Like many expat families, we think we fly too much. Though some of these trips – for work – are unavoidable, the rest we do gladly to keep in touch with family and friends, whether for weddings, birthdays, or general catching up. There is, however, our annual summer holiday usually to a warmer land which comes in addition and which this summer we decided could be achieved for a change by car. One of the joys of living in continental Europe is that travelling to somewhere within driving distance actually gets you quite far away – even to other countries if you so choose. That’s how we ended up spending a week at a farm in Bavaria and a week at 2,300m in the Italian Alps. They were glorious destinations for very different reasons, but it’s the Urlaub auf den Bauernhof (holiday on the farm) phenomenon I want to write about here – the mountains will be a story for another time.
Many Berliners with children – and other German city dwellers I assume – go on holiday to farms. In the olden days, these farms dotted around the country would have been working farms in pretty spots with a few rooms to rent. In more recent years they have evolved into designated, often quite sophisticated, holiday apartments in converted barns attached to a quaint farm yard and stables with cows, rabbits, horses, and ponies for the children to pet and ride on. And based on our recent experience in Bavaria, it’s no wonder such destinations are popular. For city kids (and parents), they offer the perfect holiday.
For our week, we chose Staller Ferienhof. This lovely place in Chiemgau is close enough to Chiemsee to enjoy the beautiful lake but not so close that it’s overrun by tourists. The farm is owned and by Tom, who inherited the then working dairy farm from his uncle about 15 years ago, and his wife Doro. Leaving corporate jobs to dedicate themselves into making the farm a new type of business, they have spent the last two years renovating much of the glorious heritage-protected barn and surrounding land themselves. Now the renovations are (nearly) complete and the stylishly rustic holiday houses are fully booked through the peak seasons, Tom and Doro dedicate themselves to making their guests’ stay as pleasant as possible – whether this be cooking up a tasty storm for breakfast, firing up the wood stove for evening pizzas by the natural swimming pool, or taking children out for rides on the tractor. What adds to the charm is that it is a lovingly run family business. In addition to Tom and Doro, you see Tom’s parents taking an active part in keeping the show on the road.
Admittedly, this was not quite milking the cows before dawn and mucking out the stables, but it was a week in a wonderfully safe and pleasing countryside spot, where the children could roam freely from the trampoline in the garden to the swimming pool to the go-carts to the rabbit hutch: such were the immediate outdoor experiences for them. And then there was the shared games room filled with Tom’s old books and toys, plus a few new ones for good measure. From the moment we arrived, it was clear that driving to our destination had in no way limited the holiday pleasure – you can sunbathe and dip in the pool in Bavaria just as well as Mallorca. We’d happily have another holiday there and save ourselves two more flights!