It often begins with one of those rather competitive dinner conversations between old mates somewhere in a city in South Africa:
“You won’t believe where we spent ten days last winter.”
“Where? Turkey? The Seychelles?”
“No. Wait for it. We were on a farm in the Karoo.”
“What? For ten whole days? Must have driven you bonkers.”
“Best family holiday we’ve had in years.”
“It didn’t cost a fortune. We bonded as a family. We learnt stuff – a lot of stuff. The kids ran wild. We read books. We became friendly with our hosts. I can even fire up a donkey.”
“That sounds rude. How do you fire up a donkey?”
The new ‘farmstay convert’, who normally surrounds himself with all the latest hi-tech gear and gadgetry available on-line and at his nearest mall, proceeds to tell the others how he chopped wood, stacked it below a boiler and heated up water for a delicious shower in an isolated cottage in the depths of a biting Karoo winter.
A winter that often comes complete with snow.
That short little conversation carries many nuances. The guy who stayed on a farm in the Karoo comes across as someone who:
(a) Goes against the popular flow and follows his own heart by choosing an unusual rural destination for his precious family holiday;
(b) Shows that he sets great store in the complete ‘family experience’ when it comes to vacation time;
(c) Learnt something about life and possibly himself in the process. Definitely knows how to ‘fire up a donkey’ for starters;
(d) Is comfortable enough with his own company and that of his family to spend 10 days on an isolated spot with them;
(e) Has picked up the attractive aura of an outdoorsman by choosing a farmstay;
(f) Has re-connected with his old fashioned roots, simply by still being able to lurk somewhere for hours with a good book;
(g) Has forged an enviable bond between Urban Man and Rural Man by befriending the farmer and his family;
(h) Is now a dynamic word-of-mouth marketing machine for the concept of farmstays – and that Karoo farm in particular.
In fact, when he travels overseas with his family from now on, chances are he’ll probably choose a more intimate and authentic holiday experience, possibly even opting for a farmstay in the country concerned.
And the kick of it all is, once you get into the groove of a farmstay, you’ll probably be hooked. Especially when you compare costs between an agri-tourism experience and a three-star hotel in the city centre. Where the owner doesn’t know your name.
They’ve been running farmstays in Europe for decades. On some farms, you’re invited to pitch in and help out. On others, you’re encouraged to keep out of the way and just admire the agri-rhythms from a safe distance.
Sometimes you stay with the family in the farmhouse, others offer separate accommodations. Italy, especially, takes pride in its agriturismo and a rural Italian experience is right up there with time spent in the south of France.
Australia caught onto farmstays in a big way over the past 20 years and is today a world leader in the field. But the Aussies have traditionally been able to market ice to Eskimos anyway.
Australia will fly you to outpost stations, put on wine tastings, make you part of a sheep muster, feed you like a king and massage you into a quivering pulp at their in-farm health centre.
And it’s all done in that easy, natural Aussie way. G’day, mate.
The USA has finally seen the value of agri-tourism and outfits like Hand Made in America are helping farmers develop tourist-friendly products.
South Africa is a natural choice for farmstays. And where better to visit a farm than in the wide-open countryside called the Karoo?
- For more on Karoo farmstays, see The Magic of a Karoo Farmstay and 12 Fabulous Karoo Farmstays;
- Thanks to the Karoo Development Foundation for providing background material and guidance on this series of articles on farmstays.