We’ve been covering our favorite free things to do in Florence proper, but city center only offers a thin slice of the adventures to be had. Sometimes it’s best to escape the stone walls, venture into the hills, and experience a very different, still very authentic, Italian way of life.
Topics in the queue for Florens 2012 include using sustainable production, local agriculture, and the environment to promote cultural identity. WWOOF Italia is already leaps and bounds ahead on achieving this goal. Beyond an initial membership fee, the organization helps travelers see and stay in pastoral Italy for free.*
WWOOF stands for “world-wide opportunities on organic farms” or “willing workers on organic farms.” Its mission statement explains, “The purpose of WWOOF is to create an interest and understanding for organic and biodynamic ways of living. In addition to this WWOOF makes it possible for people to travel cheaply all over the world and, at the same time, to help where it is wanted and needed.”
Basically, you roll up your sleeves on a vineyard, olive grove, or farm in the Italian countryside; learn how to till the land; and are treated to hearty homemade meals and picturesque accommodations in return. You work a few hours a day to spend the rest soaking up culture (and wine) while making new friends. There’s no exchange of money – only ideas, knowledge, and good will.
Even better, a slew of wwoofing opportunities are minutes from Florence. Simply board a bus or train until you’re about 20 minutes out, and you’re already in organic-growing heaven.
It’s an ideal way to spend a long weekend or longer vacation without venturing far from the city. You’ll learn practices vital to keeping such an important part of Florentine culture – local wine and food – flourishing. The farms often host a few wwoofing enthusiasts at a time, meaning you’re likely to make international friends. And did we mention it’s free?*
Hannah and I did something similar in the Valdarno region of Tuscany. While we did not use WWOOF Italia, we spent a week at Il Poggiolo sorting files in the morning and hiking through vineyards to nearby towers during our free time. Nights were spent dicing homegrown tomatoes and sipping locally sourced wine.
*As long as you aren’t afraid of a little dirt under your fingernails, of course. Besides, a hearty Italian meal is more rewarding after a day spent under the Tuscan sun.