Chronological / Destinations / Europe / IFWTWA Trips

Appenzellerland—Preserving Tradition While Embracing Future

Having visited and enjoyed Switzerland in the past, I was pleasantly surprised by the Appenzell region. Located in the northeastern area, its dimensions are only 258.5 square miles (416 square kilometers). This area has the lowest population in Switzerland, with 26 villages that average 23 inns per village.

View of Weissbad from the Hotel Bãren, Appenzellerland, Switzerland
View of Weissbad from the Hotel Bãren

Known for its happy hens, contented cows and pigs, Appenzell is famous for its cheese. For those who want to know where their food is coming from, this region is ideal. There are over 600 restaurants in the two half-cantons that encompass the region.

For our visit with the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association, we flew Swiss International Air Lines to Zurich. We had our first experience of the Swiss public transport system when we caught the train with ease at the Zurich airport. Like everything in Switzerland, trains run on time. We were whisked off in comfort and efficiency to the small village of Weissbad and the Hof Weissbad Hotel.

This hotel and spa is a perfect example of a hotel that was gutted on the inside so as to provide every modern day convenience, while maintaining the historic exterior. A beautiful herb garden and a cheese-making facility are featured. A professional cheese maker demonstrates how cheese was made in the past with an open fire. The hotel also has a full-service rehabilitation facility and spa.

Our wonderful breakfast for three days was a huge buffet that included the many cheeses of Appenzell. After the first day, I stuck with a plate of cheese (my favorite food group) and the best multigrain croissants I’ve ever experienced. Switzerland produces over 450 cheese varieties, and Appenzell makes a major contribution to that number.

Preserved meats of Appenzell, Switzerland
Preserved meats of Appenzell

The next morning, we caught the train for a stop in Appenzell, a picturesque town south of Lake Constance, in the canton of Innerrhoden. We all took part in a tour that covered its history, culture, crafts, and food.

The Appenzellerland area is famous for its great variety of sausages, such as Bauernschü, Bratwurst, Landjager, and Siedwurst. We experienced several, including Mostbröckli, which is raw meat preserved in dry salt and seasoning. It is then smoked and dried and often served as an appetizer.

A favorite drink in this area is beer. Vollmond (full moon), Weizen (wheat), or Hanfblüte (hempflower) beers are at the top of many lists. The tradition of beer making dates back to 1728, and the Locher family has run a successful fifth-generation brewery since 1886.

We also sampled Appenzeller Alpenbitter, a liquer developed by 20-year-old Emil Ebneter in 1902. Made from 100% natural herbs, this slightly sweet and dry drink frequently ends a celebration.

My personal favorite beverage was the Flauder water that was served everywhere.

Hampi Fãssler cowbells, Appenzellerland, Switzerland
Hampi Fãssler cowbells

After lunch, we visited Hampi Fässler in his studio. We saw his huge cowbells and metal ornaments and watched him hand cut, with a hacksaw, individual metal carvings for suspenders, belts, and key chains. This labor-intensive craft was amazing, and it is no wonder that he is world-renowned. He sells his belts locally for $150 to $200; they retail for $400 and $500 in other countries. We all ventured up to his workshop and tried our hand at finishing off a key chain.

The well-known Roger Dörig of Innerrhoden was also known for the same type of craftsmanship. He frequently demonstrates his bell-saddling and other talents. Both men show the dexterity it takes to produce their crafts.

As you walk the streets, you see the metal work craftsmanship reflected in much of the signage.

Never did I think I could learn to yodel. But off to a yodeling class with Thomas Sutter we went. In just about an hour, he had ten of us harmonizing, yodeling, and spinning a coin in special bowls for sound effects. He was convinced we were good enough to perform in the square. We did, and it was tremendous fun. When I watch and listen to my video files, we sound okay, although not quite ready for prime time.

Our next stop was the Hotel Café Adler, where we took time for a coffee or hot chocolate before going on to the kitchen to bake Swiss Biberli. This traditional treat, which is especially popular at holiday time, is a combination of two layers of gingerbread with a marzipan filling. The bottom layer is pressed into a mold, filling applied; then the top layer is added and pierced so it can vent. You flip it out, crimp, trim and decorate the corners. After the Biberli is baked, it will keep for several months.

After a long day, we returned to Weissbad and then went to the Hotel Bären in Schlatt. What a beautiful view of the town and the mountains!

View of cows coming down from the mountains from bus, Appenzellerland, Switzerland
View of cows coming down from the mountains from bus

The next day, part of our group took the cableway to Ebenaip and a walk through prehistoric caves, with lunch at Aescher-Widkirchli before hiking back down to Weissbad.

Four of us ventured to Mount Säntis. A light snow greeted us at the top, but the day was beautiful and clear. The panoramic view allowed us to see as far as central Switzerland, as well as the Alps of the Bernese, Oberland, and the Grisons.

This part of our day included another highlight. While we were on the bus, we saw a farmer bringing his cows down from grazing in the Alpines to lower ground. We had heard about this tradition, but hadn’t seen it actually carried out. Since no one knows when in September the cows will be brought down from the mountains, this was a lucky surprise for us. The cows with their cowbells, the family and workers dressed up in yellow pants and green tops, a wagon full of summer cooking utensils and tools, were followed by the farmer wearing his traditional garb and suspenders. He walked proudly at the end of the group overseeing the whole operation.

Cows and other animals are treated very well. They are washed and cleaned thoroughly before they make their spring and fall journey to and from the high grazing grounds. A special breed of Appenzell dog accompanies them.

We were sitting in a modern bus waiting for the cows to pass, seeing a tradition dating back hundreds of years take place before us. It is a memory I will treasure. The clothing worn matched the images shown in the museum the day before, including suspenders like those made by Hampi Fässler. These cost around $3,500 and are passed from generation to generation.

View of the alps from the top of Mt. Sãntis, Appenzellerland, Switzerland
View of the alps from the top of Mt. Sãntis

The houses of Appenzell offered another treat. They are decorated with lovely paintings, although that tradition started in the 20th century.

This is a German-speaking region of Switzerland, but almost all understand and speak English. We found the people exceptionally friendly and delightful. Their willingness to preserve and share their heritage is evident.

Many Swiss tourists and quite a few Germans frequent the Appenzell region of Switzerland. They often journey there to see firsthand what is available in cowbells, traditional jewelry, and simple wooden utensils. This area is not yet well-known by Americans, but it should be.

In Appenzell, it was as if we were stepping into a storybook, but with up-to-date conveniences. Wireless was available almost everywhere. There was more food, tradition and history than can be covered in one story. I’d highly recommend you take the time to discover Appenzell yourself.

Appenzellerland Tourist Office



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