Wednesday, 02 September 2015 16:55

Adventures in the Swiss Appenzell

Written by  Monique Burns
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Europe-Swiss
Two hours east of Zürich, across Lake Constance from Austria and Germany, and bordering Liechtenstein, the Appenzell is close to Switzerland’s heart, but a world apart. Farmers in embroidered red vests, yellow breeches, and black hats embellished with flowers and ribbons parade their cattle to the high pastures; artisans craft big shiny cowbells; rustic mountain inns welcome hikers, and fresh-farm meats, produce and herbs provide down-home gourmet fare.

The Appenzell’s Culinary Treats
From Zürich Airport, it’s a two-hour train trip east to the charming textile capital of St. Gallen, then southeast to Appenzellerland’s quaint capital of Appenzell. Among a dozen small hotels in town, the 28-room Hotel Löwen, a five-minute walk from the train station, has delightful “Appenzeller-zimmers” with old-fashioned canopy beds and painted wardrobes - plus free WiFi. There’s also a wood-paneled dining room and a relaxing courtyard garden. Doubles, with breakfast, start at about $166. Stay three nights in any regional hotel and receive the Appenzell Card, offering free museum admission, cable-car rides and other discounts.
On Hauptgasse, Appenzell’s main street, the Löwen-Drogerie, a bright-red chalet adorned with colorful paintings of herbs, sells teas and tinctures. But the specialty is Innerrhoder Kapuzinerbitter, an herb-infused digestive. Steps away, at Spezialitäten Metzg Wetter, sample traditional specialties like the thinly sliced dried beef known as mostbröckli, and smoked alpenklüber, cervelat and schüblig sausages. Then treat your sweet-tooth to fresh-baked birnweggen (pear bread) and biberli (gingerbread) at Drei Könige bakery/café.
Head to the Landesgemeinde, where townsfolk assemble each year to practice direct democracy as their ancestors have done since the 14th century. A 15-minute walk west, at Metzgerei Fässler (www.metzgerei-faessler.ch), join the butcher’s family as they make beef-and-pork siedwurst, a popular local sausage. Across the River Sitter, on the other side of town, sip several varieties of the famous Appenzeller Bier at the Brauerei Locher visitor center. Then tour the Appenzeller Alpenbitter Distillery, just south, and quaff the legendary liqueur crafted from a secret recipe of 42 local plants and herbs.
Appenzeller cheese, made from the milk of the tan-colored Braunvieh cattle and aged in herbal brine, is another local specialty. A bright-yellow PubliCar van takes you to the nearby town of Stein and the Appenzeller Schaukäserei to watch cheese-making, buy a half-dozen varieties, and lunch on regional dishes like macaroni-and-cheese with applesauce. Next door, the Appenzeller Volkskunde-Museum houses Switzerland’s finest collection of primitive-style paintings as well as traditional regional costumes, painted wardrobes and, of course, cowbells.
Indulge yourself, but do save room for dinner. Behind the red, yellow and white painted façade of Appenzell’s four-star Romantik Hotel Säntis (www.saentis-appenzell.ch), a pretty upstairs restaurant serves stylish gourmet fare like veal with asparagus-morel ragout. Or choose nearby Restaurant Marktplatz (www.marktplatz-appenzell.ch), with quaint farming scenes etched into wood-paneled walls, for roast trout with chanterelle mushrooms, or Appenzeller schnitzel, veal cutlets stuffed with herbs, cheese and mostbröckli.
For a treat, take the train from Appenzell to Weissbad, only two stops away. Splendor reigns at the recently restored four-star Hotel Hof Weissbad (www.hofweissbad.ch), with 82 beautifully appointed rooms and five junior suites in a sprawling yellow-and-white columned building. Feast on innovative dishes on the romantic outdoor terrace or in three elegant dining rooms, including Restaurant Flickflauder, a glass-walled black-and-white space overlooking the snow-capped Hoher Kasten peak. A four-course dinner costs about $70. Enjoy casual fondue and other specialties at the hotel Dairy Farm, where cheesemaking demonstrations are also given. Double rooms, with breakfast and dinner, are about $280 per person. Work off extra calories in the hotel’s world-class wellness center or with after-dinner dancing to live piano music.

Experiences
In the Appenzell, hiking is another healthy pastime. Less lofty than the Jungfrau or Matterhorn, the 8,000-foot-high Alpstein range has an approachable beauty, its pastoral green meadows dotted with farmhouses, rustic mountain inns and grazing cattle.
The Kronberg peak rises northeast of Appenzell, three train stops away in Jakobsbad. At the mountain’s base, hop aboard the bobsled run or explore the climbing park. Then take the bright-yellow cable car to the summit and bask in dazzling sunshine at the terrace restaurant. Have a beer, or try Appenzell mineral water, or Flauder, an elderflower-and-lemon balm drink - both made at Mineralquelle Gontenbad in Gonten, site of a mountain-fringed 18-hole golf course.
In Brülisau, a short train ride west of Appenzell, a gleaming-white cable car ferries visitors to the revolving restaurant atop Hoher Kasten (www.hoherkasten.ch). Or make the three-hour hike from Brülisau to the rustic Berggasthaus Ruhesitz (www.ruhesitz.ch), just below Hoher Kasten’s summit, for well-prepared dishes like the fitness-teller with grilled chicken, salad greens and berries. A double room, with breakfast, costs about $78.
To reach the 8,209-foot-high Säntis, Eastern Switzerland’s highest peak, ride the train to Urnäsch, then a post bus to Schwägalp, site of the Säntis Nature Discovery Park, the Schwägalp Demonstration Dairy, the Geology Park, and the three-star Berghotel Schwägalp (www.saentisbahn.ch) with a restaurant, and doubles for about $94. From Schwägalp, take a 10-minute cable-car ride to the Säntis summit to see nearly a hundred peaks from various restaurants, inns and terraces. Year-round events include full-moon buffets, and folkloric evenings with traditional fiddle and dulcimer music.
The Ebenalp lies 3,000 feet below the Säntis. From Appenzell, take the train to Wasserauen, then ride the bright-red cable car to the top. Wedged into a rocky crevice is the Berggasthaus Aescher (http://aescher-ai.ch) with a restaurant, and simple dormitory-style lodging, including breakfast, for about $47. Just below the inn, explore the Wildkirchli cave “chapel.” Once inhabited by religious hermits and, not surprisingly, a bear, it’s a symbol of untamed wilderness in the cultivated Appenzell.

For More Information
Visit Appenzell Tourism (www.appenzell.ch) and Switzerland Tourism (www.myswitzerland.com). For flights, contact SWISS (www.swiss.com), Switzerland’s national carrier. For the Swiss Travel Pass, offering free or reduced fare on trains, buses and boats, contact Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com).

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