Agritourism, agriturismo, farm stays, ranch vacations or farmhouse B&Bs; whatever you call a stay on a farm, the concept, which has been popular in Europe for years, has gone mainstream in the U.S. There's no better way to connect with a place and its people than by rolling up your sleeves and joining in some of the daily duties -- picking produce in the garden, helping prepare a few meals in the kitchen, or tending to livestock in the barn. And just as satisfying is the sense of camaraderie that develops between guests and owners over shared labor and meals.
It's not all about getting your hands dirty, many farm stays are turning into luxury vacations. And with such scenic backdrops and mouthwatering hyper-local products, it's easy to see why.
Here are the best farm stays around the world. Overalls optional.
Punta Gorda, Belize
Belize may be generating plenty of buzz for the end of the Mayan calendar this year, but the Belcampo Belize, a 3,000-acre organic farm and coffee and cacao plantation and 12-room lodge is stealing the spotlight among food-loving travelers. Guests can immerse themselves in the property's farm and foraging activities, from tours of the massive cacao nursery to hands-on food courses based on chocolate, rum, and coffee starting this fall. Meals incorporate ingredients sourced on the property and reflect centuries-old cooking techniques from Central American cultures. Downtime is equally enticing, with individual bungalows equipped with spacious verandas, handsome décor, air conditioning, and even WiFi. Packages start at $1,950 for three nights; the property is closed for yearly maintenance from September 17-October 28.
The Philo Apple Farm
Quaint cottages, beautiful rolling fields of apple trees and sheep, and cooking classes from a family with roots in one of the world's most famous restaurants---what's not to like about Philo Apple Farm? Indeed, this charming property, about a two-and-a-half hour drive from San Francisco, makes lifetime fans of its guests. Several types of farm weekend stays are offered, depending on how much involvement you want. Activities include butter churning, produce harvest (late summer through fall is busy with the harvest of 80 apple varieties), and meal prep and cooking. A recent menu features braised pork with tomatillos, chilies, and polenta. Food-lovers will drool over its culinary pedigree: It's co-owned by Don and Sally Schmitt, original founders of The French Laundry. The Schmitts later sold the iconic restaurant, but several mementos, including menus and photos from its early days, are on display in a sitting area off the kitchen. Cottages from $275 per night; call ahead to customize farm packages.
Dunbrody House Hotel
Why We Like It: Though its run by Kevin Dundon (one of Ireland's most well-known celebrity chefs) and his wife, Catherine, there's not an ounce of pretentiousness at Dunbrody House Hotel, a charming, 200-year-old country estate and gardens in the southeastern corner of the country. Chefs of any level can hone their culinary skills at the on-property Dunbrody Cookery School, which offers a range of one-day and multi-day courses focused on Irish cuisine, including the ever-popular Easy Entertaining and One Pot Suppers. Ingredients for the cooking school and the property's award-winning restaurant, are sourced from the property's expansive gardens and orchard, the newest addition to which are hazelnut trees with truffle spores, the fruits of which the Dundons are eagerly awaiting (their Jack Russell terrier is on tap to be the main truffle sourcer).
A 4,200-acre estate in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm is the perfect blend of epicurean indulgence and bucolic bliss. Its gardens are bursting with Southern staples like okra, tomatoes, and peaches, the accommodations are plush, and there is a hands-on philosophy that encourages guests to roll up their sleeves, too. A variety of offerings let you work side-by-side with the artisans behind the property's award-winning restaurant: Accompany master gardener John Coykendall working the fields and harvesting produce while learning about seed-sowing. Or hone your culinary chops with a cooking class---for which you'll gather ingredients---in the state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen. Or just lend a hand picking produce for an outdoor garden dinner, which are held every Wednesday in August. Rates start at $345, not including meals or activities.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
Don't let the curious name fool you: The only thing sure to turn up missing at this 6,000-acre paradise on New Zealand's North Island is your worries. Located in Hawke's Bay, one of the country's best wine regions, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is a 26-room property anchored by an eye-pleasing lodge with handsome décor---think gray stone walls and rugged wooden ceiling beams---but it's also a working sheep and cattle farm. Guests can take a guided tour in four-wheel-drive comfort or on four-wheeled ATVs, for the more adventurous. While golf is a strong draw (the par-71 championship course that hugs the coastline is one of the world's most acclaimed), guests can also take advantage of skeet shooting, hiking, and mountain biking. Doubles from about $900.
Southern Piedmont, Italy
Agriturismo is exploding in Italy. There are currently about 20,000 such properties throughout the country, but this adults-only farm stay, La Traversina, in the wooded hills of Southern Piedmont is tops for its great value, friendly vibe, and a fairytale setting. The 300-year-old main house has several guestrooms as well as three apartments, with delectable, family-style meals at a massive wooden table creating an easygoing vibe between guests and owners Rosanna and Domenico Varese Puppo. You won't find crops or livestock here; instead, the fragrant gardens steal the show, with 200 varieties of English roses, irises, and hostas. Take a cooking, gardening, or yoga class, or simply relax by the pool during the day. By night, sip grappa in the garden and watch fireflies twinkle in the darkening sky. Doubles from about $110, including breakfast.
Estancia La Margarita
Estancias are Argentina's version of working ranches; they are a dime a dozen in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, but venture a bit further into the countryside (173 miles, to be exact) to this paradise in the pampas, and you'll escape the day-trippers and discover authentic gaucho life. Estancia La Margarita was built in 1870 but the English-speaking owners recently renovated, creating a welcoming destination for savvy travelers in South America. Experienced equestrians can gallop across the famed pampas, while riding newbies can take a lesson with skilled guides. Budget-conscious guests can cook for themselves in rooms equipped with small kitchens, but one of the joys here is the tasty traditional Argentinean cuisine. The property's livestock and produce supply most of the ingredients; the traditional asadas (barbeques) in the outdoor garden are a perfect way to unwind, as guests share stories of horseback riding over a glass of málbec and a roaring fire. Two-night stay, including transport from Tapalque, horseback riding, all meals, and a bottle of wine from $160 per person.
By Blane Bachelor
Photo courtesy of Blackberry Farm