Sleep in the Straw in Switzerland


Spending the night in a Swiss barn is fun and adventurous. Photo courtesy Schlaf im Stroh

When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for unique and independently owned places to stay that will benefit the local economy. Switzerland offers a sustainable, economical, family-friendly bed-and-breakfast experience I’ll never forget: sleeping in the straw on a farm.

Switzerland’s Sleep in Straw association (it’s called Schlaf im Stroh in German) consists of 150 Swiss farms and helps travelers easily connect with the hayloft of their choice.

Bed in a Barn

At Bruffhof Farm in Switzerland’s cheese-making Emmental region, the sound of cowbells and mooing woke me at dawn. I sat up in my sleeping bag, shook the straw from my hair, and looked around the hayloft to see if my friends were up.

Bruffhof Farm, in Switzerland's Emmenthal region, was flowering and beautiful when I visited. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Bruffhof is just one of Switzerland’s Sleep-in-Straw network in which visitors bed down in the barn—not with the animals, but sometimes in an adjacent area. (At most farms, restrooms and showers are located in separate buildings.)

Guests can volunteer, if they like, to help out with farm chores: collecting eggs, picking vegetables, helping milk cows. The side effects: plenty of fresh air, a lot of fun (provided your loft-mates don’t snore too loudly), and a better understanding and appreciation about where your food comes from and the hard work that farmers do.

For breakfast: fresh-baked farm rolls. The food at Bruffhof was outstanding. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

My breakfast at Bruffhof was heavenly, with homemade bread, jam, and muesli. The cheese, yogurt, butter and honey were from the farm’s own cows and bees. “Families stay here so their children learn where food comes from,” said farmer Franz Schwarz (who spoke just a little English).

Bruffhof Farm grows organic herbs—many for the Ricola cough-drop company, based in Switzerland. The rest of the farm is certified as “Integrated Production,” a Swiss designation that allows only minimal pesticide/herbicide use. Farmer Franz and his equally hard-working wife, Rita, also raise goats and dairy cows.

How well did I sleep in the straw? Pretty well, actually. The fresh, sweet-scented hay was soft, and I managed to arrange it beneath me in a relatively comfy contour.

How Farmhouse B&Bs Work

At a Sleep-in-Straw farm, there’s always the possibility you’ll be sharing the hayloft with strangers. I traveled with a group in late September, so we had the entire sleeping area to ourselves, but if you’re traveling singly, as a couple, or with a small family in the busy summer, you’re likely to get to get acquainted with fellow snoozers from all over the world.

This beautiful, handpainted sign pointed the way to the Signer farm B&B in Switzerland's Appenzell region. © Laurel Kallenbach

To make reservations, you choose a farm in the region of your choice and book your “sleep in straw” experience directly with the host family—they’re the ones who benefit from the fee.

(These days, running a family farm requires entrepreneurial ingenuity, and the farm owners truly need the extra income generated from this B&B program. One of the joys of staying on a farm is that you’re experiencing a different place in an authentic way—and your money goes to a great cause: the continuation of small-scale, responsible agriculture.)

It’s best to book in advance. You bring your own sleeping bag or pay an extra 5 Swiss francs to use one of  the farm’s; blankets are provided by the hosts. Many of them also offer pillows; if not you can always bunch up straw inside a blanket for that purpose as well.

The Details

  • Sleep in Straw: 20 to 30 Swiss francs ($24–$30) per adult per night, including breakfast. Children (age 15 and under): 10 to 20 Swiss francs. Some Sleep in Straw farms offer other amenities (such as dinners and even beds in bunkhouses) for an extra fee.
  • If you’re not comfortable communicating in German, French, or Italian (Switzerland’s three national languages) be sure to find a farm with English speakers. At Bruffhof, where the family was German speaking, it was easy communicating with hand signals, and one of the Schwarz daughters was a excellent student of English at school.

    My friends and I felt like kids at a "lofty" sleepover! © Ursula Beamish

  • Most Sleep-in-Straw farms are accessible by bicycle. Swiss Trails rents bikes, maps out self-guided routes for you, and organizes daily luggage transfers between accommo-dations, including farm-stays.
  • For more information: Schlaf im Stroh (click “Catalog” for downloadable, multilingual information on the farms).

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance travel writer and editor

 

Adopt a Swiss Cow & Support Sustainable Dairy Farms

Switzerland is famous for its fine cheeses, yet many small, family-owned dairy farms struggle to maintain their sustainable way of life.

Photo of Albert Breitenmoser holding a photo of Selma, a cow you can “rent” © Laurel Kallenbach.

Farmer Albert Breitenmoser of Eggerstanden (in Switzerland’s Appenzell region) devised a cow-“leasing” project that gives him financial support and offers visitors an insider’s glimpse into traditional Swiss dairy farming and cow herding

The program is also a great way for kids—and city dwellers—to better understand their food sources.

The cowherd's mountain-pasture chalets. Photo courtesy Albert Breitenmoser

Here’s how it works: For a fee, you choose a cow—one with a sweet name like Maxine, Bleike, Selma, Arnika—on the Internet to “sponsor” for a season. (Pick your cow by clicking here. The website is in German only, but these bovine beauties speak for themselves!) You receive a certificate, a photo of your sponsored cow, a discount on the herd’s cheese and the opportunity to visit “your” cow on the farm.

Sponsoring a cow at a higher price gives you the unique opportunity to stay at the summertime mountain-alp pasture, get to know your cow, learn to milk her, spend the night in the cowherds’ cabins, and see how mountain cheese (called Alpkäse) is made. Alpkäse is considered the finest Appenzell cheese.

“People can learn a lot about the mountain meadows and enjoy eating cheese from a cow they’ve met,” says Breitenmoser. “They can also learn how much work it is to feed and milk the cows and make their cheese.”

Dairy lovers from all over the world have leased cows from Breitenmoser via the Internet; one cow lover from Thailand sponsored a cow for three years before he was finally able to visit Switzerland last year. Then he got to enjoy a mountain visit where the farmer’s breakfast consists of home-produced goodies: fresh milk, coffee, bread, honey, and cheese of course.

The alp cheese is made by hand on the farm. Photo courtesy Albert Breitenmoser

And oh yes, there’s that spectacular Swiss scenery to accompany your excellent cheese.

If you know of similar programs/ gifts that support sustainable farmers, share them by adding a comment below.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and cheese lover

In Switzerland’s Mountain Meadows…with Views of the Imperial Crown Fourteeners

The Crans-Montana area of the Valais is home to the world-famous ski resort that overlooks a breathtaking ring of mountains. There’s also the hamlet of Colombire, whose restaurant and Eco-Museum showcase traditional foods and lifestyle from the days of cattle drives in the mountain pastures.

A mountain hut used by long-ago cowherds near Colombire.

(In summer, it’s hard to picture ski lifts, but you can ski to the restaurant and then continue down the slopes.)

My group lunched in the most stunning overlook possible, enjoying our hearty “Macaroni de Hameau” (a baked dish of alp cheese, cream, bacon and potatoes) with a fresh green salad and a crisp Valais wine.

Dining with a view of the Valais alps.

(The indoor restaurant is impressive too, with great views through the windows and a cozy roaring fire during winter.)

Alpine baked macaroni served at the Colombire restaurant

A Bit of Swiss Agricultural History

Fortified by lunch, our group learned about the Swiss life in the alpine meadows over hundreds—even thousands—of years. Guide Carolyne Renaud-A. Zufferey regaled us with family stories, local legends and history of the area.

First she took us on a tour of the Colombire mountain-pasture eco-museum. We learned how the cowherding families made spring-through-fall migrations with their livestock between valley villages, meadows and high-alp pastures.

There are several restored mayens, or meadow chalets, where the families lived in summer on display.

Hike along the "bisse," irrigation canals through cow and goat pastures in Crans-Montana

Next, we hiked a portion of the Bisse du Tsittoret trail along an irrigation canal (called a bisse) built centuries ago.

What a sensory-stimulating hike on a sunny day! The smell of the firs, the trickle of water in the bisse, cow bells at a distance.

We wandered through forests, meadows, cow pastures, and ultimately to the Tieche Valley waterfall.

And, on the horizon was an unforgettable view of the Imperial Crown mountain range.

The Imperial Crown is formed by spectacular peaks: the Weisshorn (14,780 feet), the Zinalrothorn (13,848 ft.), the Obergabelhorn (13,330 ft.), the Cervin (14,688 ft.) and the Dent Blanche (14,297 ft.).

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

For more information, visit Switzerland Tourism.

P.S. Share with the group the most scenic restaurant you’ve ever eaten in by leaving a comment (click on “Comments” below).

A view of the Imperial Crown mountains from the "bisse" trail.

Swiss Farmer Grows Organic Herbs for Ricola

Another beautiful day in the Valais canton (like a state) of Switzerland—another glorious farm. This time it’s the herb farm of Maurice and Marie-Christine Masserey in the Venthône area.

Rows of sage growing at the Masserey farm in the Valais, Switzerland

Operated organically, without pesticides or herbicides) the alpine herb farm is located amid spectacular views. (Can it be possible that all Swiss farms are so picturesque?)

Friendly farm animals!

There, farmer Maurice, who’s fluent in English, will walk you through fields of sage, orange mint, peppermint, elderberry, lavender, thyme, verbena, rosemary and more.

He’ll explain their use in several Swiss products, especially Ricola, the famous maker of cough drops, candies and pastilles that are sold globally.

Ricola’s original formula is a blend of 13 medicinal herbs grown in Switzerland. The Massereys are among 100 independent farmers throughout Switzerland who are under contract to Ricola.

Another company that buys Masserey’s herbs is Bio Alp Tea, a mixture of herbs in a sweetened iced-tea base.

Eco-Friendly Operations

Maurice will also show visitors his solar-powered herb dryer, which uses renewable energy to quickly dry the aromatic herbs in a way that preserves as much of their essential oils as possible.

In addition, the farmwork is done mostly by hand, which greatly reduces fuel use and creates a cleaner product.

To reach the Massereys’ herb farm, which is certified-organic by Bio-Suisse (“organic” is called “bio” in Europe), you don’t need a car: Just take the train to Sierre, follow the red line painted on the sidewalk from the train station to the funicular, and ride the funicular to the Darnona stop. A short walk, and you’re there!

Maurice Masserey shows how the harvested sage is finished in the solar-powered herb dryer on his organic farm.

After you’ve learned about the herbs, you’re invited to the Masserey farmhouse, where you can sit looking over the Sierre valley with the high, jagged peaks of peaks such as the Weisshorn around you. And you can taste Bio Alp Tea, Ricola products, and even some of Masserey’s family wine—all the while pondering how people all over the world enjoy the herbal products grown on this, and other, Swiss farms.

You can book an herb farm tour online (the website is in French or German only) or contact Maurice, who speaks fluent English). Valais Agritourism also offers helpful info.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The Masserey farmhouse