Just as bushy beards and Hunter boots have captured the pastoral fantasies of the urban fashion tribe, a taste for field and stream is driving the travel avant-garde. Nowadays, rural pleasures — whether it’s picking your own asparagus or indulging your inner ranger — have given rise to a new breed of back-to-the-land destinations.
Membership in Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (wwoofusa.org), an organization that matches ‘‘wwoofers’’ with farms where they’re expected to work for room and board, rose last year by almost 10,000. And they’re not just college kids. Jane Eckert, founder of the national agritourism registry Ruralbounty.com, says that in the last few years there’s been a dramatic surge in people seeking a ‘‘simpler life.’’ Whether in reaction to economic uncertainty or as a desire to go back to their roots, Eckert says, ‘‘they are coming to the countryside and wanting to live the life they can’t have in the city.’’
Along with the agritourist has risen a new kind of country squire. James Manley, a banker, always dreamed of owning a ranch; this spring, he’ll open the Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana on 6,600 acres of pristine countryside. And John Pritzker, who started as a teenager in his family’s Hyatt hotel business, is diving back into hospitality, not with what he calls an ‘‘urban box’’ but with 500 acres in the fruit basket of California. When his redo of the Carmel Valley Ranch opens this summer, guests can learn everything from organic gardening to beekeeping. ‘‘It’s summer camp without the discipline,’’ he says.
Considering that half of American travelers say they’re looking for ‘‘cultural authenticity,’’ according to the research firm PhoCusWright, it’s not hard to see how fetching eggs from the coop seems thrillingly real, even revelatory. As Luite Moraal, the founder of the farm-stay group Feather Down Farms, says, ‘‘People grow up thinking milk is cold.’’
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Agritourism is gaining ground coast to coast. At Feather Down Farms (above;featherdown.com), a company that started in Holland and recently came stateside, guests can help stock the hayloft and go bird-watching. The Amee Farm in Vermont (ameefarm.com), a renovated farmhouse on a homestead that dates back to 1793, includes an organic vegetable garden and an old general store.
Out west, there’s a mini-explosion of places where travelers can rough it (within reason). The Ranch at Rock Creek (theranchatrockcreek.com) incorporates luxury cabins into its back-in-time atmosphere. Opening this summer, Carmel Valley Ranch (carmelvalleyranch.com) will let guests make s’mores over a campfire. And in Montana, the Resort at Paws Up (pawsup.com) is adding tents with wood floors and fireplaces.
Stay for the Food
Building a weekend around one great meal is a familiar concept in Europe that’s slowly taking hold here. Riverstead (above) in Chilhowie, Va., is the guesthouse component of the Town House restaurant (townhouseva.com), where the chef John B. Shields came directly from the Chicago gastro-temple Alinea. At the Inn at Serenbe in Georgia (serenbeinn.com), guests can cook alongside visiting star chefs.