PR Unsurprisingly, my husband Tom isn't too keen on the idea of staying in a hay hotel. He gets hay fever. As a city dweller his affliction has never been so literally challenged as when I suggest romping off to the countryside to sleep in a barn. I'm keen to have a weekend of rural adventure after months surrounded by concrete and after much persuasion Tom agrees to join me, armed with antihistamine.
Our destination is a hay hotel a couple of hours north of Berlin, in a village called Mankmuss in Brandenburg. There are around 30 hay hotels in Germany. The "hotel" part of the name is grandiose - I feel - as the concept is more basic: Like camping, but indoors.
Both eco and affordable, they tick the right boxes for green and thrifty holidaymakers. For Germans they're the ideal way to "staycation" while for us Brits they offer a cheap but soulful holiday abroad - you couldn't get closer to the countryside unless you slept in a field. No wonder hay hotels are now opening in Switzerland and Austria, too. It turns out to be the German equivalent to a one-horse-town: Arriving at Gutshof Mankmuss it feels like we're trespassing; the huge hof - a square of grass surrounded on all sides by barn buildings - is eerily deserted.
It's still, and beautiful, with hollyhocks everywhere and the only sound is of birdsong until we ring the farmhouse doorbell and a giant dog hurtles from the garden barking maniacally. The dog is followed by a petite lady called Martina who is the farm - and hay hotel's - owner.
We soon learn we're the only guests that night, which pleases us as next we hear the hay hotel can sleep 20 - and is communal. The "hotel" is up some steep metal stairs on the first floor of a huge barn. It's very clean - much cleaner than I'd imagined a barn would or could be. The floor is swept immaculately and a 50s-retro table sits in the middle, hangers are dotted about for clothes, the wooden eaves are cobweb-free, and then there are raised platforms either side Our bed for the night. What hits me is the smell.
It smells like a barn. Not of dung, but just very farm-y. Tom and I stare about us and try to pretend that it's completely normal to come on a weekend away and sleep on hay. We do this all the time. Martina shows us the rest of her farm - the toilet is in a barn on the other side of the hof, there is a small kitchen, dining area, games room and a charming library complete with homemade cards for sale.
The holiday cottages are popular with families, the hay hotel attracts all sorts of people - groups of friends, school trips, couples like us, and horse riders, who can leave their horse in the downstairs area of the barn while they sleep upstairs. Martina tells us hers is the only one in Brandenburg, and was inspired by a hay-hotel holiday she went on years before. Having the entire farm at our disposal is delightful it's huge and we have fun checking out the pigs, chickens and sheep.
We also get sole use of the campfire, which is where we end up in the evening with two playful kittens frolicking about and the dog sleeping next to us.
We've brought enough supplies with us to feed an army and Martina looks on with amusement as we sip wine from plastic glasses, cook a feast on the fire and sit down in the hof to a civilised dinner-for-two. It's a balmy evening and completely idyllic. I could do this every night. Later, we wander to the village bar, the Alte Schule. The drinkers outside go silent and stare as Tom and I sit at a small table in the middle of what is basically a field.
The friendly owner brings us table wine, blankets and says if we come back in the morning she'll show us pictures of when it was last a school, in the Fifties.
As the night wears on it amuses us to watch the locals peel off one by one and wobble off home on their bikes, and by the time we leave there are only a couple left. There's plenty of amusement getting our "bed" ready for the night - blanket on hay, followed by sleeping bags and pillows.
It feels like we are ten years old on a sleepover. The hay is, surprisingly, as comfortable as a mattress, squishy and cushioning. Initially I'm convinced there are creatures crawling over me and I fall asleep brushing off imaginary bugs. What wakes us in the middle of the night isn't bugs though, it's Angus - a friend on a stag do - who calls at 3am to see if Tom's awake. After dropping off again, the next thing I hear is the farm's cockerel announcing morning at 6am.
Waking up in the barn is a similar feeling to camping: I'm clammy, hungover and not entirely rested, but satisfied. Dosed up to the eyeballs with hay fever medicine Tom doesn't sneeze all night - not once. Outside in the hof at 9am, Martina has laid out a continental German breakfast - warm bread rolls, homemade fruit compote, cheese, ham and coffee.
This is a brilliant way to explore the German countryside and have a relaxing rural break. In retrospect it deserves the "hotel" tag after all. On board you'll find two cosy holiday apartments, each sleeping up to four and complete with a small kitchen.
One unit is in the back of the plane, while the other is in the front, where you can sleep on a double bed in the cockpit, and sip your morning coffee from one of the pilot seats. There's no electricity, so the huts are warmed by wood heaters, and candles and gas lamps provide light. Meals are cooked on the campfire. Integratron - launched in the 50s by a dedicated ufologist - is an "energy machine sited on a powerful geomagnetic vortex", which offers public tours, special events, "sound healing experiences" and accommodation, sleeping up to 50 on yoga mats.
It comes complete with two bathrooms, two outdoor barbecues and a inch telescope for spotting UFOs. In the courtyard of Hotel Lindenwirt you'll find six oversized wine barrels, all brightly painted and fitted with two single beds, shower, WC, TV, two teeny windows and a door.