Stepping foot into Agriturismo Torrazzetta feels like taking a step back in time. From the century-old farm tools and winemaking equipment to the year 1883 engraved above the front door, the carefully restored farmhouse is a testimony to the past. Even beyond what the eye can see, the agritourism’s philosophy of slow living immortalizes the bygone days. Here seasonality determines the food on your plate. Grapes ripen and wines mature with the waxing of the moon, and delicious meals of local ingredients are still made from scratch.
Torrazzetta’s nostalgic ambiance and time-honored traditions elicit a sense of well-being in everyone who crosses the threshold. You can see it in the relaxed expressions of people strolling the grounds and lit-up faces of children in the barnyard. You can hear it in the peals of laughter filling the restaurant and gleeful cries of young ones playing outdoors. A guestbook overflows with handwritten promises to return and kids’ colorful drawings of farm animals. So irresistible is Torrazzetta’s charm, that even its newest family member - a stray dog christened Pinot - trotted in the gate ten days ago, plopped himself on a bench in the courtyard, and never left.
Owner, Franco Fiori spent his childhood at Torrazzetta, a fraction of Borgo Priolo located in the foothills of Oltrepò Pavese. In those days the farm was devoted solely to agriculture and his grandfather, and later his father, cultivated wheat and grapes. Franco chose another path, leaving rural life to attend university in the city at the Polytechnic Institute of Milan. With a degree in Construction Engineering, he started a successful career and a family far from his country roots.
When his father passed away in 1984, Franco inherited the property and he and his wife, Gianna, were faced with a major decision: sell everything or preserve the family’s agricultural heritage. Their choice to return to the land breathed new life into Torrazzetta. They started by planting more vineyards and converting the acreage to organic certification, a radical move that attracted heaps of skepticism. “So padâr âl gh à lâsà dü vid e gli â mândâ tüt in mâlurâ,” scoffed the neighbors in dialect. “His father left him two vineyards and he’s driving them to ruin.” But Franco and Gianna didn’t budge. Safeguarding the environment and providing a healthy place for their children to grow up surpassed any criticism or obstacles in their way. That very same year, Torrazzetta became the first organic winery in Oltrepò Pavese.
Putting his know-how to work, Franco next renovated the existing cantina and expanded the winemaking facilities. As their business grew, clients stopped by to visit and he and Gianna began offering an afternoon merenda (snack) or hosting an occasional grigliata (barbecue). With nowhere to shelter visitors in winter months, the couple converted one of the stone barns into a gathering place. Soon after, a few stalls were transformed into accommodations, impromptu meals became daily offerings and the original granary was converted into a reception hall and meeting room. Led by their pioneering spirit, Torrazzetta became the first agritourism in the province of Pavia, and history came full circle.
Over the next three decades the farmhouse’s handful of rooms turned into 32. A stunning new restaurant was built, and meeting rooms were added. Torrazzetta’s wine list grew to include spumante, whites, rosés and an array of reds like Croatina, Barbera and Pinot Nero. Franco painstakingly carried out every transition himself with the utmost respect for his family’s legacy and agricultural traditions. His grandfather’s old wagon and farm equipment adorn every nook. Old barrel staves were repurposed and fashioned into chairs, and tables were crafted out of wooden planks once used as walkways for transporting wheat into the barn. “Everything you see here is a piece of Torrazzetta and a connection to our past,” he says with pride.
Sharing that past with guests has been Gianna’s mission ever since she left her job as a teacher to manage Torrazzetta’s restaurant and hospitality. Today even their children, now adults themselves, have all returned to assume positions in the family business. The eldest, Paolo, runs the kitchen and puts his twist on homemade regional cuisine seven days a week. Sergio oversees the vineyards, organic garden and winemaking, and the youngest, Giulia, takes care of all their guests alongside her mother. “Agritourisms have given Italy’s youth an opportunity to come back to the land,” Gianna notes, “and a way to preserve our traditions for future generations.”
Having distinct roles helps balance the burden of responsibility and fulfill the demands of day-to-day tasks. On a Sunday at lunch, Gianna graciously visits with each table, Giulia dashes back and forth from the kitchen, and Sergio offers advice on wine, stepping briefly outside to give children pointers on climbing trees. In the kitchen, Paolo orchestrates a parade of typical local dishes, occasionally sprinting out to the garden to harvest ingredients right off the vine.
And papà? Today Franco can be found walking the property, hands clasped behind his back. With a gaze that’s both thoughtful and observant, ears attuned to his forefathers’ murmurings, he’s dreaming up the next project at Agriturismo Torrazzetta.