When camping on farms makes sense
We find out why camping holidays on farms across Europe are so popular with the Dutch, and foreigners who aren’t afraid of the rain.
Tens of thousands of Dutch holiday makers are expected to enjoy their summer holidays without even the slightest touch of luxury this summer.
While most European vacationers are pampered at commercial camp sites and hotels with swimming pools and entertainment laid on, tens of thousands of Dutch people prefer to vacation at an ordinary farm.
At a cost of between 10 to 20 euros (13 to 27 dollars) per day, holidaymakers can pitch their tents and park their trailers or camper vans at one of 2,000 farms of the European Free Recreation Farm Network.
This network was founded in 1970 by Dutch farmer Wim van de Berg. Van de Berg, who has a cow farm in Meerkerk, a village near the city of Utrecht, still heads the organisation.
His small private initiative has grown into the Free Recreation Foundation SVR (www.svr.nl), which has a staff of five working at Van de Berg's camping farm De Victorie.
"My own farm has been flooded in recent days due to the bad weather," Van den Berg told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Tuesday, "but we still get just as many reservations for our farm campsites as usual."
Farms which meet the foundation's criteria may register with the network and tourists who want to stay at the farms contribute to the foundation.
The SVR Foundation has more than 150,000 contributors, which means that some 400,000 people annually camp on its farms in the Netherlands, France, Germany and several other European countries.
Families pay 10 euro annually to join the network. When they want to book a vacation, they call the SVR who makes a reservation for them at one of the 2,000 farms connected to the network.
"We usually get families with small children who want to enjoy a simple holiday without all the commercial extras. They want a safe spot to pitch their tent and they want clean water to cook and wash. Our farmers can provide this. They also offer a bit of a personal touch. We give vacationers a cup of coffee when they come and go. It's very informal," Van de Berg says.
Farm camping is ideal for
"During the day families go bike riding or sightseeing in the area. In the evening they enjoy the peace and quiet of the farm. It's quite different from the crowded commercial camp sites. If you do not want luxury, we can give you a great holiday for a very low price," he says.
"Most of our customers are extremely loyal. They come back each year until the children are about 10 years old. Then they start going to commercial camp sites, but once the children are old enough to go on holiday by themselves, the parents return to our farm camp sites. And 10 or 15 years later when the children are married and have children of their own, they come back to our farm camp sites," he adds.
Whereas ordinary tourism can involve crime and nuisance, Van de Berg speaks very highly of his holidaymakers. "We have never had any problem in the past 37 years," he says.
Dutch law allows farms to operate camp sites for up to 15 families per farm. But the SVR Foundation wants to expand this to 25. Their political lobby has been successful in some areas, but faces tough opposition elsewhere.
"We wage an ongoing battle with the commercial camp sites," explains Van de Berg. "They claim our camp sites are unfair competition. This is not true. Our holiday product is incomparable with that of the commercial camp sites. We cater for a different kind of holidaymaker."
Van de Berg, who was appointed several years ago as the Queen's Adviser on Free Recreation in the Netherlands, is critical of the Dutch government's decision to decentralise the laws for free camping.
On 1 January 2008, the national camping law will be abolished. Each local authority will then decide whether they will allow free farm camping and to what extent.
"I am afraid this will result in lack of transparency," Van den Berg says.
Meanwhile, business is going very well, he says.
"An increasing number of foreigners are discovering our services. I just completed a reservation for a German and a French couple and last week we had Swedish students. They are not afraid of the rain."
3 August 2007
DPA / Expatica
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