Farm holidays have been in vogue for quite a few years, but with the global financial crisis still looming, some travelers are trading the state-of-the-art far-away holiday destinations for the more affordable closer-to-home locations.
Whether it's Helge's old flour mill near the Baltic Sea, in northern Germany, or Paula's Bauernhof (farm) in Bavaria, in the south, farm holidays are a very popular travel choice in Germany for families with kids and a welcome alternative to staying at a hotel.
"The guest figures are rising and the feedback we're getting is very positive," Anna Stute, spokesperson of the Farm and Country Tours Agency in Berlin, explains. "Farm vacations are a little bit like back-to-the-roots, and most kids just love it. Even the kids who can't imagine life without a computer usually have a great time."
Away from the hustle and bustle, farmers offer a wide range of accommodations to families on the farm or in specially built guest houses that are fully equipped with everything a family might need, from baby cots and high chairs to microwave ovens and barbecues, from washing machines to coffee makers. Families pay to stay at the farms; rates vary (some farms are four-star) but are comparable to vacation-flat rentals and more affordable than medium-priced hotels.
"There are three things that are important to our guests," says manager Helge Siems. "We serve nature lovers and eco-conscious travelers. We offer a wide range of activities suitable from toddlers to grandparents. Having said that, most families simply come here to enjoy the somewhat slower pace of the countryside and the feeling of being close to nature."
There are about 1,300 full working farms across the country that offer "the real countryside" adventures.
Number one on the families' hotlist are the working farms that offer a wide range of pets - ducks, geese, chickens, goats and, of course, cats and dogs - inviting the kids to make friends with the animals and help the farmer feed them.
"The cow shed is often the most exciting adventure for the kids," Paula Wagensohn, the owner of Paula's farm in Achslach, Bavaria, tells ABC News. "Kids may not like to clean up their rooms, but they just love to help clean the stable of manure, they enjoy feeding the cows and most of all, they really love to bottle-feed the baby calves. That's the greatest attraction for sure."
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"Sometimes this is where the kids learn firsthand that the milk does not grow in the supermarket," she says.
There are also many farms that offer ponies and horse riding tours to their guests.
Another attraction, certainly for the adults, is the homemade bread, sausages and cheeses that some of the farmers offer as well as homemade wine and fruit juices.
Paula says her guests come from all walks of life and very often it is not only the kids who help with the work on the farm, but the daddies, too.
"It depends what they do for a living. The typical nine-to-fiver often enjoys a bit of physical work. Most of our guests love to give us a hand when we make our hay."
There are the toys for boys: The farmer lets them drive the tractor and in the evening, when the work is done, they sit outside by a camp fire and roast Stockbrot (stock bread), which is a nice way to relax at the end of a busy day on the farm.