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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 18 Transcript

May 25, 2024 Last Updated on May 25, 2024

Visiting Appenzellerland

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Welcome to the Holidays to Switzerland Travel podcast. Your host is the founder of holidaytoswitzerland.com and the Switzerland Travel Planning Facebook group, Carolyn Schonafinger. On this podcast, Carolyn will be joined by a variety of guests who share their knowledge and love of the country to help you plan your dream trip to Switzerland.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Welcome to episode 18 of the Holidays to Switzerland Travel podcast. Today, we’ll be chatting about a part of Switzerland that is off the radar for many international visitors to Switzerland. That is the Appenzell region. I’ve only had a brief glimpse of Appenzell when I did a day trip from Zurich a few years ago so I’m really keen to learn more about this beautiful part of the country. Joining me today to tell us all about the region is Andreas Frey, the Managing Director of Appenzellerland Tourism. Welcome, Andreas.

Andreas Frey

Hi. Thank you for your invitation.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Thank you very much for joining us. Now, as I just mentioned in the introduction, you’re responsible for tourism in Appenzellerland. So for those listeners who don’t actually know where Appenzellerland is, can you tell us a bit more about this part of Switzerland?


Andreas Frey

Yes, sure. The Appenzellerland is located in the Eastern Switzerland. So if you look on a map, it’s on the top right side. And there, most of the people or some people probably know the Lake of Constance. It’s the third biggest Lake of Middle Europe and the Lake is the border to Germany, Austria, and quite near to the Austrian border, there is also the small country Liechtenstein. And therefore, the the bigger region where the Appenzellerland is part of is also called the Four Country region. So that’s the bigger context. And the Appenzellerland is this five Swiss franc coin within another canton. And the Appenzellerland itself is as well divided into two parts.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Now, I guess the great thing is that you’re in such a tranquil location with such beautiful surrounds, but you’re so close to the major cities as well.


Andreas Frey

Yeah, for sure. That’s a big advantage. Can as well be a disadvantage because it means that the people are coming only for a day and go again back to the city centres. And that’s actually not something we wish. Our target is always that people really deal with our destination, come down, arrive, come down, and also experience our tradition, our culture, which is quite important to the people living here and for us as well.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah. So as I said before, I’m guilty of only visiting the region for one day. So sorry about that. But I did have plans to visit for longer in June 2020, but we all know what happened to our travel plans that year. So it’s definitely on my list for next time to come back and stay longer. Now, you just mentioned there that the the customs and the traditions that you as a destination want visitors to enjoy. And I know from just the short visit that I had to Appenzell, that the traditions are really strong. I mean, even on that one day when I visited, I saw people wearing the traditional clothing, and I’ve seen pictures of them with the Alphorns. What can you tell us about the different traditions and customs that are still practised today?


Andreas Frey

Yeah, it’s true. It’s going to be quite a big answer as it is very important to us. Probably there is no other region in Switzerland where traditions and customs are observed as passionately as in the Appenzellerland. However, it’s not the only thing we have, but I think the people here in this region have a very strong feeling for working together and helping each other. And therefore, you need this basement and this processions, these different things we have. They help, therefore. To go through these different traditions, I suggest we start at the beginning of the year or at the end of the year. Actually, the biggest tradition we have is the New Year’s Mummer’s Procession. That’s on the last day of the year. And according to the old Julian calendar, on the 13th of January. Because we have, as I already said, there are two cantons like the Catholic Innerrhoden and the Protestant Ausserrhoden. And therefore, it’s still like something they celebrate as well on the 13th of January, which is called the old change of the year. And in this time, in December and January, on these two days, there are men and boys costumed as typical traditional characters.


Andreas Frey

They wear masks and colourful ropes, and they walk through the region from different farmers to farmers early in the morning, and they are dressed like beautifuls, like ugly, or like forest and nature-based figures. And in a group of five people. We call that Schuppel. And then they are ringing these traditional bells and are jodeling it. They go from door to door and wish the people, the farmers, a Happy New Year. So this spectacle, it dates back to the 15th century. And every year, it fascinates a lot of people from Switzerland, but as well as surrounding countries. So that’s where we start with the year. And that’s the biggest highlight, I would say. And afterwards, we have the Bloch procession. The Bloch is a part of a carnival tradition from the Appenzellerland. Actually, when the last tree is felled in the winter, There are 20 men from the village Urnäsch or Herisau, and they pull this tree through the different villages. And at the end of the day procession, the tree is sold to the highest bidder in the village, and then the bidder makes some furniture out of it or whatever. So that’s the Bloch.


Andreas Frey

And next to that, we have some farmer’s tradition as well. So the cattle of the cows, which takes place around April, May, you actually never know the exact date because it depends from when the snow is melted in the higher regions. But on this day, the diary herdsmen drive their cattle up to the Alpine pastures in an orderly and colourful procession. So there is quite, how can I say it, quite documented how they walk behind each other. So first there is a small boy always, and then there comes the goats, the Appenzeller goats, the the white one. And then there is a children, a girl, also dressed in the festive folk dress. And after this girl, then the herdsman comes with with the yellow trousers and the red traditional clothes. And then the three cows. So the three most beautiful cows with their big bells. One bell is up to nine kilograms, have a weight of nine kilograms. And after this three most beautiful cows, there are four other herdsmen and then the rest of the cows. And at the end, there is coming the dog and the owner of the whole cattle. So it’s really like these traditions are quite fixed and it has to be like that.


Andreas Frey

And it was always like that. And it will be probably always like this. It’s quite impressive to observe.


Carolyn Schönafinger

And that’s one of the great things, isn’t it? That it’s been the same for so many years and it continues It needs to be the same today.


Andreas Frey

Actually, however, I think as well, it develops in little steps, and that’s also something it has to, because only like that, the tradition can live further. And so we have these farmer traditions, which are quite beautiful. And we hope that they are still existing the upcoming years.


Carolyn Schönafinger

So that when they go up to the Alpine pastures, as you said, usually around April, May, then they come down again, don’t they? In September, October. Is that celebrated with a procession and so forth as well?


Andreas Frey

Exactly. So we are now… I’m actually not finished with the whole year. So during the time they are on the Alps, there are as well some traditions, like the Stobetes. It’s actually a traditional music is played. They are dancing, merry-making. And there are some highlights of the day, like a dance called the Hierig. And this dance is done from a couple, and it’s always the same procedure as well. So the couple, it’s a mix of dancing and acting. And the couple get to know each other. They fall in love, they break up, they tease each other. And of course, there’s a happy end in the end, and they fall in love. So that’s actually what’s happening during the summer when the people are living in the high regions. And then, as you already told, there are the Alpabfahrt. So that means that they come. That’s about mid-end of September. And then it’s not that early in the morning because they start early in the morning, but then they come to the village around 11:00 or something like that. And then in Urnäsch, there is a large farmers market offering a variety of local products. So this ceremony is then the end of the summer.


Andreas Frey

And a few weeks later, there is the cattle show. So in autumn, there are some cattle shows The farmer then presents their richly-ornamented cattle in the show arena, where an expert jury assess and ranks the animals. That’s quite an important thing as well for the farmers because the cows which are winning a prize, of course, they get more profit in the end. So that’s the last point of the year of this farmer traditions. And then it starts again like that every year.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah, wonderful. Now, you’ve mentioned the farming traditions there, and I imagine with such a beautiful landscape that’s great for breeding the cattle and goats that you mentioned, that there’s a lot of products that are produced in Appenzellerland. So one of them that many people will be aware of is cheese. What is so unique about the Appenzeller cheese and what other specialties can visitors taste when they come to the region?


Andreas Frey

Imagine the cows are living there where a lot of people spend some money to spend their vacation. So it’s the beautiful landscape they are enjoying. No kidding. But seriously, for sure, it’s an important point. The cows are exclusively fed with fresh grass, wild flowers, herbs, and hay. So natural ingredients, traditional craftmanship. And as well, there is a mysterious herbal brine, which is part of this secret, and the concept of the Appenzeller cheese. And of course, they make quite hard quality control as well. So this unmistakable aromatic flavour from the cheese comes from from washing the cheese, regularly. Regularly, they use this secret herbal brine. There are herbs in it, roots in it. But there are actually only two people which know what is in the recipe, which is what is really in it. And then they And they, from hand, they wash this cheese, and like that it gets this flavour. And therefore it’s quite famous in Switzerland, but as well around the world.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Lovely. And what about other specialties that people can try when they visit?


Andreas Frey

We have, for example, the Appenzelle biber. The Appenzeller biber, it’s a special gingerbread with honey and nuts. Then furthermore, there is the Appenzeller beer. It is quite famous in Switzerland. Actually, if you are travelling to Switzerland and flying with Swiss, you already can get your first… With Swiss International Airlines, you can always get your first taste of the Appenzellerland because there in the… In Swiss, they are in the flights from Swiss, they are serving the Appenzeller beer. That makes us quite proud. And we are actually the biggest private brewery in Switzerland, which does not belong to big brands like Heineken or Carlsberg. So that’s another product from our region. Next to that, we also have a quite innovative water bottling factory. They started with bottling water, but now they diverse their product portfolio with sweet drinks, teas, jams, aperatives, which are very delicious. That’s a Goba Manufactoring.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay, so there’s something for every taste there.


Andreas Frey

Sure, yeah. Perhaps one thing that is also quite funny from people from foreign countries is, I want to mention that is another cheese, the Urnäscher Horn-kuh käse. It’s actually a cheese which is only made from cows, which, they still need to have their horns. Otherwise, they won’t use the milk for this cheese. So also the horns can have an impact on the flavour of cheese.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Well, there you go. Now, I’d imagine that one of the reasons that many people choose to visit Appenzellerland is because it’s off the beaten path more than many other destinations in Switzerland, and you can get a real sense of what life in a rural Swiss village is like. Is that a fair assumption?


Andreas Frey

Yeah, it’s quite like that. I think most of our visitors are from Switzerland, like nearly 95 %. And the traditions are very important to the local people. And if there is too much visitors, this can stimulate the tradition in a wrong direction. You have this folklorism, people are only coming to make their photos and leaving and not really interacting. And so therefore, we try to be as careful as possible. For example, we are actually, even though I’m working for the tourism, we are not very amused about big buses arriving in a village. People are visiting the village in a group. Two hours later, they are gone. That’s not the way we think tourism should be. So our target is that people really deal with the culture, the landscape. They should arrive and get to know new things, how we are doing this or that instead of visiting an open air museum. For me, it’s as well a question of sustainability. What impact does a visitor want to have towards the destination and its population?


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah. No, that’s a great way to look at it. You want people to come and really, as you say, immerse themselves in the culture rather than just come and say, yes, I’ve been there and tick another destination off their list.


Andreas Frey

Exactly. Exactly.


Carolyn Schönafinger

So can you tell us about some of the towns in Appenzellerland and some of the highlights that people can expect to see there?


Andreas Frey

Yes, sure. We can start in the north, in Heiden. Heiden, the village is actually like on a, how do we call it, on a terrace, and you have a wonderful view over the Lake of Constance. Special thing about this village is that it burned down completely. And afterwards, it was built up in about one and a half years or something like that. And so it’s all the architecture style is in the same way in this village, and that’s quite impressive. And then when we go further, we come to Trogen. So we go further south, southwest. And from Heiden. Trogen has a baroque church. Actually, they have a big history about textile workers. There is family called Zellweger, which was quite big at this time and quite important in whole Europe, actually. So this origin of the name Zellweger, you have people with the name Zellweger around the world, they actually all come from this original place, Trogen. So there it all starts with this dynasty, which was quite big, and they had some quite big houses as well, or if you will call it even palaces in Trogen, which you can still visit today. And then further, we go to the so-called Hinterland.


Andreas Frey

So Appenzellerland is as well divided into four smaller regions. And there we have the more agriculture focus, more focus on traditions with with, Stein, and Urnäsch, where farming is much more a topic than in the other parts of the country. We also have in Stein, for example, the show dairy, the cheese dairy, and in Urnäsch, the Museum of Traditions, which is also very interesting to visit and to get to know the culture of the destination a little bit more.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay, so is Appenzeller a good destination for families to visit?


Andreas Frey

In my opinion, the Appenzellerland is like one big playground, an open air playground, but you have so much possibilities of outdoor activities. There are a few hiking paths with different topics, like like that, it’s easier to go for a hike with children. However, most of them are in German. So I’m not sure if they are really a thing for people which are not speaking the language. But even though you can walk and you come across different playgrounds which are free to use. And then a big highlight for many children in our region is the Reka Feriendorf. Reka is a Swiss company which has actually different places, villages, small vacation villages for families. So there you are actually living in an apartment, but you can use some different things like you are in a hotel. And there the children have a whole programme the whole day. They can feed animals and visit different farms. And next to that, there is also the the family mountain or so-called family mountain, Kronberg. And this mountain has a zipline park, a toboggan, which is quite attractive as well.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah. Okay. So there’s lots of things for children to keep occupied with.


Andreas Frey

Sure.


Carolyn Schönafinger

And with such a beautiful landscape, you’ve already mentioned some of the things that children or families can do outdoors. But what about if people aren’t coming with children, what outdoor activities can they enjoy joy throughout the year?


Andreas Frey

In our region hiking is for sure the number one in winter as well as in summer. In winter, you can walk with snowshoes through the forest, which is quite idyllic. And you’re very fast, you’re very alone. And that’s something I really appreciate in the region myself. So you actually don’t need much a pair of good shoes. You have the fresh air and the adventure can start.


Carolyn Schönafinger

And you never know where you’ll end up.


Andreas Frey

A good planning is good.


Carolyn Schönafinger

You might need a map.


Andreas Frey

Also observe the weather. But however, actually, people say about the Appenzellerland, the good thing is that within an hour, there is always the next restaurant. So you even don’t have to get a picnic or a bottle of water or whatever. There is also a restaurant is coming within one hour if you’re walking.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Fantastic. Now, I’d like to ask you a bit about, and excuse me if I pronounce it incorrectly, but Mount Santis. Now, it’s a mountain.


Andreas Frey

That’s very good.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Oh, good. Thank you. Now, it’s a mountain that’s probably not very well known to international tourists. Certainly, most people have heard of Matterhorn and Jungfraujoch but what can you tell us about Mount Santis and what can people expect if they visit there for a day?


Andreas Frey

Yeah, so we haven’t talked about Mount Santis, and actually it’s one of our big highlights. The Mount Santis is far away the highest peak around Eastern Switzerland. And especially, basically, if people are arriving from Germany or if they are coming from the southern part of Germany and driving towards Switzerland, you see the Mount Santis as the only one standing there, and it’s quite impressive. With good weather conditions, you can see six countries from the mountain. So you see, of course, to Switzerland, to Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein. So this four country region, but you can even see to France and Italy. So that’s something quite impressive. And as it is standing alone, you feel sometimes a little bit like a king standing there on this mountain. And then even in bad weather, you can learn a lot because they build up some experience zones at the top of the mountain. There is one experience zone about ice. A lot of people don’t know it, but there is still a very small glacier next to the peak of the mountain. And the other experience, which is at the top, is all about weather, because Mount Santis has a lot of the different weather records.


Andreas Frey

For example, there is no other mountain which has harder winds than the Mount Santis, because it’s standing dead alone. The weather can come with all its positive and negative things. And that’s quite impressive to see how powerful weather can be and how powerful this peak station at the top has to be as well.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah, sure. So if people want to go up to the summit and enjoy those experiences, where do they, I assume it’s a cable car, not a train, a mountain train that they get. Where would they catch that from?


Andreas Frey

They catch it from Schwagalp. Actually, if you arrive with the public transport, there is a bus driving to the Schwagalp, and there you can get to the cable car station and then go up. Yes.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Okay, great. So if any of our listeners are planning on visiting Appenzellerland do they need to rent a car or is it convenient enough to get around with public transport?


Andreas Frey

Now, it always depends on what you are travelling with. Like in most regions, of course, the car is more comfortable. However, we have, in Eastern Switzerland, we have this special guest card called OSCAR. And with this card, you are able to travel. You get this card if you are staying for more than two nights. And with this card, you are able to travel for free with the public transport. And you can even use all cable cars for free. Next to that, the entry to museums. And for example, the Cheese Dairy of this famous Appenzell cheese are included. And you can even use the boats on Lake of Constance with this card or visit the Rhine Falls, which is actually not in the region of Appenzellerland, but which is in the region of Eastern Switzerland. And of course, the biggest waterfall in Europe. So within this guest card are a lot of attractions. And as I already said, the public transport is included as well.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Yeah, good. Okay, so hopefully we’ve encouraged our listeners to visit Appenzellerland and stay for more than just one day. So if they do plan on visiting and spending a few days in the region, what are the absolute top highlights that you recommend they see and do? And where about should they base themselves?


Andreas Frey

We always talk about from Bodensee bis zum Santis, which means our destination’s reach is from the Lake of Constance until Mount Santis. So these two things are actually, I think, the two main attractions. The Mount Santis we already we talked about. There is a hotel at Schwagalp. So the hotel is part of the cable car. So for example, you can say to the hotel, I want to breakfast at the top of the peak, and that’s going to be possible. Quite an experience. And the other thing is the Lake of Constance. And if you visit the Lake of Constance, we recommend like Heiden as a base. And there you can make a round trip from the village Heiden. You start, then you have a walk to a very small village called Walzenhausen. After this walk, you can take the the railroad down to the Lake of Constance. Then you can go with the boat from Rheineck, which is also a small village, further to Rorschach, a little town. And then from Rorschach, you go back again with the rack rail road up to Heiden. So you have a diverse day trip with different means of transportation and can experience the Lake of Constance as well as our mountains.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for sharing all that information with us, Andreas. It’s been really good to learn more about the region. And hopefully, when it’s safe to travel again, that you actually start to get a few more international visitors who stay for more than one day and really can appreciate the customs and the traditions of the region.


Andreas Frey

Thank you as well. I hope you have learned some more interesting things about our region, our traditions, and our culture. And of course, it would be a pleasure to welcome all listeners to the region of Appenzell.


Carolyn Schönafinger

Thank you so much. Now, for those listeners who want to learn more, I’ll include links in the show notes to the Appenzellerland website. And also I’ll mention some of the places that Andreas has talked about today. So you can do your research and find out even more information about those. The show notes will be available at holidaystoswitzerland.com/episode18. So until next time, thanks for joining us. And and keep those Swiss travel dreams alive.

Thank you so much for listening. For more great resources on planning a trip to Switzerland, make sure you visit holidaystoswitzerland.com, where you will find trip planning tips, destination guides, information on transport, including Swiss rail passes, and much more. You’re also encouraged to join the Switzerland Travel Planning Group on Facebook, where you can ask questions and chat to other past and future travellers to Switzerland. You’ll find show notes from today’s episode at holidaystoswitzerland.com/podcast, and be sure to subscribe to the Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast so you never miss an episode.

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.