Not much more than a decade ago, the notion that pampered city dwellers would want to spend weekends camping out on farms would have sounded ridiculous. But when Dutch entrepreneur Luite Moraal tested his concept for a farm-stay program in Holland in 2003, luring guests to comfortable, furnished tents at beautiful family farms, the idea turned into a huge success. Last year Moraal expanded to the United Kingdom, launching the Feather Down Farms collection with eight properties in the English countryside and one in Scotland—and he hopes to bring the concept to the United States. Some of the farmers Moraal has teamed up with are still shocked.
"I knew there was an audience for a 'less is more' travel experience," Moraal says. "There's so much luxury these days—better sheets, bigger flat-screen TVs—that it's hard to be impressed. I wanted to give people something different, something that would take them back in time." Moraal had another goal as well: to help small farmers by giving them a way to earn additional income.
On a spring afternoon, I drive to Hampshire to check out the camping experience at Manor Farm, the first property in England to join Feather Down Farms. I take with me some friends from London—Edward, Mariah and their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Gwendolyn—since Moraal's tents are designed to appeal to families. As soon as we arrive at the farm, about an hour's drive from London, the animal-loving Gwendolyn snaps to attention, running across the pasture, past flowering pear and apple trees, to a small pen of chickens and sheep. She finds a pile of hay, pulls a handful and sticks it through the fence at the sheep.