Top of mind getaway destinations in Switzerland are Bern, Geneva, Interlaken, Luzern, or Zermatt.
While all of these places are beautiful and special in their own right, it does illustrate a simple fact: People miss out on Eastern Switzerland, and especially on the small half cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden.
A bit of background on Appenzell
When people ask me where my family is from and I say Appenzell, I usually get the response: “Like the cheese?” Yes, that’s the Appenzell of my childhood. It is where my family has farmed since they immigrated there from South Tyrol in the late 1500’s.
Having a sense of pride in my heritage and knowing that the fifteenth canton to join the Swiss confederation does not get enough attention, I set out to rediscover Appenzell. More specifically, Appenzell (the town) and the half canton it governs, Appenzell Innerrhoden.
In 1597, the once unified canton of Appenzell split into two because of religious preferences. Today, Catholic Innerrhoden is the more touristic of the half cantons, having more of the Alpstein mountains in it.
Thanks to the Äscher mountain restaurant making it to the cover of a National Geographic book and being mentioned my Ashton Kutcher on social media, the restaurant has become a place of pilgrimage in the Swiss Alps. If you plan on going, please remember to bring proper footwear – at least trail shoes if not hiking boots.
A hiker’s paradise – anytime of the year
During summer, the Alpstein is a hiker’s paradise. (But please keep your clothes on as naked hiking is now illegal in the canton.) Two popular destinations are Ebenalp and Hoher Kasten. They are challenging and beautiful, so these hikes will not bore experienced hikers. They are also tame enough to serve as starter hikes for those just getting into Switzerland’s (true) national sport. And for those not keen to hike up a mountain just yet, there are cable cars that will bring you to the summit and down again without breaking a sweat.
Winters in Appenzell are special when compared to what one typically expects from the Swiss Alps. Unlike the Bernese Oberland or the mountains of the Valais or Graubünden, there is not much downhill skiing here in Appenzell (except at Ebenalp). This means that you are free of skiing crowds.
Appenzell offers everyone time and space to relax and rejuvenate. There are nearly 55 km of winter hiking paths of varying lengths and difficulties, or 75 km of marked snowshoeing trails. All of them surrounded by evergreen forests and with views of the Alpstein and its most famous peak, the Säntis.
Lodging in style at Hof Weissbad
For a perfect getaway to Eastern Switzerland, stay at the four-star Hof Weissbad, just minutes from the town of Appenzell. Footsteps away from the hotel, there is a romantic lantern lit trail through the nearby forest.
The hotel staff will welcome you with a glass of sparkling wine as you check in and show you to your beautifully furnished room. In the halls, there are refreshment points with mineral water, tea, coffee and fruits. The hotel has its own mineral water source and a gorgeous indoor/outdoor swimming pool.
The spa area features steam baths and Finnish saunas. After a day out in the mountains doing some physical activity, there is nothing nicer than hitting the spa to sooth those tight muscles. Everything here is kept to the highest standards and the hotel itself continually wins prizes for being one of Switzerland’s best employers. This fact becomes obvious when you consider the friendliness and hospitality of the staff.
Enjoying some local Appenzell music
I would recommend staying at the hotel on a Wednesday and enjoying their Appenzeller evening featuring typical local cuisine and live music in the bar. You will also see people dancing to the traditional stringed music featuring the violin, upright bass, dulcimer and often piano and/or accordion.
Seeing this event may get you interested enough to visit the Roothuus Gonten Center for Appenzeller and Toggenburger Music. More of an archive than a traditional museum, this establishment has thousands of copies of sheet music and is busy digitizing their archive so that this musical heritage (which is quite different from the rest of Swiss-folk music) is preserved.
In Appenzell, there is also a good chance you will hear the dulcimer because it is an integral part of Appenzeller music. That said, you will most likely hear one of Johannes Fuch’s dulcimers. A second generation dulcimer builder, he is one of only six remaining craftsmen in Switzerland. The special wood he uses has been dried and aged for 70 years. This does wonders for the sound.
Biberli, Pantli, & Co.
If sport is not really your thing, then you might be interested in checking out more of Appenzell’s culinary heritage. From bakeries to cheese dairies and butchers, there is plenty of food to be had and enjoyed. A visit to the cheese dairy in Stein will show you how the famous Appenzeller cheese with its secret recipe is made. You will also get a chance to taste the different versions of the cheese from low fat to aged full fat.
At the butcher, try the local Mostbröckli (cured beef) and other sausages. At the bakeries, look for Appenzeller Biberli (soft gingerbread filled with an almond paste). And in Appenzell, ask for the famous Landsgmendchrempfli – a special baked good that used to be only for election Sundays.
If you are traveling with the train or willing to take a taxi, a visit to the Brauerei Locher, Appenzell’s fastest growing company is also something worth undertaking, especially for those interested in beer and whisky. Their Säntis Malt whisky has been named the best whisky in Europe outside of Scotland.
What to see in Appenzell
A visit to the town of Appenzell should be on your list, too. It is very beautiful and attracts the most tourists in the region, in particular for it house facades. Like with so many things, the tradition of painting your house here happened thanks to a degree of admiration and jealousy. The first house, Kreuz, spurred the owner of the house Raben to make his colorful and on it went. To best see the town, go to the tourism office and take a guided tour of the town.
Granted, the town is quite small. And if you do not take a tour, you will be missing a great deal of what makes Appenzell so special. One of my favorite places to visit was Hampi Fässler’s Atelier where he makes leather goods with metal decor. You can buy one of the legendary belts here or if you are lucky see how he delicately works pieces of metal into the shape of cows, dogs and farmers.
Of course, there are also places where you can buy traditional Appenzeller Naïve Art from artists like Martin Fuchs. If you are not on the market to buy any art, but simply interested in seeing more of it, you will definitely want to visit the Art Museum in Appenzell.