona to spend our first Christmas in Europe. I did some research and finally went with San Mattia for 3 reasons: they produce their own wine, they had a special Christmas lunch cooked with their own produce and they’re prices were reasonable.
One of the things I really liked about these farms is the fact that most of them are pet friendly. In fact, as long as the dogs are well behaved, not aggressive and trained, they are welcome to roam freely and even enter in the common areas.
We arrived on December 23rd at 9:30 and were welcomed by their lovely dog Millie, the sweetest rescued shepherd dog I have ever seen. We were hungry and their kitchen was closed, but one of the employees offered to make us a plate of cheese and meat cuts with a bottle of their own wine. That was just perfect for us. The room was cozy and well equipped and the premises were beautiful, with chickens and a gorgeous view.
Our time at the farm was very relaxing. We woke up at 9am, just so we didn’t miss the breakfast, went for a walk with the dogs around the farm premises and then in the afternoons we explored Verona’s downtown.
We had breakfast at the farm and headed to downtown Verona to go to the Arena (a Roman amphitheater built in the 1st century) and explore the Christmas Market. Then, in the afternoon, Giovanni gave us a tour of his vineyard and farm where he shared his passion for making good wine and provide an excellent culinary experience to his guests. For dinner we had reservations at Ristorante Du Schei, which was recommended by Giovanni since the farm’s restaurant was going to be closed that day. At Du Schei we indulged in a feast that included gnocchi with black truffles and a delicious chocolate cake for dessert.
December 25th, Christmas
We didn’t have any gifts to exchange when we woke up, since that was part of the agreement. No gifts this year! So we did our normal morning routine. After walking the dogs, we had lunch at the farm. They were serving a special menu: “Pranzo di Natale” (Christmas lunch) and OMG, did we eat. One of the best meals of probably our entire trip in Italy. We had risotto, a roasted bird, pork and dessert. We had to go back to the room and take a nap because we were so full. Then went for a walk downtown just to go eat again since we had reservations at Antica Torretta. Everywhere we ate in Verona was amazing. The service, the quality of the food and the wine really made of our Christmas very special.
Pranzo di Natale:
We didn’t want to leave! It was hard to say goodbye to Giovanni and all the wonderful staff who made us feel like family. Giovanni gave us a bottle his own grappa as a gift and we bought several bottles of wine and olive oil to bring home. We snapped a few selfies with Millie and said good bye. Can’t wait to go back!
Tip: In order to stay in agriturismo’s it is important to have a car. Most of these farms are in the country side, away from the city centers and public transportations. For those who are scared about driving in Italy, I can share from our own experience that it was really not that bad. We didn’t encounter any dangers or trouble finding directions. If you feel adventurous, I totally recommend exploring Italy by car, driving off the beaten path while discovering places that sometimes are not found in any travel guidebook or tourist maps.