Agriturisms in Switzerland
Swiss farm stays from $22 per person
The Gîte des Vergers offers two apartments (from $41 per person), four B&B rooms (from $37 per person) and a small shared dorm (from $26 per person) in the Valais Region southeast of Lake Geneva (www.gitedesvergers.ch).Staying on a working farm in Switzerland can range all the way from lovely modern apartmetns in the country to old-fashioned dorms on old-fashioned Alpine farms to the terrifically fun—and cheap ($22)—Schlaf im Stroh experience (called "aventure sur la paille" in the French-speaking regions) where you actually sleep on straw in a barn stall (don't worry; the cows are out to pasture of the season and the stalls have been thoroughly cleaned).
Many local tourist offices have lists of local farm stays.
Sadly, few are listed in English-language guidebooks—but there are often agriturismo guides available in local bookshops—in German, 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 signs on country roads, pointing down rutted dirt tracks toward a farmhouse set among the vineyards.
If you want to find and book a few before you leave, here are the best online resources for finding farm stays all across Switzerland. Not all sites are available in English, but the pertinent details are usually pretty easy to figure out:
Resources just in Switzerland
Ferien auf dem Bauernhof (www.bauernhof-ferien.ch) - More than 200 farms across Switzerland, all bookable here.
Die Landwirtschaft (www.bauernbieten.ch) - All sort of Swiss agricultural tourism experiences, including 50 farm stays under the "Vacation" rubric.
Turisme Rural (www.tourisme-rural.ch) - More than 280 properties across Switzerland.
Schlaf im Stroh (www.schlaf-im-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 $22–$33) can't be beat. [Just ignore the "login" box it tries to make you fill out; click "cancel" and you're in the site; if what I just wrote makes no sense when you get to the site, then good—it means they finally fixed this bug.]
ECEAT (www.eceat.nl) - The European Center for Eco Agro Tourism is a Dutch concern selling guidebooks to agritourism establishments across Europe. Its sister site www.groenevakantiegids.nl (all in Dutch, but the details are easy enough to savvy) lists about 30 in Switzerland.
Become a farmhand; sleep for free - If you really want to get your hands dirty, sign up to become a temporary farmhand through one of two volunteer organizations: WWOOF (www.wwoof.org) and Helpx (www.helpx.net)...
The concept behind agritourism (or farm stays, or gîte rural, or Bauernhof, or farmhouse B&Bs, or rural tourism, or whatever you or they want to call it) is simple: you spend the night as a guest on a working farm. From there, though, the concept flies off in many directions.
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 and Helpx networks.
Sometimes, just renting a cottage in a rural area where sheep wander past your window is enough to count.
Ideally, the property's owners live on-site and are farmers who derive the bulk of their income from agriculture, using this newfangled 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 want—I've done it, it's called Schlaf im Stroh, and it's fantastic).
Double rooms at a farm stay operation run anywhere from $20 to $62 per person, but usually around $35 to $50 (though if you forgo breakfast you can often save up to $10 per person).
Many farms in Swizterland don't do the B&B thing just for a night or three, but are willing to rent out an apartment or cottage sleeping two to six people for $290 to $930 per week (up to $1,350 for larger places in high season).
I've stayed at loads of agriturisms: vineyards and dairy farms, barns amid olive groves and frescoed villas next to horse stables. Each stay has offered me a different experience of farm life for a fraction the cost of a hotel.
Many agriturisms require a two- or 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.
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.