Barely understanding each other, we stood in her kitchen cutting up thin strands of handmade pasta as the radio played tunes from Italian operas. She did most of the work and handed me the fly-swatter, a job I took most seriously. Outside, the rolling hills and bales of hay glowed under the summer sun.
Agriturismos or farmhouses are popular getaway options in Italy. Typically, they can be likened to homestays on working farms or wineries. The focus is on wholesome food, authentic experiences, and exploring your gorgeous surrounds by bicycle or foot—a perfect way to balance those multi-course Italian meals.
My decision to come to this particular agriturismo in Bracciano was, like most memorable adventures, completely impromptu. The bustling energy of Rome had sapped mine and I was seeking something quiet and authentic. The goal was simple: find a homestay with great reviews for their food. I’d then see if poking around the kitchen, on request, was something my host family would be comfortable with. If Italy had taught me anything so far, it was that conversations and interactions focussed on food were always welcome.
It took me one metro ride, an hour-long train journey and a lift from my gracious host Mariana to reach Agrihouse Bracciano. We came to a halt outside a summer-pink farmhouse where I met Mariana’s husband, their daughter and the highlight of my trip, Nonna.
Nonna only spoke Italian but that didn’t dampen her enthusiasm for plying me with questions. Thanks to the plethora of Spanish lessons I’d taken over the years, I could understand something of what was being said. That, coupled with furious nodding and smiling, ensured we were off to a good start.
I was quick to mention to Mariana my interest in observing Nonna cook. I’d read online that it was she who cooked most of the meals while Mariana worked on the farm. Turns out, I was lucky. The very next day Nonna had planned to make a bumper batch of pasta. For my first evening, however, I was given strict instructions to relax and eat. If I enjoyed the food, I could then step into the kitchen. Four courses of cleanly wiped plates were my offering of proof. The next morning, I heard a soft knock on my door and I was duly summoned into the inner sanctum, the kitchen.
Nonna explained that she usually cooks her pasta one of two ways depending on her mood—one using the little pasta machine fitted to the side of her table and the other by hand. With that little note, she was off on a pasta-making party of one. I watched in awe and tried to keep up—taking videos and photographing every step for posterity.
A wooden table in the middle was her canvas. On this, a circular wall of flour was created and within it, six eggs were broken. Then, the kneading, rolling and patting began. It was a pasta orchestra: the steady whirring of the machine, the slapping of the dough on the table, and the gentle dabs of dry flour being added every now and then.
The dough was rolled out in sections until each was as thin as a delicate bridal veil. The sheetswere then laid out on a damp cloth. While the pasta sheets rested, so did we. Nonna squeezed us somefresh orange juice. We drank in silence, surrounded by pasta as we took in the Italian sunset—the skies matching the liquid in my glass. Even today, my dreams aren’t as idyllic as my reality was that day.
It was time to get back to the task at hand and the pasta sheets were again rolled over and over (and over) by Nonna until they were ready to be hand-cut into rail thin strips of fettuccine.
On the dinner menu, apart from having the satisfaction of eating the pasta that I’d just seen being made, there was also cinghiale (wild boar) cooked in wine, garlic and rosemary. The beauty of eating at a working farm was in the consistent freshness of the ingredients used. I’d probably waved hello to the boar the previous morning at check-in.
Nonna was generous with what I’d call the ‘naughty’ ingredients. White wine, red meat and cheese were grated, served and poured liberally. While I feared the punishments of severe gluttony, Nonna seemed extremely fit and active. She paraded around the farm in her sleeveless cotton dresses, picking up massive vats of olive oil and carrying them up the stairs.
The following day, on a Sunday afternoon, as the only guest there, I was invited to sit with the whole family for lunch. Extended family from the next village was over too. As the sole non-Italian speaker and guest, I was made to sit in the middle. Hands flew all around my head, with food being passed around the table. I took a silent moment to acknowledge how truly fortunate I felt to be right where I was.
In my free time, away from kitchen duties and to give Nonna some breathing room, I took a rusty but sturdy kid’s bike (all the others were too big for me) around the countryside. I rode up hills and down dusty backroads through golden farms. At one point, all I could see was a babbling brook, as well as bales of rolled hay for miles. I dismounted for an inspired run through the fields with no particular mission.
The rest of my time in Bracciano was spent swimming in the pool on the property, lying under the summer sun, playing with dogs, writing letters and observing all the energy that goes into maintaining a working farm. Every morning, my alarm clock was the gentle sunlight on my face peeking in through my intentionally parted curtains. Life on this bucolic agriturismo in Bracciano, just outside of Rome, was the most delicious dream.
Getting There: From Rome’s Ostiense Station a Trenitalia train to Bracciano takes approximately 55 minutes. Most accommodations are a short taxi ride away from the station. Alternatively, coordinate with your host for a lift.
Where to Stay
>AgriHouse Bracciano is a working farm with five rooms. If you’re after an adventure focussed on food, I’d recommend eating all your meals here (from approx €50 per night; agrihouse.it).
>If you prefer something larger but with a similar focus on food, Agriturismo Tenuta Monte La Guardia is the place to be. There’s also a spa on the property (from approx €66 per night; agriturismomontelaguardia.com).
Where to Eat
>Trattoria Del Castello in Bracciano is a must for its truffle inspired dishes and ambience (ristoranteserralunga.it).
>If you’re after something a bit more fancy, Chalet del Lago has the perfect setting right on Lake Bracciano. They have a great wine list. They are located just before the town of Anguillara, which has been used as a set for several Italian films (chaletdellago.com).
What to See & Do
>The region lends its name to the gorgeous Lake Bracciano. Make sure you have your swimsuit along, or find an isolated spot for a cheeky skinny dip.
>The famous and well-preserved 15th-century Bracciano Castle is a slice of local history as well as a venue for high-end events. It has hosted, most famously, the wedding of actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
>If you’re on a self-drive vacation, do drop in at the neighbouring lakeside towns of Anguillara Sabazia and Trevignano Romano.