Heartland Glamping Sustainable Tourism Model
Italy…. the final frontier, these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise……
…Ok just joking.
We have been asked over and over again about how to go about setting up a glamping site in Italy, and so here we are attempt an introduction of things to think about – remember this shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but it’s meant to help you become informed.
We are not going to go on about why buy in Italy: the obvious charm of this country captivates everyone and there is a lot that is relatively unknown – for example, if you have managed to find your way to the real Apennines you’ll be forever caught in its magic.
Whereas in the UK glamping has become a mainstream industry, most Italians haven’t really heard of Glamping, and would usually not believe that camping in tents could be luxurious and fun…and doing so in the mountains…. but it’s a waking market. Italians love fashions are catching up that this is the new trend, as being close to nature is increasingly important, so in fact going into it now in Italy has never been better, because it’s all starting now. One can be established before the crowds catch up.
But a lot is never told potential buyers, and a house in the sun isn’t always what one expects, so here we are looking at a few things to think about when setting up a small glamping site to work for you as a silent engine… our approach is focused on sustainability.
If you’re reading this, you might be playing with the idea of setting up a campsite in Italy, so before we dive right you need to ask yourself if this is for you. If you have never worked in the hospitality industry, ask yourself is hosting is for you. You need to be able to deal with the elements, and nature -… and good with people, as most of the challenges that site owners report are with guests!
The real question one needs to ask is what do I want my site to look like? If you have come to Italy to enjoy the lifestyle, and finally you are here, sitting between your olive and chestnuts, eating pecorino, a full-blown campsite maybe too much to allow you to relax with the pecorino so having asked yourself these questions, and having answered that you’d rather keep things contained…. we can continue with the actual work….
Choice of site
(A note: most Italians don’t speak much English, so it is a good idea to speak at least a bit of Italian before starting the search for that special place).
The first step to consider is your area. When we, as a company, look for sites to work with, we want to focus on special natural beauty, and Italy has many such undeveloped areas, small villages with endless history and nature. We are developing the valley of the Aventino in Abruzzo, for sustainable tourism for example: it’s an untouched valley in front of central Italy’s most amazing mountains Massif – the Majella.
The volcanic caldera where the small village of Roccamonfina is another such example, with its own small eco-system with chestnut groves and stone hobbit like buildings hidden in the forest.
But the examples are endless, the important thing is to use this amazing location, to dive into the natural beauty and endless traditions of food and culture, and for this Italy is really a leader.
The choice should be to develop a site that serves as a tourist attraction, one should explore as much as possible, and even rent for a while in Italy to figure it out, because there is so much on offer. It’s a shame that people settle for a small house in some olive desert, 30 km from an amazing attraction, so don’t settle on less than perfect: look around, ask the locals who would probably would be more than happy to help. There are many secret properties that have belonged to someones great-granny and none of the family are using it, or even know it exists. (You may have to round up all the grand-children who own part shares in the property, and they may be spread all over the world but that’s part of the fun). Property is cheap right now and so explore a little further, you wouldn’t be sorry, even have or rent a camper and go around your whole preferred province. It’s a good idea to have some sort of house on the land, even if a ruin, to help with planning.
Planning Permission (‘Permesso di Pianificazione’)
In the UK, one usually approaches a glamping site by putting down an application for planning, not everyone gets it, but as its already a known industry that has saved the countryside in many ways, the odds are in your favour. It’s usually rather straight forward, sometimes with guidelines about what you can do in order not to upset nesting birds or bats, and sometimes you will have issues with the colour of your tents because of National Parks tastes. Like anything, as long as you tick all the right boxes, you can do it.
In Italy, especially in the South, there aren’t many precedents so once you have figured and found a spot of natural beauty, and already found your piece of land and house, we recommend that, before you commit to buy, you ask to have a meeting with the local Sindaco (mayor) and ask if he or she will support you. Go into all the details too, of what you want to do, and ask to have the planning technician of the commune as a part of this meeting too, which is not an unusual request. If they’ve never heard of glamping, they may think you’re crazy at first, so show them some photos/websites as illustration. Also, explain how it isn’t something foreign that will be built over the local culture, but will integrate with it and bring income to local businesses.
Then ask about the commune land plan (Plana regolatorio). This is a map of the commune with the designated land use of each area and usually can be found online on the website of the commune. You need to see if your land is free of ‘uso civico’, (communal designation) and what category of use it falls under. Usually this kind of property, outside the village is rural agricultural land, but each commune has its own category, and inside the plan there should also be a part telling you what it allows you to do and what you can’t: this is the first hurdle. (Obviously there is no fixed formula and rules vary from commune to commune, and can even be widely different between neighbouring communes in the same province).
Italy has notoriously archaic bureaucracy so be patient – it’ll be worth it.
To start a campsite you will need to satisfy some of criteria: first is change of land use to a campsite, unless your commune has specified that touristic activity is allowed on rural land.
Usually communes have a designated campsite area which is meant to be operated first before other places. If there is not an established campsite on this land, you will need to prove, under article 8, that this campsite area doesn’t serve the commune need or doesn’t have enough space for your activity. This won’t happen overnight and you will need to find a good team of architect and geometra to work alongside the commune to enable the change of category in the basic commune planning plan.
The other issue with campsites in Italy is that you need to satisfy the 1-4 star system, and each category of campsite has its own needs: you need a certain amount of showers and toilets per each person, etc, most of this is actually common sense, but some isn’t, like having to have a fence of 2 metre height and a gate at the entrance, not really what you expect in a glampsite. (Contact us for an in depth description of all the requirements for each star)
There is also the question of business taxation and usually, in Italy is the biggest issue, because alongside the high social service tax, and income tax you then need to pay business taxes to both commune and region. Business taxation goes by the size of the campsite, but here again you have to fall back on the fact that the old starry system needs you to have a site of at least one hectare for some of the categories, which means, that if your site is smaller you are paying tax on extra size, although again this may work for some, and one hectare is actually the guideline for a good glamping site.
This guide is exploring another option for running a campsite on that magical piece of land which is to open an agriturismo. Agriturismi, (farm house holidays) are very popular in Italy and they have been branching out into glamping to offer a more earthy experience than the usual high-end one. You will need to have land in the countryside that is already farming land, and to register yourself as a farmer. The criteria of how much land you need is based on your farming activity, so yes you will need to explore farming and practice it, but why not have your own rural organic product and an interaction with local farming, and so your glamping site becomes a little hub, a place that offers local produce.
The fact you have just become a farmer, gives you a point of connection with the local community and become integrated with the local economy in many ways you wouldn’t otherwise with just a campsite.
The most important part, in our view, is that such small sites are a really amazing way to preserve the rich countryside traditions: you can employ local food processing methods and culinary traditions, as well as selling products made locally. As an agriturismo you are meant to serve a minimum of 30% of your own products if you offer food, and the rest needs to be local produce.
(Italy is a leader of traditional varieties from ancient wheat, to heirloom fruit and veg, all still grown locally. The home made speciality pasta and breads we eat everyday in Italy are a thing by itself).
We won’t go into the maze of Italian tax rules. Taxes are generally high and being self-employed isn’t as simple as in other lands, but, there are certain low tax brackets which are suitable for a glamping business. There is also the tax relief that farmers enjoy, if you go the agriturismo route, as well as subsidies, and grants… you can go and have a meeting with your local GAL (a group of local actions), and they sometimes, along with the region, finance this type of projects. You have all the right keywords at hand, you are going to be a farmer (yeah) and organic at that, and sustainable, slow tourism is a something they have heard so much about, but usually before, you the glampsite owner arrived, they did not have a clue what that may look like, so arm yourself with a long list of good websites, to showcase, and don’t forget to make some of those Italian. You can possibly have 50% financed by them or the many EU organisations funding sustainable rural development/tourism in Southern Europe, if you wade through all the criteria and find a suitable body to receive your application.
The Site Plan
Ok, let us have a little look at the site itself: from our experience, 3 units are typically the best number to have for a simple and quiet lifestyle and 5 for someone who wants to play host more of the time. 3-5 is pretty much manageable by one or two people but any more, especially in peak season, depending on what level of service you are providing, would need more crew. This is basically that silent engine, the way you can live in Italy, and pay the high social insurance, and taxes – it works for you without you having to slave for it.
We are agents for several popular companies offering various glamping products: Spirits Intent, our UK company making yurts, tipis and other canvas structures; Featherdown Farms, who offer a franchising model that basically allows you to invest in farm-style cabins or safari tents, complete with furniture, crockery etc and have marketing, booking and a guaranteed income supplied by them; Outstanding Safari tents who do amazing Safari Tents, Universal Glamping Pods who manufacture wooden Camping Pods and if you are looking for a traditional Shepherd Hut: Irish Shepherd Huts. ( But there are many options, and this is also part of the fun, because here there is endless scope. (See our products page for ideas). but remember an Agriturismo only lets you have 30 guests at any one time.
Glamping sites being hired out for green weddings, small events etc is a rapidly growing market that waits for those who are ready, and as it wakes up with full blast, it’s important in our view to help it in a sustainable direction.
Planning Rules for Structures
Tents, eg yurts, tipis, bell tents and also shepherd huts on a chassis, are considered not fixed or mobile structures, so under campsite law they aren’t actually needing planning approval (it’s the site that does). If you are setting them up on your Agriturismo, this option needs to be cleared with the local commune and the local planning office. Again a simple meeting can set you in the right direction but don’t go alone, have an architect or geometra with you who knows what they are doing, and ask them to review the province law on mobile structures. Usually, as you have already proved that you are a farmer, your activity is a farming one basically, and you aren’t building anything fixed – in one meeting with the commune you can get the go ahead. No more planning needed.
This is a very brief overview – if you go for it we would recommend creating a small reliable, creative team of Geometra, Architect, and Commercialista.
The aim of our small association is to develop Glamping as the lifeline that the Italian countryside needs for sustainable development. Many rural areas in Italy, especially in the South, suffer from depopulation and abandonment and we see Glamping Sites as an amazing tool to bring revenue and energy to revitalise these areas. We can take your site on as one of our projects to support you on any level from general advice to marketing ideas to site design to getting you the best looking tents and compost toilets. The twist is that we are looking for glamping sites in Italy to take some responsibility for the immediate locale, and you can help too, by becoming a member of the Association or simply by making sure you focus on natural integration and helping your local area to show and sell its produce, to offer small walks into nature and find a way to include local producers in the food you serve and the history that is shared with your guests.
So all in all, what we look to help you design, is a simple sustainable lifestyle, one that makes living in Italy with its higher taxation easy, one that helps you integrate with the local community and one that actually works to save the characteristics of the Italian countryside – for you, the local people, and the tourist.
Contact us for more