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Rural Visits Can Make for Moo -ving Experience : Vacations: Beyond cows and other critters, farm stays offer a glimpse into country culture.

April 25, 1993|JACK ADLER

Farm stays have become so popular among travelers that farms, like hotels, are now being monitored and classified in some countries. Categories generally are based on such factors as size of the farm, whether bathroom facilities are private or shared, and how many meals are included.

Farm stays allow travelers to experience more of the countryside than they would on a city vacation, while offering greater opportunities for personal contact with locals, including the host family. Farm stays marketed in the United States are primarily to English-speaking countries such as Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. However, farm stays can be set up in other countries, as well.

"More people are asking about farm stays now than in the past," said Ada Brown, head of Seaside Travel, a Long Beach agency that books such tours. "They're particularly good experiences for families with young children, who are generally fascinated by all the farm animals."

In most cases, a car is essential to reach farms; public transport may not be available or convenient.

Some farm stays are built-in elements of a travel package, while others may be optional experiences. Farm stays are often possible components of self-drive packages that permit travelers to plan their own itineraries. Besides farmhouses, accommodations in these kinds of packages could include combinations of farmhouses and country homes, bed and breakfast inns or standard hotels. More structured motor-coach tours may include a farm stay as part of the tour, but are more likely to use standard urban accommodations.

"These programs are especially popular in Great Britain and Ireland, where travelers can stay at more than one farm in an area of their choice," said Jim Murphy, president of Van Nuys-based Brendan Tours, which offers farm stays in both countries. "Farm stays are an inexpensive way to meet people and get a real feel for country life. We don't spell out how much of daily farm activities that travelers can see, but the opportunity to watch farm operations is available."

Farm stays in Great Britain are generally categorized, by a private marketing company, as having either three or four stars. On a three-star farm, guests share bathroom facilities with the residents of the farm; there are no separate bathrooms for guests, though some rooms have wash basins with hot and cold water. The more expensive four-star farms have separate bathrooms for guests, which are usually shared by no more than four guests. Some four-star properties offer rooms with private baths for an extra $6 per night.

For a three-star farm in Great Britain, Brendan Tour's price is $52 per night for a double and $65 for a single; for a four-star farm, it's $59 and $72, respectively.

An example of a three-star property in England is the Elmtree Farm, a 250-year-old working dairy farm about 10 miles from Gloucester. The farm can accommodate up to six guests, who share two toilets and two showers. Prospect Farm, a four-star property, is a working farm about 15 miles from York. There are five rooms for seven guests; two of the rooms have private bathrooms, the others have wash basins.

In Ireland, tour operators use farms approved--though not classified and rated--by the Irish Tourist Board. Among them is The Hall Green, a 16th-Century farmhouse just outside the town of Lifford in County Donegal. Brendan's rates--depending on the time of year--range $44-$54 double, $73-$92 for single travelers. Most of the farms in Ireland have private bathrooms, which guests share.

Travelers can get a list of prospective farms from tour operators (local tourist offices can be another source). A full breakfast is almost always included in the daily farm-stay package, but usually there is an extra charge for dinner, which has to be set up in advance.

Farm stays in Australia and New Zealand are more oriented toward just one farm, with more attention given to the opportunity to watch day-to-day farm activities. Generally, these farm stays tend to be pre-booked in the United States, especially for Australia, where the distance between farms is much greater, thus there tends to be less flexibility in booking.

In Australia, tour operators use the three-, four- and five-star classifications designated by local marketing associations, according to Gary Bryant of SoPac Travel Marketing in Los Angeles, which books farm stays in both Australia and New Zealand.

As with farms in Great Britain, a three-star farm usually means sharing bath facilities with the farm family. A four-star property offers either separate bath facilities for guests or an in-room bathroom. A five-star farm indicates a much larger place such as a good-size ranch or cattle station, with rooms with private baths. Farms are not classified in New Zealand.

Contact travel agents or Brendan Tours at (800) 421-8446 or SoPac Marketing, (800) 445-0190.

To determine farm-stay opportunities in individual countries, travelers should check with travel agents or foreign government tourist offices.

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