Traveling with Kids | Switzerland’s Sleep in the Hay
A few week-ends ago, the kids and I did something really amazing. We booked places to sleep in a Swiss barn for the night. Yes, a barn. And not just any barn but a barn shared with goats.
A friend told me about the schlaf im stroh (sleep in the hay) program in Switzerland and I was immediately interested. There are over 200 working farms that participate in this program that allow tourists to visit and literally sleep in the hay in their barns. There are strict rules and regulations put into place by the Swiss government which means you are usually in pretty good hands and have clean toilets, showers and sometimes even a kitchen close by.
I decided to try it out for the first time and wanted the closest possible farm. I found one that was a little over an hour’s drive from the kid’s school so I picked them up at lunch on Friday and off we went.
We made our way to the city of Lugano before the GPS guided us up a steep mountain, first through little villages then eventually along narrow mountain roads with vertigo inducing cliffs down the sides. Asphalt became dirt and stones and I was starting to get a little nervous as to where in the world this farm was.
Eventually we arrived at the Alpe Zalto farm which is situated at about 1000m. We drove through a series of gates (to keep the animals in) and along a long narrow road before arriving at the farmhouse. The views from this place were absolutely stunning. We felt like we were on top of the world.
The owner Aldo warmly greeted us and showed us to our “hay bed” in the barn. At that point I still hadn’t realised that we would be co-sleeping with a herd of snoring goats.
After getting settled in and admiring all the cows, donkeys, goats and chickens (and an embarrassing little tumble into some stinging nettles for me…ouch!) we decided to take a little hike up the mountain so that we could enjoy the evening sun and check out some even more impressive views.
We made our way up through the woods until we found a clearing with views on Lago Lugano and all the surrounding mountains. There was also a herd of wild looking horses that kept us company while we enjoyed our time up there. The kids were in heaven feeding and patting the horses. I was in heaven at watching my kids so happy.
We arrived back at the farm around 6:45pm and the kids explored around and we played some cards until dinner was served outside at 7:30pm (we were the only guests). We dined on delicious cheeses made at the farm, sliced meats, cream of pumpkin soup and risotto ai funghi made with porcini found in the local forest. It was all delicious and it was wonderful to sit outside and watch the sun set over the mountains.
At about 8:30 it was starting to get dark and chilly so we all got dressed in our pyjamas and got into our sleeping bags. It was so cosy and we all loved the fact we could see out the barn door to the mountains from our loft hay bed. It was at this point that we noticed (heard) that we were co-habitating with a barn full of goats. One sounded like a 90 year old smoker and some others were big snorers. The kids were in heaven!
We thought we would play cards for a few hours but all ended up asleep by 8:45pm. Mountain air does that to you.
In the end sleeping on the hay was actually really comfortable. It got chilly during the night but we remained toasty warm inside our sleeping bags. Only thing that made me a bit nervous was the tarantula sized spider that was sharing our sleeping space (I periodically woke and shone my flashlight on it to make sure it was still there during the night).
At 6am the farmer came in to let the goats outside and the kids were up and out in minutes to help feed the animals and explore around.
After some breakfast with freshly squeezed milk and fresh bread with jam we headed back out on the paths for another walk. From this particular farm there are well signaled walking trails heading in every direction. Everything from short walks to day long hikes.
The kids were so enthusiastic and excited during our entire stay at this wonderful farm. They might have even said something along the lines of it being just as fun as our trip to Japan (what!?). They refer to it as their “barn and breakfast” adventure.
The price is 12 Swiss francs per child (10euro/ $13) and 22 Swiss francs for adults (18euro/$23) for sleeping in the barn and breakfast. The dinner was charged separately and was about 12 euro per person including first course, second course, dessert and beverages. I couldn’t help thinking that these farmers must return to their warm electricity-filled houses in the evening and laugh themselves to sleep that there are people that actually pay them to sleep in their barns. But in the end everyone is happy…farmers and barn sleepers!
The season is usually from June to the end of August and all you have to do is send them an email or give them a ring to make a reservation. For a full listing of participating farms and what they offer check out the program’s catalogue here .
The farm where we stayed offers not only sleeping on the hay but also sleeping on mattresses in a dorm type of room (it costs a little more). I’m thinking next time we go I’ll opt for the mattress and let the kids enjoy sleeping on the hay. Some farms offer meals, horse rides and workshops among many other activities.
So if you find yourself in Switzerland and want to experience real farm life you must try this out. We will definitely be returning to Alpe Zalto next summer as well as other shlaf im stroh farms in Switzerland. Now tell me, would you ever sleep in the hay?