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 a bit extra 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: The per night fee is economical and includes breakfast. 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

  • Many Sleep-in-Straw farms are accessible by bicycle. Eurotrek 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

Originally posted in July 2013.

Read more about my travels in Switzerland:

 

Swiss Farms: The Source of World-Famous Cheese

Ask a Swiss person about the flavor of a cheese—especially the local specialty—and he or she will invariably say it depends on what the cow (or goat) is eating and where she’s eating it. Grass? Flowers? Hay? In the high-mountain pasture? Down in the valley?

The aging room at Champasse farm in the French-speaking Valais region of Switzerland. The large wheels are raclette cheese, and they’re labeled “Euseigne” (on the edge) because the farm is located near the town of Euseigne. ©Laurel Kallenbach

To truly appreciate the cheese on your plate, you need to go to the source: the farm. I visited two in the French-speaking Val d’Hérens, (the Hérens valley, famous for its black fighting cows) for a glimpse at the farm life.

Champasse Dairy

Swiss dairy farmer, Francois Morend-Gaillard ©Laurel Kallenbach

Claudia and Francois Morend-Gaillard raise diary cows about 12 miles south of Sion at Champasse Farm, near the village of Euseigne.  Their 20 red-and-white Montbèliard cows supply the milk for 14-inch wheels of handmade raclette cheeses, a regional specialty. (Read my post about how raclette is served and eaten.)

Claudia and Francois are among a new generation of farmers who are boosting their farm income with “agritourism.”

They’re also committed to sustaining themselves through farming and to caring for the land in the way of their ancestors.

Claudia Morend-Gaillard serves Champasse Farm’s cheese with fresh baguette. ©Laurel Kallenbach

They invite visitors (reservation required) to see how and where they make the cheese by hand, sample the farm’s products (including raclette, goat cheese and tommes, a smaller cow cheese), enjoy views of the lush valley, and possibly meet their three formidable Hérens cows. In 2011, they hope to build a tasting room and small restaurant at the farm.

Visitors can buy cheese from the farm for a special price of 18 CHF per kilo. The raclette is also available at shops in Sion.)

The couple make great hosts. Claudia speaks fluent English; Francois, who speaks some English, is a chain-smoking jokester who exchanged the life of a policeman for working in the mountains, tending cows, baling hay and perfecting age-old cheese-making skills. Francois looks out of his cluttered dairy shed at the sun-drenched peaks at the other end of the valley. “Holy smoke!” he quips. “Mountains!”

Ossona Farm and Gîtes

A few miles outside of the village of St. Martin is another working farm—one with historic cabins/cottages for overnight stays and a restaurant that specializes in farm cuisine made primarily from its own produce.

A cow at Ossona Farm, overlooking the Val d’Hérens. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Ossona is a private/public cooperative project between St.-Martin and farm managers Daniel Beuret and Maria Pires. Originally a farming village, Ossona became a ghost town in the 1960s as young people left this isolated area. Recently, the village of St.-Martin bought the land from and held a contest in 2003 to turn Ossona, including its 200-year-old buildings, into an agricultural project.

Ossona farmer Daniel Beuret ©Laurel Kallenbach

Daniel and Maria won the chance to fulfill their dream of creating a working farm and dairy while receiving financial support to operate the gîtes tourism.

Guests stay in rustic but beautifully situated historic houses for the week or weekend. There’s hiking throughout the alpine valley, and overnight guests can also help out with farm chores such as milking goats, making jam, helping make hay or harvesting fruit from the orchards.

“This is an ideal way to preserve farm life for future generations,” Daniel says over an espresso. (He speaks a little bit of English, but is much more comfortable with French.)

Ossona’s gîtes (country apartments) sleep four and include a kitchen, bathroom, and free WiFi. There are also nightly dorm accommodations for backpackers.

Gites with a view: Overnight guests can stay in Ossona’s historic houses. ©Laurel Kallenbach

To reach Ossona, you drive the gravel road from St.-Martin and hike downhill for about 30 minutes to the farm. (Daniel will pick up your luggage for you if necessary.) Or, you can take a bus to St.-Martin and then hike all the way to the farm.

Meals are separately priced, and I can vouch for the wonderful home cooking. (In fact, the restaurant is so popular that the day I visited a hiking club of about 30 people were having a leisurely lunch there.)

I enjoyed a garden-fresh salad and a cassoulet (baked ham, potatoes, and cheese) eaten outdoors on the sunny patio.

There’s nothing like mountain air and a farm setting to stimulate the appetite.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally published in October 2010.

Next up: Where Ricola cough drops come from (hint: from Switzerland!)

Read more about my travels in Switzerland:

Ossona’s homegrown bounty was featured in this fresh salad. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Drive Oregon’s Tasty “Fruit Loop” in the Hood River Valley

Oregon’s fruit basket, the Hood River Valley, overflows with bounty: fruit orchards, vineyards, mountain vistas. Just an hour’s drive east of Portland, the area is ideal for an agritourism getaway. (The town of Hood River is also a mecca for windsurfing and kiteboarding.)

Hood River County’s Fruit Loop is a drive through orchards and farms at the foot of Mt. Hood. ©Laurel Kallenbach

My first taste of Oregon fruit was delivered years ago in a box of apples sent as a gift by my boyfriend’s parents—now my in-laws—who live in the town of Hood River. Each apple, nestled in its cardboard bed, was an emissary from this Land of Plenty. Biting into a crisp McIntosh, Pippin or Gravenstein, I could taste the verdant valley from a thousand miles away.

A pesticide-free pear along The Fruit Loop ©Laurel Kallenbach

Planted with 15,000 acres of fruit trees, the Hood River Valley extends from the base of Mt. Hood, an 11,235-foot volcanic peak, to the Columbia River. This 20-mile swath of fertile land claims the titles “Apple Center of Oregon” and “Winter Pear Capital of the World.”

During summer and fall, roadside stands along sections of Highways 35 and 281, known as The Fruit Loop, offer fresh-picked fruit—peaches, pears, apricots, apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, melons and blueberries—along with canned and preserved fruit, nuts, pies and baked goods.

Fruits of the Valley

Whenever we visit in summer, my husband and I love to ramble the farm-lined roads, stopping at fruit stands when a colorful sign beckons us to sample the fruit du jour. Over the years, we’ve wandered many portions of The Fruit Loop, a self-guided 45-mile path of scenic highway that leads through the valley’s orchards, vineyards, forests and farmlands. Along the way, we usually stop at one of the many emerging vineyards for a wine tasting. (Pheasant Valley Winery is one of our favorites, and its vintages are made from organic grapes.)

Picking strawberries right from the field is an economic way to get the freshest, ripest fruit. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A charming alpaca farm is fun for kids—and for knitters like my mother-in-law who craves alpaca yarn. During mid-summer and fall, the fruit stands are packed with just-picked fruit and veggies, as well as eggs and homemade jams and pies. At McCurdy Farms, pears grow inside bottles attached to the tree branches to create Eau de Vie de Poire (pear brandy in a bottle).

For a hands-on fruit experience, we often spend a morning at one of the many organic “U-Pick” fields, where ripe cherries, apples, pears and berries are just waiting to be plucked from branches and bushes.

Fresh Oregon strawberries ©Laurel Kallenbach

This summer, our whole family went out and picked buckets of blueberries—then we went home and cooked blueberry pancakes for lunch, which we topped with more blueberries.

Somehow fruit always tastes better and fresher when you’ve picked it yourself.

You can find a map of the self-guided farm-stand tour at the Portland airport or in restaurants and stores around the town of Hood River. More information is also available at the Fruit Loop website.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted September 7, 2013

Views of Mt. Hood make the The Fruit Loop a dramatic drive. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Village-to-Village Walking in the Cotswolds: Day 1

Street on Market Square, Moreton-in-Marsh, the Cotswolds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Street on Market Square, Moreton-in-Marsh, the Cotswolds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Motivation: After three major surgeries over three consecutive years to remove a noncancerous disease from my hip, I wanted to celebrate my recovered mobility by doing a walking tour.

The Inspiration: While recovering from my last surgery, I visualized walking from village to village in England’s rural Cotswold Hills. The green landscape there is filled with farmland, woodland, and villages dating to medieval and Tudor periods. Now it was time to make my dream come true!

The Company: My husband and I signed up with Cotswold Walks, a locally based company that offers a variety of long and short self-guided walking tours in the region. We chose the “Best of the Cotswolds” itinerary because it offered shorter distances (from 3.5 to 8 miles per day) with more time to go at a leisurely pace. And the villages looked stunningly gorgeous! All Cotswold Walks include accommodations in small inns and B&Bs (breakfast included), an up-to-date guidebook showing your route with detailed instructions, and transfer of one suitcase per person from inn to inn.

The Timing: August 2017, exactly one year after my hip replacement.

Day 1: Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold

Hiking through the fields of barley ©Laurel Kallenbach

Hiking through the fields of barley ©Laurel Kallenbach

After two nights adjusting to the time change from Colorado to England, Ken and I headed out on the first leg of our journey: the 7.5-mile trek from Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold.

My heart was pounding, and I hadn’t even started walking yet. I was nervous about beginning with such a long walk. How tough would it be? Would we get rained on? We set off from the Market Square, made our way down the sidewalks and along a busy road, and then we turned off into tranquil farmland on The Monarch’s Way trail.

Old Shop 2 in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

Old Shop 2 in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

So we began navigating through field gates and kissing gates (?!) and across pastures inhabited by sheep and cows in England’s lush countryside.

Our guidebook, which included Ordinance Survey maps, was easy to follow. A typical instruction was: “With the field gate on your right, continue up the hill. Pass through another field gate and past Lower Keeper’s Cottage. Turn left (east) before the cattle grid and follow the Heart of England trail alongside the field boundary to a field gate.”

We met locals walking their dogs, as well as other Cotswold Walks hikers on the paths. (We could identify the latter because they were carrying the same white guidebook that we had, and when we struck up conversation, we found that they were all fascinating people.) Soon I was relaxed and smiling. I felt free and unburdened: I carried just my hiking poles, my iPhone, a notebook (because that’s essential gear for a writer) and a daypack with rain wear and snacks/water. And Ken did most of the navigating.

We ate lunch at the Coach and Horses pub in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

We ate lunch at the Coach and Horses pub in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

By the time we reached the picturesque village of Longborough, I was more than ready to rest my feet and stop for lunch at the Coach & Horses Pub and Inn. Lots of locals were congregating at tables or around the bar, catching up on the town gossip and enjoing a pint. We ordered bowls of soup and glasses of Cotswold Gold Ale, made at Donnington Brewery, the next village down the road.

Hollyhocks in Longborough, a village in the Cotswolds ©Ken Aikin

Hollyhocks in Longborough ©Ken Aikin

We chatted with a couple of old-timers and we giggled at some of the bar’s signs: “Save water; drink beer” and “Nobody notices what I do until I don’t do it.”

A lively group of eight young women celebrating a baby shower rounded out the crowd.

Refreshed, we set out for the second half of the walk: first admiring the gardens and dry-stack stone walls of Longborough. We climbed up a hill with a huge muddy patch and looked back to see a manor estate in the distance. Think Downton Abbey.

We ambled through the farm of yet another country estate, across a ridge with views for miles, and then up a steep incline before arriving at a tunnel through dense trees. We felt like we’d walked into the set of The Hobbit.

This tunnel through the trees was a thrill to walk through. ©Laurel Kallenbach

This tunnel through the trees was a thrill to walk through. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At last we descended into Stow-on-the-Wold, right at tea time, and the tea shops along Sheep Street were packed with tourists; the Old Town Square was filled with buses and cars. (In medieval times it would have been filled with sheep, as wool was big business.)

I was bushed and couldn’t wait to get to our hotel, the Old Stocks Inn, where I took off my hiking boots, sank onto the bed, and elevated my feet—just to let the blood flow the opposite direction.

But I did it! I survived the first day of walking in the Cotswolds—my dream trip. My hip felt great; my left foot with its arthritic toe did OK. And after half an hour of rest—and a cup of tea in the room—I felt restored enough to walk around the Square. I was particularly interested in St Edward’s Parish Church, a typical Norman church with a stone, crenellated tower. Its north door is flanked by ancient yew trees, and it looks like it’s straight out of The Hobbit or a medieval fairy tale.

Celebrating my first day of walking at our destination, Stow-on-the-Wold. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Celebrating my first day of walking at our destination, Stow-on-the-Wold. ©Ken Aikin

We were ravenous, and the historic Queen’s Head Pub in Stow-on-the-Wold was ideal. The sign was painted with red-haired Queen Elizabeth I’s portrait and was furnished in Tudor style with rough, blackened beams; stone and wood floors; hops hanging from the ceiling; mullioned windows, and an old man in his cap reading book while his dog yawned beneath the table.

Cotswold ales on tap at the Queen's Head pub ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cotswold ales on tap at the Queen’s Head pub ©Laurel Kallenbach

I ordered a Moroccan Chicken with Rice with Hummus and Harissa, and for dessert Ken and I shared Plum Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream. We’d earned the calories!!

Then it was off for an early bedtime; luckily The Old Stocks Inn was just across the street.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor…and walker

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

More about my travels in England:

We walked past this farmhouse outside Moreton-in-Marsh ©Laurel Kallenbach

We walked past this farmhouse outside Moreton-in-Marsh ©Laurel Kallenbach