In Bulgaria, the owners of Deshka House create a very welcoming atmosphere. Lubomir Popiordanov
An Interview with Klaus Ehrlich, General Secretary of EuroGites
Is Rural Tourism the same as Agro-Tourism? Rural Tourism refers to all kinds of tourism services offered in rural areas, provided by local residents. The intention is that the economic benefits largely stay in the surrounding community. Agro-Tourism is part of this kind of vacationing, usually offered on a working farm (at least part-time farming). In all cases, the client may anticipate a personal welcome by his host family, an experience of a real countryside and rural culture, tasty home-made food featuring local products, and comfortable but not necessarily luxurious accommodations.
Food at a country inn in northern Greece tastes as good as it looks. Guest Inn Greece
Who is interested in taking a rural vacation today? Some years back, rural and agro-tourism vacations were clearly domestic, that is most people who took them were residents of the country itself. It focussed on inexpensive vacations for families with children, but this has changed considerably in the past decade.
With most of us now living in cities all over the world, there is a significant interest in searching out undisturbed nature, peaceful surroundings, good tasting fresh food, open-air activities, and genuine local cultures. People are taking short-breaks too or spending a few days in different villages or on different farms instead of staying in only one place for an entire vacation.
A country experience in Neudegghof, Austria is delivered with gracious hospitality by the owners. Farm Holidays in Austria
There is an increasing international demand as well, mostly from experienced travellers with a comfortable income. This is already creating new and interesting tourist products based on the specific assets of each region and village. Older travellers now make up one-third of rural tourism clients, and with this market looking to increase, EuroGites is focusing more product development and member training on meeting the needs and interests of the mature traveller.
Country walking is inspiring while staying near Watermouth, Devon in the UK. FarmStayUK
What kinds of activities can visitors do during a rural stay? The great advantage of rural accommodations over any other kind of tourist lodging is the personal contact between the client and his host, who knows all about the characteristics and possibilities in his region. This allows for activities and action almost “on the go”.
Visitors may join in cultural day celebrations like this one in Lithuania. Lietuvos Kaimo Turizmo Asociacija
Visitors cycle through Belgian villages like Mohiville. H. Roland
Most frequently in demand are light sports (hiking, biking, horseback riding) or simply exploring the region by car, relaxing in the garden, at a pool, or sipping a wine on the terrace of a local bar. Health and wellness travel is another area that is developing in some regions, especially where there are natural hot springs. The visitor may also learn about local recipes, original food products, and may participate in cultural events such as local celebrations or festivities. While this list is common all over Europe, it is precisely the local variations that make rural tourism so attractive. Which country or region in Europe is the best organised for rural tourism? Rural tourism was traditionally based on domestic demand. As a result, very different concepts and approaches developed in parallel all over Europe, and only a few countries have so far made a serious attempt to present themselves specifically to the international market. At a national or regional level, strong organisations specializing in rural or agro-tourism exist in France, Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom. Italy also has an excellent agro-tourism framework. The new EU member countries have made great efforts … good examples are Romania and Bulgaria with similar methods of making visitors welcome throughout the country, and Latvia where development has been strongly combined with a business understanding of the activity.
A wheat festival celebration in Alba, Romania provides memorable photo opportunities. Cristian-Alexandru Catana
What encounters are most memorable during a rural stay? Urban visitors spending more than just a week-end in some rural accommodation are sure to have a story to tell when they return home. This starts with tasting unknown food or often homemade drinks. But probably the most impressive experience is to see in reality where the food products, only known as packed units in the supermarket shelve, really originate: oranges or almonds on the trees, real cows and how they are milked, sheep with wool and how it is sheered or transformed into clothing, cheese or wine production, to name a few.
A meal at Deshka House in Bulgaria is served family-style. Lubomir Popiordanov
Other stories to tell will be based on cultural differences: time has another meaning in rural areas, mobile phone or internet access may not exist, personal conversation is still at the heart of human relations instead of electronic communication. And for sure, almost all visitors from urban background will be surprised by the open and heartily welcome they receive from anybody in the local village or at the farm.
Interior of a countryside villa in Spain. Red Andaluza de Alojamientos Rurales
Artemios Guest House on the Greek Island of Santorini. Guest Inn Greece
EuroGites or European Federation of Rural Tourism, www.eurogites.org, is a professional organization representing 36 associations from 29 countries across geographical Europe and Israel. With an overall number of more than 100,000 establishments, it represents about 15% of European tourism overall. This ranges from the rural Bed & Breakfast and self-catering in private homes or farms to small family-run rural hotels and guesthouses.
As a professional organization, EuroGites participates actively in all discussions and structures within Europe that relate to tourism. It is also responsible for the European Congress on Rural Tourism, a bi-annual event first launched in 2003.
Current member countries are Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.
Image above: Can a farm stay in the Logar Valley of Slovenia’s Kamnik Alps get any more spectacular than this? Assn of Tourist Farms of Slovenia