Appenzell – the final frontier

If you want to find the real Swiss, I was told, there is a place near the corner where Switzerland, Austria and Germany meet, where the old ways have been preserved. That place is two half-cantons – Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden – a rural pocket inhabited by famously traditional folk with quaint customs.

As these were the only (half-) cantons I had never visited, and I wanted to leave no stone unturned, I decided to make the trip this month. The timing turned out to be good, as this weekend the annual farmers market was being held in the village of Urnäsch, the highlight being the ceremonial descent of the herds from the summer pastures in the mountains (Alpabzug).

There is no better place or day to get immersed in the traditional rural Swiss life of Appenzellerland (the tourist name for both cantons combined).

Politically, the cantons are known for two things. Appenzell Innerrhoden (the Protestant one) was infamously the last Swiss canton to grant women the vote on a cantonal level, holding out until 1991 when forced to do so by the Federal Court. Today, the same half-canton is one of only two Swiss cantons where the annual voting assembly (Landesgemeinde) of the canton is held in the open air, with votes taken by a show of hands.

But this was not a day for politics. This was a day to celebrate the end of another summer season of hard work. Listen out for the men singing in this clip. The strange falsetto harmony is quite unearthly. 

To complete the experience, I bought Alp cheese from the Brunner family at their stand. Made by the Mr Brunner from this summer’s milk in the chalet where he spent the past few months looking after his cows.

Next stop was Appenzell, the capital of Appenzell Innerrhoden and the home of Appenzeller beer.

I had a little wander around and an expensive coffee. Next time I’ll come back for longer and do some hiking, another thing for which Appenzellerland is famous. 

7 thoughts on “Appenzell – the final frontier

  1. Interesting post, Clare. I was thinking of you yesterday chatting with some Indian expatriates about Switzerland who told me that a lot of Indian cinema has actually been filmed there. But they complained about the scarcity of vegetarian food. Any thoughts?

    1. That’s true, Anne. Lots of Bollywood location filming is done in Switzerland. I’m not a vegetarian but I usually see one veggie option on the menu when I eat out. So not much choice. Indian restaurants are not that common and horribly expensive.

    1. Yes, it would be lovely in winter. Good for snow-shoe hikes and cross-country skiing. There are lots of small ski lifts dotted around the place for downhill skiing but no real ski resorts. Also various winter festivals that you can visit. The tourist website for the region will soon have info up on winter events.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. The first and last pictures showed some gorgeous scenery–the fields so green, the water and mountains so blue. I know farming is a lot of work, but for me, the idea of the herds coming down at the end of the summer season is very romantic.

    1. It is very romantic, at least to look at. If you want to see some spectacular scenery and more scenes of mountain life, try to get your hands on the new Swiss-made Heidi film from this year.

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