View from Walzenhausen to Lake Constance
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Appenzellerland: Switzerland’s idyllic rural paradise

April 1, 2021 Last Updated on May 7, 2021

Appenzellerland is an area of Eastern Switzerland. It comprises two Swiss cantons – Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The area is sometimes simply referred to as Appenzell.

The Appenzellerland region includes Lake Constance – one of Switzerland’s clearest and most placid lakes, and the Mount Säntis area, from which there are stunning views over the Alps and six European countries. 

There are some lovely towns and villages in the area. These include Appenzell, the capital of Appenzell Innerrhoden, as well as Stein, Heiden, Trogen and Herisau, The latter is famous for the annual Bloch parade, featuring men in colourful traditional Appenzell dress carrying a huge felled tree.

A rich tradition of agriculture in this area means that cheesemaking and dairy farming are often features of the area’s festivals and attractions. Seeing the cattle being moved to alpine pastures for summer is a big event, as is their autumn return. The village of Stein has a Show Dairy, where visitors can see Swiss cheesemaking in action. 

Rural scenery in Appenzellerland
The stunning landscape is one of Appenzellerland’s main attractions. Photo © Appenzellerland Tourismus AR

Mount Säntis is also a huge part of Appenzellerland’s attraction. The world’s biggest Swiss flag, an interactive weather exhibition, cable car rides and an elevated gastronomic experience are among the most popular attractions here. Visitors can also hike from here to Lake Seealpsee, or enjoy various winter sports in Schwägalp.

From pretty Swiss villages to the summit of Mount Säntis, seeing cheesemaking or the spectacle of local folk in traditional dress, there is lots to keep visitors occupied in Appenzellerland. 

This guide covers an outline of the Appenzellerland region, key events, what to do in the area, how to get there and where to stay. Read on to discover this scenic and unspoilt part of Switzerland. 

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Where is Appenzellerland?

Cantons of Switzerland

Appenzellerland – also known by the shorter name of Appenzell – is located in Eastern Switzerland. The name belongs to both the smallest of the Swiss cantons – Appenzell Innerrhoden – and its twin canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The name is also given to the town of Appenzell. 

Appenzell Innerrhoden is one of two cantons that formed the Appenzell region in the past: the other being Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The historic canton was split into two in the late sixteenth century, during the Swiss Reformation, and for this reason each is sometimes referred to as a half canton. 

The canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden adjoins its twin Appenzell Ausserrhoden, and both are enclosed by the larger Swiss canton of St Gallen.  The region’s motto “From Lake Constance to Säntis” sums up the area that is covered by Appenzellerland.

Appenzell can be reached from Zurich by train in about 2 hours, or via a drive of around 1 hour and 10 minutes.



Appenzell traditions and customs

The Appenzellerland region has a long tradition of farming, so many of the area’s events have an agricultural theme. Here are some of the key festivals.

New Year Festival

Mummer's Procession mask
Colourful masks are a highlight of the New Year Festival. Photo © Appenzellerland Tourismus AR

Also known as Silvesterchlausen or the Mummer’s Processions, this takes place on both 31st December and 13th January each year – 31 December representing the end of the year on the Gregorian calendar and 13 January being the final day on the Julian calendar.

Males from the area proceed through the towns of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, attired in colourful robes and masks, during the early hours of the day. They go around yodelling, ringing bells and wishing townsfolk and farmers a happy new year. 

This procession has taken place since the fifteenth century and attracts visitors from all over Switzerland, as well as further afield.


Bloch

The Herisauer Bloch parade is one of Appenzell Ausserrhoden’s key events. It occurs on the Monday following Ash Wednesday, when males from Herisau pull the Bloch – a felled tree trunk – through the area’s villages.

Like all Appenzell festivals, this is a colourful occasion, with men and boys clad in traditional Swiss dress.


Alpabfahrt

The ascent of the cattle to higher pastures is a colourful affair. Photo © Appenzellerland Tourismus AR

The Alpabfahrt is a much-anticipated event which occurs every spring/summer, when the cattle are taken up the mountain to graze on the fresh alpine grass.

There is no fixed date for this procession as the ascent is determined by when the snow has melted, but those who visit during April have the best chance of witnessing the spectacle. 

The procession is led by a boy in herdsman’s clothing, a girl in traditional Swiss children’s garb and the main herdsman in festive red, yellow and black folk dress.

Three cows will join the head herdsman, and due to the large bells hung round their necks, it is a noisy event. Some bells can weigh up to 9 kilograms!


Alpabzug

Young and old are proud of the local Appenzeller traditions. Photo © Appenzellerland Tourismus AR

The procession when the herd is brought back down from the alpine pastures for the winter, is known as Alpabzug. It usually takes place during mid to late September in Urnäsch, where a large farmer’s market is also held in honour of the occasion.

Again, the date is not fixed but the farmers like to have their cattle returned to their barns before the first snow falls of the season.


Places to visit in Appenzellerland

Heiden

View from Heiden, Appenzellerland, Switzerland
The village of Heiden is located on a terrace overlooking Lake Constance. Photo © Appenzellerland Tourismus AR

Home to the Bloch parade detailed above, the Swiss village of Heiden is well worth a visit. It can be found in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The village is centred around the historic church square, which is listed as an important site of national significance. 

This village dates back to the Biedermeier era, which occurred in the early 1800s. The area surrounding the church square is a traditional Biedermeier village. Over 50% of the Heiden area is used for farming. 

Due to the village’s elevated position there are stunning panoramas over Lake Constance from the area.

A great way to explore the area around Heiden and make the most of those views is on a round trip to Lake Constance. 

Start by walking the Joke Trail from Heiden to Walzenhausen, then hop aboard the rack railway which runs to Rheineck.  From there you join a boat cruise to Rorschach before returning to Heiden aboard the rack railway.


Trogen

Trogen is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in Appenzellerland. Photo © Appenzellerland Tourismus AR

Trogen is a Swiss hilltop town with traditional wooden houses and a Baroque church. The settlement is officially recognised as one of the country’s most scenic, and it belongs to the Most Beautiful Villages in Switzerland association.

Trogen is located in the Appenzell Ausserrhoden canton, and is one of the prettiest villages in Appenzellerland. Located at over 900 metres above sea level, there are sweeping views over the surrounding landscape and up towards the Gäbris mountain.

Part of the village’s charm is provided by the contrast between wooden chalet-style buildings and the majestic stone mansions built by the Zellweger family of rich merchants.

The village is also famous for the post-war Pestalozzi Children’s Village, constructed primarily for orphans  after World War 2.


Herisau

Herisau is known for its church with Rococo furnishings that date from 1520. Also situated in Appenzell Ausserrhoden, it occupies a waterside position by the Glatt River. 

Although the current Church of St Laurence dates from the 1500s, it was referred to as far back as the 10th century. The ruins of the Rosenberg castle also loom over the landscape, from their elevated position above the town.

Herisau has a cattle market, and is also known for the manufacture of metal items, cotton textiles and electrical goods. Many visitors use the town as a starting point when touring the Alpstein Säntis region, or head to the health resorts of the area.


Appenzell

Appenzell, Switzerland
The pretty town of Appenzell is known for its brightly coloured buildings and wrought iron signs.

The settlement of Appenzell is the capital of Appenzell Innerrhoden. Economically, politically and culturally, it is the most important town in Appenzell Innerrhoden. 

The village is a pretty one, with wooden and brightly painted houses. It is also known for the intricate wrought iron signs adorning its shops. It’s a great place to explore by wandering the streets, as the central area is a car-free zone.

Behind the village are rolling green hills where cattle graze, completing a picture that is typically – and charmingly – Swiss. 


Stein

Stein is also positioned in an elevated spot, with panoramic views over the Appenzell hinterland and surrounding deep valleys. The unspoilt village is surrounded by lush free pastures, and the area is known for dairy farming.

Visitors to Stein can explore the historic village centre, which includes a church featuring distinctive stucco work and 18th century homes.

The Appenzell Folk Museum is a big draw too, displaying various traditional Appenzell artefacts. Local crafts are also demonstrated in an embroidery workshop and weaving cellar at the museum. Cheesemaking can also be seen in the traditional Alpine dairy.

Those interested in Swiss cheese can also visit The Appenzell Show Dairy, which can be found in the village centre. A gallery allows visitors to witness Appenzell cheesemaking first-hand.


Mount Säntis

Children and Alpine herdsmen wearing traditional costume gather on an alpine pasture with Mt. Santis is the background.
Children and Alpine herdsmen wearing traditional costume gather on an alpine pasture with Mt. Säntis is the background. Photo © swiss-image.ch/Christof Sonderegger

Mount Säntis is the highest peak of the Alpstein massif. It is over 2,500 metres above sea level, and there are views over six countries from the summit, including the mountain ranges of Austria, France and Italy. 

A fully interactive exhibition at Mount Säntis – aka the weather mountain – gives visitors magnificent 360 degree views as well as providing an absorbing insight into weather. To make the most of those panoramas, there are terraces to sit on and summit trails to walk along.

The largest Swiss flag in the world can also be found at Mount Säntis. This flag measures an impressive 640 square metres. It is hung each year by a team of rope access technicians, and the weather here makes carrying out this task a big challenge.

Visitors can also enjoy a gastronomic experience on the Säntis. A terrace restaurant, constructed mainly from natural stone and wood, gives superb views over the mountains while sampling regional specialities. Food and drinks not to miss include Appenzeller cheese, Biberli cookies and Appenzeller beer.

The aerial cable car from Schwägalp operates year-round (except for a short period from mid-January to early February) and travels from the misty lowlands towards the bright sunshine at Mount Säntis’s summit. During the trip, visitors can enjoy picturesque Alpine panoramas. 


Schwägalp

Schwägalp is known as the valley cable car station for the trip to Mt. Säntis. There are lots of activities to enjoy in Schwägalp itself, particularly during winter when visitors can take part in sledging, snow-shoeing, Nordic walking and winter hikes.

The local trail network is well maintained year-round, and during summer hiking is the area’s most popular pastime. 


Seealpsee

The crystal clear waters of Seealpsee
The crystal clear waters of Seealpsee (Lake Seealp) are surrounded by alpine scenery. Photo from Pixabay

Lake Seealpsee is one of the most scenic and pristine alpine lakes in Switzerland. It is located among the Alpstein mountain range in the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden. The 34-acre lake is almost 1,150 metres above sea level.

A network of hiking trails connects Seealpsee with Mt. Säntis, as well as other places in the region.


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Oskar Card

The Oskar Card is available to guests who stay in the region for 2 nights or more. It includes travel on public transport and entry to major tourist attractions. 

Visitors can book a 3-8 day Oskar Card, currently costing just 10 Swiss Francs per day. It is half price for anyone aged between 6 and 16. 

The Oskar Card area covers six Swiss cantons, including Appenzellerland and St Gallen. All train travel is included as well as a selection of activities and attractions. These include boat or gondola rides, mini golf, wellness centres, museums and more. 


How to get to Appenzellerland

Colourful houses in Appenzell, Switzerland
Brightly painted houses line a street in Appenzell.

Appenzellerland can easily be accessed either by car or train. The journey from Zurich takes around 2 hours by rail or 1 hour and 10 minutes by road. Being close to Liechtenstein, the car trip from Vaduz takes just over half an hour. 

Driving in Switzerland, particularly in the lesser populated Appenzellerland, is easy and provides the perfect opportunity to explore the stunning countryside.

Visitors can also drive or take a train from Lucerne, Basel or Bern. Geneva is some distance away, so the road trip between Geneva and Appenzell would take longer. In fact, destinations such as Stuttgart in Germany, Innsbruck in Austria and Milan in Italy may be reached in less time than it takes to travel between Geneva and Appenzell. 

Appenzell to Vaduz (Liechtenstein) 2h:5 by train / 0h:35 by car

Appenzell to Zurich: 2h by train / 1h:10 by car

Appenzell to Lucerne: 3h by train / 1h:40 by car

Appenzell to Basel: 3h:5 by train / 1h:55 by car

Appenzell to Bern: 3h:40 by train / 2h:15 by car

Appenzell to Geneva: 5h:30 by train / 3h:45 by car


Day trips from Zurich to Appenzellerland

Taking a day trip from Zurich is a simple way to see the best of Appenzellerland. You can read more about an Appenzellerland Cheese and Chocolate tour here.


Children wearing traditional costume at a local festival. Photo © swiss-image.ch/Ernst Hohl

Where to stay in Appenzellerland

The best way to really immerse yourself in the customs and beauty of Appenzellerland is to stay a while.  Below you’ll find a selection of top-rated hotels to choose from.

Heiden:  Hotel Heiden

Hotel Heiden is situated in the village centre and has 58 comfortable rooms as well as great dining options. Guests can enjoy sampling regional dishes and the peaceful atmosphere, and there are breathtaking views over Lake Constance as well as nearby meadows and forest.

> Click here for more information and prices


Appenzell: Hotel Appenzell

Hotel Appenzell is located in the historic Landsgemeindeplatz, in a central pedestrianised area of Appenzell. A highlight of this property is the elegant restaurant, which has a terrace on which to savour regional cuisine and homemade bread, cakes and pastries. This hotel in Appenzell is around 500 metres from the train station and offers free bike rental to guests. 

> Click here for more information and prices


Schwägalp: Säntis – The Hotel

Säntis – Das Hotel is located at the foot of Mt. Säntis in Schwägalp, next to the cable car station. Guests who stay overnight can enjoy breakfast served on the summit of the mountain. The property offers well-appointed accommodation, free parking, a restaurant, bar, hammam and private garden. Every room has views over the gardens, and there is also guest access to a hot tub, sauna and terrace. 

> Click here for more information and prices


Final Thoughts

Cycling in Appenzellerland
With such a tranquil and attractive landscape, it’s no wonder that outdoor activities are popular in Appenzellerland. Photo © swiss-image.ch/Christof Sonderegger

It may be a little more off-the-beaten path than some other Swiss destinations but Appenzell is a stunning part of the country that is well worth a visit.  If you’d like to escape the hustle and bustle of the cities and get away from the tourist hotspots, a visit to Appenzellerland is a must.

With its strong traditions and customs that are still practised today, a landscape made up of rolling pastures and the Alpstein massif, and pretty villages to explore, Appenzellerland is the unspoilt paradise of Switzerland. 

And with 95% of visitors to Appenzellerland being Swiss, you are guaranteed to enjoy an authentic holiday experience.


Listen to our podcast episode about Appenzellerland


Top Photo © Appenzellerland Tourismus AR

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