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:

 

Luxury Comes Naturally at Maine’s Inn by the Sea

Inn by the Sea, set spectacularly on the Maine coast, is an eco-friendly hotel.  Photo courtesy Inn by the Sea

No matter how comfy you are at Inn by the Sea—nestled under the bed’s organic wool comforter, getting a Maine Mud Mask in the LEED-certified spa, or dining on lobster and sustainable seafood in Sea Glass Restaurant—the outdoors will always beckon.

This über-green inn manages to balance unpretentious, luxurious interiors with the most spectacular of nature’s settings: the Maine coastline of Cape Elizabeth just outside the city of Portland.

When my husband and I visited in June, we were impressed by our beautiful suite—but we were immediately compelled outdoors.

To reach the azure ocean, which is alluringly visible from nearly every window of the resort, we walked down a charming boardwalk through the wooded riparian habitat of the bird sanctuary. There we found ourselves on the white sand of Crescent Beach—ideal for strolling and building sandcastles. We explored the craggy rocks at one end of the beach; there were beach chairs for flopping in.

Friendly for Families—and Doggie Divas

Dogs can stay in the lap of luxury at Inn by the Sea.            Photo courtesy Inn by the Sea

Inn by the Sea rolls out the red carpet for kids and pets. Two-bedroom suites and cottages offer space for families, and there are special children’s educational programs, including one that focuses on butterflies (this area is Monarch habitat). The restaurant takes special measures to assure quick service and a menu with kid-friendly options that are healthy and appealing.

I thought people were pampered at Inn by the Sea, but canine companions are true VIPs (Very Important Pets) here.

They stay free, and they get special water bowls, L.L. Bean dog blankets, handmade treats at turn-down, and info on the area’s leash-free beaches and dog parks. The pooch can even get a half-hour, in-room massage—I kid you not!

To top it off, the restaurant serves canine specialties. Menu options included Meat “Roaff,” Doggy Gumbo with Angus beef tips, and K-9 Ice Cream topped with crumbled dog bones.

Lobster Chowder at the Sea Glass restaurant is just one of the fantastic seafood offerings on the menu.   Photo courtesy Inn by the Sea.

Sustainable Seafood

It was a delight for us grownups to dine at Sea Glass restaurant. We went two nights in a row, and our palates were well-pleased. Executive chef Mitchell Kaldrovich coaxes fabulous flavors from the neighboring farm produce and from coastal seafood. I thought his Pan-Seared Scallops on local Asparagus Risotto was to die for, but the following evening, the chef trumped that with his signature Maine Seafood and Lobster Paella.

Though the dessert choices are divinely tempting, we saved room for s’mores, which you can make while gathered with other guests around the resort’s fire pit in the evenings. We relaxed by the fire and watched dusk turn to night. Some of the other guests’ kids entertained us with another old-fashioned pastime: rolling down a grassy hill.

The spa is LEED certified, meaning it was built with eco-friendly materials. It also offers natural treatments.              Photo courtesy Inn by the Sea

Spa by the Sea

I did tear myself away from the glorious outdoors long enough to try the spa, a green-built sanctuary.

I opted for the Mermaid’s Massage, a stress-melting mixture of Swedish massage with aromatherapy oils, and special hand and foot focuses. The spa is a place of rest, furnished in quiet earth tones. Guests can use the sauna and 360-degree shower anytime during their stay.

In case I haven’t convinced you about Inn by the Sea’s charms, here are a few of its many eco-sensitive green initiatives:

  • Heated with biofuel
  • Carbon neutral through an extensive carbon offsetting program
  • Equipped with water-saving dual-flush toilets, faucets and showerheads
  • Property includes 5 acres of indigenous gardens certified as wildlife and butterfly habitat.
  • Pool water is solar heated; has a salt/chlorine cleansing system
  • Recycled rubber floors in the cardio room
  • The spa is LEED certified (use of recycled and natural building materials, including cork floors in treatment rooms and low-VOC paints, wall coverings and sealants )
  • Sheet and towel program donates to environmental programs that protect the endangered monarch butterfly
  • CFLs and LED lights save energy
  • Nontoxic cleaning and laundry products keep air pure
  • Dining room offers a farm-to-fork dining experience that utilizes local, seasonal produce. Seafood menu choices focus on sustainably fished species.
  • Inn by the Sea sponsors annual beach cleanup events and participates in area Plant a Row for the Hungry program.

 —Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally published August 2012

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

An Eco-Elegant English Hotel, “Downton Abbey” Style

Tylney Hall Hotel in Hampshire, England © Laurel Kallenbach

If you love the early-20th-century glamour depicted in the hit PBS television series Downton Abbey as much as I do, England’s Tylney Hall—an elegant country manor house turned hotel—might be your cup of tea.

Just an hour southwest of London, Tylney Hall Hotel and its 66 acres of Hampshire woodlands, lakes and gardens welcome you in aristocratic style—after all, the estate shares a similar history with the fictional home of Lord and Lady Grantham. Both were the extravagant homes of earls, and both served as soldiers’ convalescent hospitals during WWI.

In fact, the film location for Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, is just 21 miles away. Though you can tour Highclere Castle (read “My Pilgrimage to the Real Downton Abbey”) you can’t spend the night: it’s privately owned. All the more reason to stay at Tylney Hall Hotel, which features luxurious old-fashioned bedrooms with contemporary bathrooms, indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, and fine dining.

Living Like an Aristocrat at Tylney Hall Hotel

The grand staircase at Tylney Hall Hotel © Laurel Kallenbach

My husband and I felt like Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley—minus the elegant clothes and jewels—during our two-night stay at Tylney Hall.

Our room was upstairs, and every time I regally walked down the walnut-lined staircase with its carved banisters, I felt sure that Carson the Butler was going to offer me a glass of sherry.

Far less portly and stodgy than old Carson, the staff was congenial and ready to answer our questions or requests. They brought us canapés and pre-dinner drinks on silver platters in Tylney’s ornate Italian Lounge, which easily could have qualified as a Downton Abbey set.

Our large bedroom had a private balcony with views over a redwood-lined lawn and the green woodlands. Just below, was a croquet set all assembled and waiting; we didn’t play, as we were far too busy strolling through the formal Italian Gardens. Beyond that, we went rambling down to Boathouse Lake, where we could sit on a bench and gaze at the red-bricked mansion framed by foliage.

Ken and I walked through Tylney Hall’s entryway and felt like a lord and lady. © Laurel Kallenbach

The spa at Tylney Hall Hotel uses organic aromatherapy and Kirsten Florian products and features a full spa menu of massages, wraps, facials and more.

I enjoyed the Garden of Dreams treatment, which started with a gentle exfoliation followed by a lavender-oil massage with warm stones and finished with a relaxing scalp and facial massage. It was the perfect antidote to the stress of our first day of driving on the left side of the road!

Eating Like a King

In the Oak Room restaurant (open to the public with a reservation), we enjoyed a white-tablecloth, candlelit dinner accompanied by soft music played on the grand piano. I enjoyed a filet of sole with caper sauce and new potatoes with green beans. Another bonus was a selection of French wines from just across the Channel.

Both breakfast and dinner are served in Tylney Hall’s Oak Room restaurant © Laurel Kallenbach

The Oak Room’s menu emphasizes local fare, which was at its best on the cheese board that I chose for dessert. I selected a brie, a blue, a cow’s-milk cheddar, and goat cheeses—all from no more than 50 miles away.

Posh, Yet Green

Owned by Elite Hotels, Tylney Hall incorporates a number of sustainability efforts into its operation to ensure that this historic mansion will save this piece of the environment for centuries to come.

In summer, you can play croquet on the Tylney Hall Hotel lawn. © Laurel Kallenbach

  • Recycles glass, paper, batteries, light bulbs
  • Composts food waste
  • Encourages towel and sheet reuse in all guestrooms to save on laundry water.
  • Is investigating the conversion of cooking oil into bio-diesel (to run estate machinery and company cars).
  • Purchases sustainably grown food and locally produced consumables, including Fair Trade beverages.
  • Maintains a zero landfill-waste strategy.
  • Minimizes electricity and heating to unoccupied floors and wings during periods of low occupancy.

England’s Tylney Hall Hotel offers everything a Downton Abbey fan like me could ask for: a luxurious historic house, acres of lush woodlands to explore, and eco-sensibility. Now that’s style of the Downton Abbey kind.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more Downton Abbey posts:

Other travels in England:

I loved our stay at Tylney Hall Hotel. Our room was in the center above the right arch. © Laurel Kallenbach