If you love the idea of a farm vacation in Italy but want to experience the joys of the country's southern climate, there are plenty of options in the Campania region, south of Salerno near the coast. Searching the Web site www.agriturismo.net, my family discovered an estate called Le Favate, in the tiny town of Ascea, that we hoped would provide the escape we'd been dreaming of. A summer week there proved us right.
Le Favate is run in impeccable style by owner Elvira Licusati, a charming, sophisticated woman who, with her hardworking and personable staff, welcomed our family and made our stay relaxing and authentic. The estate itself, built in 1600, is stunning -- several stone buildings on beautiful grounds with olive groves, vineyards, fruit trees, and a swimming pool. My husband and I stayed in a large, comfortable room with a small bed rolled in for our 5-year-old son; my husband's brother, who joined us for the trip, had a separate two-story suite complete with kitchen and dining table. Every detail of the rooms, from the dark-wood furniture and terracotta floors to the colorful tile bathrooms and linens embroidered with the Le Favate crest, was well appointed and elegant.
The guests (about six families when we were there) are served two meals a day by Signora Licusati and her staff -- continental breakfast on the balcony and a four-course dinner in the dining room. Dinners, especially, were out of this world, featuring pastas with homemade sauces, simply prepared fish and meats, and vegetables grown on the farm, and were accompanied by wines made from the estate's vineyards.
We spent sunny days by the pool or exploring the nearby small towns (perfect for buying cheese, meat, bread, and fruit for afternoon picnics under Le Favate's lemon trees) and beaches (with their heart-stopping views of the mountains and sea). Hardly anyone we encountered spoke English, which was just the non-touristy experience we were looking for.
My husband, brother-in-law, and I wanted the week to never end, but I suspect my son had the most fun of all. He explored the estate's grounds, strengthened his swimming skills in the pool, tried and enjoyed many new foods, picked up several words of Italian, and taught the other young guests, most from England and Germany, to play baseball. Italians in general love children, and Signora Licusati was no exception -- this was a family vacation we will never forget.