Appenzell, Switzerland

Aug 10, 2014

Walking along the narrow main streets of Appenzell village, you would be forgiven if you thought you had stepped into a fairy tale. Think 16th-century houses with attractive frescoes of scenes from local life adorning their facades. Shops and cafes also sport overhanging metal signboards (known as tafeen from the English word tavern) that indicate the nature of their business. In the middle of the town also stands a tiny Heiligkreuzkapelle church with stunning stained glass windows.

Appenzell is a repository of living traditions several centuries old. Its 7,000 residents, both young and old, are fiercely proud of their unique heritage, from the spicy Appenzeller cheese to their haunting folk music. Of these, the Swiss yodelling tradition and the Betruf (an evening call to prayer) are the most remarkable.

There is always something charming going on at Appenzell. In early autumn, the area is abuzz with the ritual of alpine herdsmen descending from the mountain pastures with their cattle. Look out for their colourful attire, which includes richly embroidered waistcoats and hats decorated with flowers. And if you are there in April, you would witness the annual Landsgemeinde (open-air assembly), held at the small Landsgemeindeplatz (village square) on the last Sunday of the month. Here, political matters are openly debated and voting is by a show of hands, as it has been since the 14th century.

Appenzell village is located in the picturesque north-east of Switzerland, between the Swiss Alps and Lake Constance, and is believed to have derived its name from Abbacella, meaning abbot’s retreat. This refers to an early 11th-century settlement created by the then-powerful Abbey of St Gallen on this site.

While at Appenzell, be sure to spend time at the museum on Hauptgasse. Highlights at this museum include the collections of traditional embroidery and unique local costumes. In addition to these permanent works, look out for current events and exhibitions focusing on specific aspects of Appenzell culture.