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Moo moo! It's family-friendly Switzerland
Moo moo! It's family-friendly Switzerland
Rinny Gremaud

GENEVA - Have you ever thought about the fact that a couple with three children is at a numerical disadvantage and faces the risk of munity every day?

Imagine what would happen if the kids started forming alliances – that would be the end of parental authority. Did you know that just two very determined children could bring two already weakened adults to their knees?

Most of the time though, parents can count on the support of institutions such as child care and schools to help them control the threat of seditious movements. That is why – even though few parents will admit it – they regard the idea of school holidays as a nightmare.

Like in all dictatorial regimes, parents must provide food and games to guarantee a control of the minds. During holidays, however, to ensure such a control, you need to find news ways of entertaining the bored – and thus potentially rebel – offspring. Every day!

A form of realpolitik consists in going to the same holiday resort every year, a resort with a kids club, of course, such as Club Med. A closed environment specially designed to make children happy, and in which you can leave all your cultural or esthetic ambitions at the door – in exchange for a professional babysitting service.

“Families are customers with very special needs,” explains Roger Seifritz, director of the Reka Holiday Villages in Switzerland. On top of activities, we provide a completely secure environment. Each apartment comes complete with children’s games, our villages have outdoor leisure facilities and at least one indoor pool, which is great in case of bad weather. All of this contributes to lower parents’ stress levels. What’s more, in such an environment, it’s easy for children to make friends, and play amongst themselves.”

For those who prefer hotels – and notably to avoid cooking meals – Swiss hotel association Hotelleriesuisse has developed a “KidsHotel” label: family-friendly hotels with play rooms and playgrounds, a babysitting service and activities. There are 30 such hotels across Switzerland, mostly in the 4 and 5-star category.

Some parents have too much pride, are too boho, individualistic, urban or just reluctant to the idea of receiving orders from their offspring and thus might have been horrified by the aforementioned holiday options. For them, Le Temps has tested something else, something trendy yet exotic – “slow” holidays: farm stays.

Our daring and courageous journalist took three children – 2, 4 and 6-years-old – and, with the help of another consenting adult, went to spend a few days in the Swiss countryside: Utwill, in the Thurgau canton, northeast Switzerland. To make things easier, they went by train.

Rolling around in the mud..

On paper, it could have been like an episode of Survivor, but it turned out to be surprisingly nice. First of all, Intercity trains in Switzerland have special “family wagons,” which are equipped with games to play with. Three and a half hours later: we had arrived and no one had once whined, cried or thrown up. According to a six-year-old girl: “The train is better than the car, we can do more stuff. In the car you’re not allowed to do anything and it takes longer.”

Willi and Margrit Burher’s farm is a small farm that mostly grows apples. It’s a lovely typical half-timbered building, located between Lake Constance and the forest. It’s a ten-minute walk to the lake via a little country lane.

The apartment is self-contained and spacious: 4.5 rooms with cupboards filled with games for all ages. The kitchen is clean and better equipped than most kitchens in this country; the whole place is immaculate and the discreet eighties decor adds an exotic touch. The front yard has a barbecue and a trampoline. The children are allowed to feed the rabbits, scare off the ducks, take the llamas for a stroll (no joke, they do have llamas) and milk the cows at 5:30 p.m. sharp.

“We’ve been renting out this apartment for 20 years now,” says Margrit Buhrer.

The place is rented 20 weeks per year – between March and October, typically for 700 Swiss francs per week. "When my children were small, I didn’t have much time to take care of the guests," she says. "Today, I enjoy seeing other people’s children and showing them around the farm and its surroundings. But I’ve learned to set some clear ground rules to avoid turning this into a babysitting service.”

The Buhrer family is going to stop working with cows. They only own 14 of them, not enough for it to be worthwhile financially. Also, Willi needs to be up at dawn every day to attend the cattle. The money is better and it takes far less out of them to just rent the apartment.

“For small and middle-sized farms, agro-tourism is an important source of revenue and an interesting option,” says Oliver Von Allmen, head of Switzerland Agro-tourism.

The kids don’t care about all this. What they do care about is the joy of seeing a tractor up close, running around in a muddy vegetable garden or chasing cats. They almost forget to bother their parents in the process, who might just be able to enjoy a good book in the shade of an apple tree.

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