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.