Agritourism: Life on the Farm
The phenomenon of agritourism—or agrotourism, or rural tourism, or farm stays, or guest ranches, or farmhouse B&Bs, or whatever you choose to call the chance to stay on a working farm—has been growing in Europe since the 1990s.
Some pecorino and a bottle of the red wine grown on those very vines in the background at La Rignana, an agriturismo in Tuscany's Chianti region.Even if you can't afford your own farmhouse in Italy—or Provence, or Ireland, or Andalusia, or wherevever your European dream countryside resides—staying on a working farm, or agriturism, gets you up close with the rural heart of Europe. You don’t even have to milk the buffalo for mozzarella or stomp the grapes for wine (though sometimes being a temporary farm hand for fun is an option).
I've stayed at loads of agriturismi: vineyards and dairy farms, barns amid olive groves and frescoed villas next to horse stables. Sometimes you just hole up for the night in a B&B converted from a farmhouse. Sometimes you actually stick around to do volunteer work for a few days (a week, two months, a year), as with the worldwide WWOOF network. Sometimes, just renting a cottage in a rural area where sheep wander past your window is enough to count.
Each has offered a different experience of European farm life for a fraction the cost of a hotel; double rooms run anywhere from $20 to $200, but usually around $40 to $70. Many agriturisms require a three-night minimum stay (for some, a week). Roughly half accept credit cards.
Sometimes you get four-star luxury and satellite TV. Sometimes you’re a straw's-width from sleeping in a stall. Most, though, are just what you'd expect from a farmhouse B&B: simple comforts, solid country furnishings, and rural tranquility—barnyard noises excepted.
Ideally, the property's owners live on-site and are farmers who derive the bulk of their income from agriculture, using this new-fangled form of tourism merely to help make ends meet. In some countries, the practice of agritourism is highly regulated; in others, it's a wild west of opportunities, and you have to pick carefully to avoid spending the night in a barn atop a pile of hay (unless that's what you're looking for).
The hosts tend to be a sight friendlier than your average hotel desk clerk. Some invite guests to dine with them, family-style, in the farmhouse. One shepherd let me stir a bubbling pot of sheep's milk to help it on its way to becoming pecorino cheese. Vineyard owners love to crack open bottles of their best to guide you through the finer points of wine tasting. Here's how to put yourself in that picture of rural European life.
How to find a farm-stay
A country-comfy room at La Rignana, an agriturismo in Tuscany's Chianti region.
Every local tourist office in agriturism-packed countries like Italy, France, and Ireland has lists of local farm stays. Few are listed in English-language guidebooks.
There are usually agriturismo guides available in local bookshops—in Italian, French, or whatever the local lingo is, of course, but the important bits are easy enough: addresses, prices, and phone numbers, photographs, and icons for private baths, swimming pools, etc.
You can always just look for the ubiquitous agriturismo signs on country roads, pointing down rutted dirt tracks toward a farmhouse set among the vineyards, but if you want to find and book a few before you leave, here are the best resources for finding farm stays all across Europe.
General | Austria | Benelux | Eastern Europe | France | Germany | Greece | Italy | Scandinavia | Spain / Portugal | Switzerland | UK
Agritourism.net (www.agritourism.net) - Reps properties in Italy, United Kingdom, France, and Spain (plus Hawaii, Canada, Israel, and Australia).
EuroGites (www.eurogites.com) - The European Federation for Farm and Village Tourism is a links page to the biggest and more shall we say "official" farm stay organizations in 22 European countries (most have Web site links, a few just contact info and email).
ECEAT (www.eceat.nl) - The European Center for Eco Agro Tourism is a Dutch concern selling guidebooks to agritourism establishments across Europe. The Web site is largely in Dutch beyond the homepage, but there are sample of 140 listings in France, 30 in the Netherlands, and ten in Belgium on tap (and the details are easy enough to savvy).
WWOOF: The World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org) - If you really want to get your hands dirty, sign up with this collection of volunteer organizations in 20 countries around the world, from Australia to Korea, Ghana to the US, Italy to Nepal (plus "independent" members—countries with only a handful of opportunities). Each is devoted to supporting and helping teach about organic and environmentally sound farming techniques. You join the WOOF chapter in the country where you'd like to work (for roughly $10 to $40), it sends you a list of farms that would appreciate a helping hand in exchange for room and board. You must be willing to put in six hours of work six days a week to see how the farming half lives in a variety of nations.
Urlaub am Bauernhof in Österreich (www.farmholidays.com) - Sprechen Sie farmstay? Some 3,400 farms across Austria do, and you can search them out here.
Belgium: Gites de Wallonie (www.gitesdewallonie.net) - The site ain't pretty, but it works—well, works with Wallonie (the Walloon is the southern half of Belgium).
Belgium: Flemish Federation for Country Tourism in Flanders (www.hoevetoerisme.be) - Plattelandstoerisme in Vlaanderen covers rural tourism in the other, Flemish half of Belgium, with 275 guest rooms in farms and villages across Flanders.
Luxembourg: Association pour la Promotion du Tourisme Rural au Grand-Duché du Luxembourg (www.gites.lu) - The "Association for the Promotion of Rural Tourism in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg" is the longest association name for the smallest country on this list. Spiffy site, but a bit tricky to find the farms; what you do is click on "Online Catalog," then "Advanced Search," then choose "Holiday Apartments," and finally "Farm-style lodgings" (after all that, you'll need a vacation).
Netherlands: Dutch Farm Holiday Bureau (www.dutch-farmholidays.com) - Going Dutch down on the bouwerie (that's Dutch for farm).
Rural Bulgaria (www.ruralbulgaria.com) - A bit over 80 rural accommodations alternatives in Bulgaria. Only one is classified as a farm, but many others are at least in the countryside. And get this: that farm? It costs a whopping €65 per week.
Croatia: Istria Country Tourist Association (www.istra.com/agroturizam) - About 30 farmstay joints on the Istrian Peninsula (the northern strip of Croatia's coast, up near Italy).
Czech Republic: Holidays in the Countryside (www.prazdninynavenkove.cz/en) - Czech out these great Czech agritourism resources. There are about 25 in Bohemia, another 25 farms in the Highlands, four around Prague, 10 in the Blueberry Fields, and a handful in the Moravian wine country. Click on "Show more details" button next to any of these properties, you get a plethora of information about it.
The Baltics: Baltic Country Holidays (www.celotajs.lv) - About a dozen choices in each of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
Lituania: Countryside Vacation in Lithuania (www.countryside.lt) - Farm accommodations acrtoss Lithuanaia, with beds starting at 20lt ($9) and rooms from 50lt ($22). The site helfpully allows you to search by activity—"for horse lovers," "for fishermen," "walking tour," "I want a bathhouse," etc.
Poland: Polish Country invites (www.agritourism.pl) - More than 600 Polish farmstays on offer, with rates starting as low as 20 zloty ($8.70).
Romania: ANTREC (www.antrec.ro) - Rural Romanian resources.
Slovakia: Slovenský zväz vidieckej turistiky a agroturistiky (www.agroturist.sk) - Crummy site, but can be of some use. First of all, it's only available in Slovakian—click on "Zariadenia" to see a list of all the chalets, farms, hotels, and pensions in the catalog. Unfortunately, it seems to be just that and no more: a web version of a printed catalog. All you get is a thumbnail photograph alongside a name, address, and telephone number for each property. No "more info" button to click, no Web sites or links included, and, sadly, no prices listed. Still, it's better than nothing, I guess.
Slovenia: Tourist Farms in Slovenia (www.slovenia.info/touristfarms) - Links to some 200 Slovenian tourism farms.
Slovenia: Tourist Farms Association (www.farmtourism.si)
Bienvenue a la ferme (www.bienvenue-a-la-ferme.com) - Lists a full 5377 farms across France, but that covers all aspects of agriturism, from staying on the farm to simply sampling the wares. Click on "Search By: Criteria" to get to the bit where you can limit your listing to ones that provide accommodations in several categories (camping on farms, bed and breakfast, rural cottages, guest farms, and stopover or holiday hostels).
Gites de France (www.gites-de-france.fr) - Mostly self-catering holiday cottages, but there are farmhouse B&B and camping opportunities hidden amongst all the options.
Urlaub am Bauernhof (www.landtourismus.de) - Official site; here's the trick: the English section only lists properties that have translated their descriptions into English. If you stick to the German-language version, though, you get three or four times as many listings.
Bauernhof Urlaub (www.bauernhofurlaub.de) - Lots more options, but site only in German.
Guest Inn (www.guestinn.com) - A self-described network of "Selected Traditional Ecotourist Accommodation" and other rural lodgings in Greece. It covers guest houses, apartments, cottages, and even some hotels, along with agriturismo options, such as renting an entire farm house on the island of Corfu starting at €42.
Ireland: Discover Ireland (www.discoverireland.com) - The official tourism site lists nerly 550 farm vacations in the "Accommodations" portion of the "Plan Your Visit" section.
Ireland: Irish Farm Holidays (www.irishfarmholidays.com) - B&Bs on working farms.
Ireland: Town and Country (www.townandcountry.ie) - One of the largest and most reputable B&B networks, with many in the countryside and on working farms. Covers both the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland Farm and Country Holidays Association (www.nischa.com) - The name says it all.
Unofficial Sites (www.agritour.net, www.agriturismo.regione.toscana.it, www.agriturismo.net, www.agriturismo.com, www.agriturismo-sicilia.it) - Unofficial, yes, but still darned useful, and more likely to be in English.
Italy Farm Holidays (www.italyfarmholidays.com) - U.S. broker for Italian farmstays.
Finland: Lomarengas, Finnish Country Holidays (www.lomarengas.fi) - Dozens of Finnish Farm Holidays (plus a heap of Holiday Cottages).
Iceland: Icelandic Farm Holidays (www.farmholidays.is) - 120 farms across the country, plus the ability to book whole vacation packages (throw in a rental car with your farm stay, etc.)
Norway: Visit Norway (www.visitnorway.com) - In the Accommodations section, in addition to "Farm holidays" you'll find such enticing options as "Fishermen's shack" and "Mountain lodges. "
Sweden: Bo Pa Lantgard (www.bopalantgard.org) - Very well done site for Swedish farmstays, plus it's got a picture or a small child positively surrounded by pigs. You can't beat that.
Spain: ASETUR, Asociación Española de Turismo Rural(www.ecoturismorural.com) - Over 4,000 farmhouses across España. Actually, the info isn't located at this site. This is mainly a set of links to regional agritoursim Web sites through the country.
Spain: RAAR, Red Andaluza de Alojamientos Rurales (www.raar.es) - Farmstays and rural accommodations in the ever-popular Andalucia region of Spain.
Spain: Galicia Turismo Rural (www.turismo-rural.com) - Lots of farms in the Asturias and Galicia regions.
Portugal: Privetur - Associação Portuguesa de Turismo no Espaço Rural (www.turismorural.pt) - An association representing hundreds of agriturimos, rural guesthouses, farm cottages, rurual hotels, and countryside and village rentals across Portugal, from North Minho to the Algarve and from the Azores to the Madeira Islands.
Portugal: Solares de Portugal (www.turihab.pt) - Click on "Quintas e Herdades" for 34 (generally elegant) farms, or on "Casas Rústicas" for 17 rural homes.
Ferien auf dem Bauernhof (www.bauernhof-ferien.ch) - 250 farms across Switzerland, all bookable here.
Die Landwirtschaft (www.bauernbieten.ch) - Good stuff, but all in German (not even French and Itailan options, which is odd for polyglot Switzerland).
Turisme Rural (www.tourisme-rural.ch) - More than 280 properties in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
Schlaf im Stroh (www.abenteuer-stroh.ch) - The "Sleep in the Straw" network of 200 barns is a bit different agritourism idea. You're not such much staying on a working farm as you are sleeping in the barn while cows are grazing at higher pastures for the summer. The stalls are clean, as is the hay upon which you sleep (with the aid of some wool blankets). I, for one, love it, and the price (about $20) can't be beat.
Visit Britain (www.visitbritain.com) - If you go to the "Where to Stay" section of Britain's official tourism web site and search for a hotel, one of the criteria you can pick is "farm." It'll spit back numerous responses (though only a sample of 80 if you don't specify something else besides "farm" on the search page, such as village, town, or city or a price range).
This article was last updated in January 2008 . All information was accurate at the time.
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