Authentic Appenzell

Authentic Appenzell

If you're thinking of getting away from the Dubai summer, beat the heat by hopping over to the Quaint canton in Northeast Switzerland



By Rashmi Gopal Rao

Published: Fri 21 Jun 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 21 Jun 2019, 2:00 AM

Idyllic landscapes that resemble postcards, picturesque towns and villages that appear to have been plucked off the pages of a fairy tale book and glacier-encrusted mountains. This is a short but apt description of Switzerland, arguably one of the most gorgeous and beautiful countries of the world. Apart from its natural beauty, lip-smacking chocolate and world-renowned watches, Switzerland is also a land of deep-rooted culture and traditions, symbolised by its quintessentially charming cow bells, homemade cheese and fine embroidery. One of the best places to experience the real essence of all of is the quaint town of Appenzell where everything is unmistakably yet endearingly Swiss.

Pastoral beauty and rustic charm
Nestled in the northeast part of the country amidst majestic hills, Appenzell is an integral part, and the epicentre, of the smallest canton of Switzerland, Appenzell Innerrhoden. A town that houses just over 6,000 inhabitants, it holds traditional customs close to its heart and celebrates the rustic way of life. Best explored on foot, an ideal way to discover the town is to start with the Altstadt aka the old town centre that lies a short distance away from the railway station.   
Medieval buildings with painted facades, old fashioned building signs, walls covered with murals and frescoes, gable tiled roofs and bright shutters coupled with pretty shop fronts make for a scene straight out of Andersen's fairy tales. Landsgemeindeplatz, the centre of the town square, is where the town's legendary voting takes place for the cantonal elections. It takes place each year on the last Sunday of April, a tradition that has been carried out for centuries.
From there, make your way to the Appenzell museum, a significant landmark in the town where you can experience a slice of farm life through its exhibits that include heritage costumes, cheese-making paraphernalia, antique furniture etc. The red-hued brick town hall aka Rathaus, painted elaborately by the talented August Schmid, is something that you cannot miss while in the town centre.

Heritage buildings
A walk around will take you to some interesting buildings most of which have immense heritage value. Dominating the town's rather unpretentious skyline is the Schloss von Appenzell or the castle that dates back to the 16th century. It is one of the oldest buildings in the town and a monument of national heritage. It is privately owned by the Sutter family who are known to reside there even today. The Catholic church, built in Gothic and neoclassical style with a prominent clock tower and embellished with a mural of St. Maurice, is yet another architecturally significant building that is worth a visit. The Salesis House, which, is a free-standing stone building, as well as the 17th century Konkordia House are symbols of the prosperity that thrived centuries ago in this village.

Native craft and signage
If craft is your cup of tea, do not miss the half-timbered Hampi Fassler House where artisans handcraft accessories for cattle and herdsmen by embossing pieces of metal shaped as cows, dogs etc onto belts and also make decorative cow bells. An intrinsic part of the traditional costume worn by farmers and their families, this craft is a key part of the Alpine culture and farm life.  
One of the most striking aspects of the buildings in the town are their intricate sign boards that are truly adorable. Also called 'Tafeen', they are detailed embellishments in metal that are hung up at the entrance indicating what the establishment is all about. The signs of the tourism office, replete with a vintage train and the Lowen pharmacy that is adorned with a herbaceous structure, are truly charming. Many of the buildings are also decorated with scenes of the famous Alpine ascent and descent which is an annual tradition wherein cows, sheep and goats are tethered every summer to graze in the pristine pastures of the Alps. They are brought back to the valleys in the autumn where they spend their winters. The procession has a precise order and is led by goats followed by children in traditional costumes. The cows and the owner of the cattle come behind, followed by their faithful dog at the end.
The town is full of boutique stores that retail local handicrafts and hence it is a great place to pick up authentic Swiss souvenirs like leather belts, cow bells, kitchen aids as well as laced and embroidered fabric.

Appenzeller cheese
Appenzeller land, as it is called, stretches from the Alpstein region to Lake Constance and it is here that one of the most popular and strongest cheeses of Switzerland comes from. The lush green meadows of the region coupled with the various kinds of herbs and flowers like the bearded bellflower, mountain everlasting, carline thistle and gentian that grow here form ideal fodder for cows in summer. The cheese produced from the milk of these cows is saltier, lower in fat and needs a longer time to mature.  
Head over to Stein AR which is just about 10 km away from the Appenzell town centre to unravel the legacy of Appenzeller cheese-making that dates back as early as 1282! You can take a tour of the Appenzeller Schaukäserei, a cheese factory where you can learn all about the Alpine landscapes, lives of the cows and the whole gamut of cheese making. In addition, it is a great place to pick up insights about the Alpine dairy-farming heritage and the lives of the herdsmen including their dialects, costumes, traditions and festivals. You can watch cheese-making live at the factory and also view the cheese cellar, where a whopping 12,500 wheels of cheese are stored at varying stages of maturity.  
While the recipe of this herbal brine induced cheese is a top secret, you can visit the shop at the end of the tour and stock up on your quota of Appenzeller cheese as a food souvenir to relish back home.

Journey into Swiss folklore
Just next to the cheese factory is the unique Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum, is a treasure house depicting the customs and culture of Appenzeller people. Spread over three levels, you can literally view a day in the life of a herdsman here.  On display are gigantic cow bells, arms, seals, traditional belts, tools, utensils and wood-cutting equipment. The exhibits of the typical wooden houses and painted furniture including chests and cupboards are noteworthy.  
There is an entire section dedicated to the craft of hand embroidery that developed around 1750 and remained a flourishing business till the late 1890s. Delicate thread work that was later mechanised was in high demand and workers were paid according to the quality and number of stitches they produced daily. Workers were known to turn around as many as 2,000 stitches in a day! Weaving looms and a yester- year embroidery machine are on display in addition to several samples of embroidered kerchiefs, tablecloths and napkins. The traditional Appenzeller style of farm paintings that depict local rustic life is also on display apart from the biographies of well-known artists from the region.
wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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