Flavorful Agritourism: Sleeping in an Organic Vineyard


Pheasant Valley in Hood River, Oregon: a great B&B and organic vines. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I love beautiful, rural settings and local, farm-to-table foods, which is why I’m a fan of the agritourism trend: visiting and staying at farms. I like that it puts me in contact with local agriculture, and I like that farmers benefit from the additional income that small-scale tourism brings.

Recently, my husband and I spend two nights at an organic vineyard in Hood River, Oregon: at the Pheasant Valley Winery B&B. This small, Columbia Gorge vineyard is run by Scott and Gail Hagee, who live right there amid the grapevines.

The Hagee house is lovely, and they have three guest rooms—the Tempranillo Room, the Zinfandel Room, and the Pinot Noir Suite.

We stayed one night in the small, but comfy Zinfandel Room, and spent our second night in Pinot Noir, which is definitely worth the extra expense. The spacious suite has a private balcony with sweeping views of the countryside and the always-mesmerizing, snow-covered Mt. Hood. It also has floor-to-ceiling windows with the same view, vaulted ceilings, a sofa/sitting room, and a huge, luxurious bath with a walk-in shower and a Jacuzzi tub.

Hood River's peaceful and sustainable wine country ©Laurel Kallenbach

Whether or not you opt for the big digs, the house has plenty of shared space: an open, gorgeous living room, a front porch with that sweeping view of the volcanic mountain, and a shady back patio with tables. And a real bonus is Gail’s breakfasts. We dined on French toast one morning and a Mexican-style omelet the next.

Tasting the Grape

Another bonus: When you stay at the B&B, you get a free wine tasting—your choice of any six of Pheasant Valley’s vintages. We walked through rows of grapevines to the tasting room and sat outdoors on the patio overlooking Mt. Hood and the pine forest on a warm summer afternoon.

Whether you stay at the B&B or not, Pheasant Valley Winery's tasting room is worth a visit. ©Laurel Kallenbach

If the weather isn’t great, the indoor tasting room is quite atmospheric with its European décor, huge stone fireplace, and wine-barrel tables. (If you prefer to eat while you sip, Pheasant Valley Winery sells antipasto platters and ploughman’s lunches too.)

I enjoyed the refreshing, citrusy 2012 Estate Organic Pinot Gris; the 2011 Organic Pear Wine (great for dessert or with a light lunch); the berryish, oaky 2009 Tempranillo; and the smooth 2009 Syrah.

Between the wonderful wine and the beautiful surroundings, Ken and I loved Pheasant Valley. Flavor and relaxation…organically.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Organic grapes at Pheasant Valley. ©Laurel Kallenbach

See my other blog posts about agritourism on “Laurel’s Compass”:

 

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

 

Bath + Brindley’s = A Brilliant British B&B

Brindley's boutique B&B, in Bath, England, is just 10 minutes' walk from the city center. Photo courtesy Brindley's

Having a charming, quiet place to stay while visiting a bustling city can really make a visit special, and Ken and I were lucky enough to get to spend our nights in the town of Bath at Brindley’s,  a boutique B&B with French flair.

Although this classy Victorian family house is an easy walk from the center of Bath, Brindley’s is in a residential neighborhood with old trees and gardens, so it’s a welcome retreat from traffic and tourists.

The bedrooms—there are just six, ranging from spacious to cozy—are furnished with an eclectic mix of French-style furnishings, and the beds are luxurious with fluffy duvets. We stayed in Room 5, a smaller third-floor room that had a king bed that could be separated into two twins. Our bathroom was compact, but efficient.

Breakfast at Brindley’s

Before a full day of sightseeing, a good breakfast is essential, and the fare at Brindley’s was delightful—and a welcome change. Yes, you can order the traditional English breakfast featuring local, free-range eggs and bacon and sausage from pigs raised on what I’m sure is a pastoral Wiltshire farm not many miles away. Yet it’s a bit radical to find smoked salmon with scrambled eggs or eggs on toast as alternative breakfast entrée choices.

Bon appétit! Photo courtesy Brindley's

Other delicious breakfast surprises: hot croissants and pain au chocolat instead of the obligatory toast, and fresh berries or other fruit.

With some Edith Piaf songs playing in the background and a few French decorating touches, breakfast was playful and invigorating…which was just what we needed before a full day of viewing Bath’s grand, but stoic, Georgian architecture.

Happy Home away from Home

If all this weren’t enough, Brindley’s is owned by two exceedingly friendly couples, who are also très helpful with offering sightseeing and dining advice. And the B&B is also eco-conscious. In addition to the usual policy of not changing the towels and sheets each day, they’re good about recycling, serving seasonal local foods, and providing REN toiletries (free from fragrances, synthetic colors, parabens, sulfates and other harmful ingredients).

We truly appreciated having a calm place to relax—one with character, and Brindley’s has that aplenty. This lovely B&B gave us the perfect excuse to come back for a restorative nap one afternoon when our feet were tired after visits to the Circus, the Assembly Rooms, Royal Crescent, the Museum of Fashion, and Bath Abbey.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S. If you’ve stayed in a small B&B or hotel that made your trip special, share your find by clicking on “Reply” below.

For more information about visiting Bath, England, browse Visit Bath.

We loved staying in the residential neighborhood of Pulteney Gardens in the city of Bath. Photo courtesy Brindley's

 

Santa Fe Casita: A Southwestern Eco-Retreat

Few cities capture the essence of a region like Santa Fe. This 500-plus-year-old small city displays its history, multiculturalism and artistic flair boldly, making it a thrilling destination year-round.

The living room in Casa Juniper has a lovely wood-burning fireplace. Photo courtesy Hacienda Nicholas

When you stroll the streets of Santa Fe, you absolutely know you’re in northern New Mexico. The sweet, piney smell of burning juniper fills the air; people dress in clothing influenced by Navajo and Pueblo tribal patterns. You encounter public art everywhere. And most unique to this part of the world: the buildings are adobe—an architectural style literally built from the land because adobe is a mixture of earth, clay and straw molded into bricks and dried in the desert sun.

Santa Fe has a number of fabulous hotels, but on our most recent stay, my husband and I discovered an outstanding option: a casita, or “little house.” Casa Juniper is part of the Alexander’s Inn Vacation Rentals—associated with two delightful eco-friendly B&Bs: the Madeleine Inn and Hacienda Nicholas.

Staying in a casita is such a great way to go in Santa Fe. We were about eight blocks from the central Plaza—a little farther than the pricey hotels—but we had a large, 100-year-old adobe home with a wood-burning horno fireplace and banks of panoramic windows all to ourselves. It was our home away from home.

The wood and windows at Casa Juniper increase its Santa Fe flavor.

We learned the benefits of having a spacious casita our very first day. An early November storm blew through the area, which made walking around town daunting. So, Ken and I bought some groceries at the Whole Foods and hunkered down at Casa Juniper. While the wind howled outside, we lit a fire and sipped fair-trade coffee and organic tea that was stocked in the casita’s fully equipped kitchen.

Sheltering from the storm, we felt so lucky we weren’t huddling in a generic hotel. Instead, we fully experienced Santa Fe’s aura without stepping into the frozen rain. Inside the sturdy adobe walls, we felt safe. And because our casita had a gorgeous living room, we invited friends to join us. Amid Southwestern rugs on the saltillo-tile floors, wood beamed ceiling, and art from native and New Mexican traditions, we sat out the storm in style and comfort. Best of all, we felt like locals.

Queen bedroom at eco-friendly Casa Juniper

Fortunately, the Southwestern sun came out the next day—and we had plenty of time to explore Canyon Road’s art treasures, the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, and the city’s world-famous restaurants. After days of exploring Santa Fe, Ken and I came home to our spacious bedroom—a split-level retreat with closable wooden doors and a queen-sized four-poster bed.

In addition to loving Casa Juniper, we felt good that our accommodations incorporated sustainable, earth-centered policies, such as:

  • Eco-cleaners with no chlorine bleach, dyes or perfumed detergents
  • Towel and linen program that reduces water consumption
  • Energy- and water-efficient appliances
  • Recycling program for glass, paper and plastic
  • Xeriscape gardening (irrigated with graywater) grown with nontoxic fertilizers
  • Stationary that’s printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink
  • Energy-saving compact-fluorescent light bulbs
  • Low-flow faucets, showers and toilets

    Casa Juniper's bathroom is decorated with Mexican tiles.

  • Soap, shower gel, lotion, shampoo and conditioner dispensers to eliminate the waste of small plastic amenity bottles
  • Filtered water rather than bottled
  • Reusable glass or plastic cups instead of paper cups
  • Rooms painted with no-VOC paints

In addition, the owner of the green Madeleine Inn and Hacienda Nicholas also runs the all-natural Absolute Nirvana spa. Its Indonesian décor is exquisite and relaxing.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor