When someone says Switzerland, the images that come into mind are rolling green hills, dotted with pretty cottages and herds of cow, snowcapped mountains in the distant horizon, dancing streams and springs and of course, for us Indians, Bollywood films!!
Planeload of tourists flock the country in the summer months….some to visit the cities which have beautifully preserved architecture, old town squares lined with shops offering the latest brands and super-efficient public transport system……some to see the picturesque country side, riding the carefully designed scenic route trains…… and most of us end our trip with bag full of famous and delicious Swiss chocolates.
Switzerland is a tourists’ paradise. It has something to offer to everyone…. Cable rides, cogwheel trains, ski lifts, gondolas to take you to the highest of the mountain peaks, interactive city museums for children, lake cruises with sunset dinners for the honeymooners, beautiful promenades and parks near lakes for the elderly, adventure sports for the energetic youngsters and many more. But what really caught my interest were the hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult level all over the country. So, I decided to make this trip to Switzerland with hiking in the Alps as the focal point.
It was very difficult to decide which part of Switzerland to choose for hiking. Since our group consisted of elderly to young, we didn’t want to strain ourselves too much. I looked for the easy, relaxing trails which would take us through villages, forests and gentle hillsides. The best part of Switzerland is that even the smallest and remotest town and village is connected by public transport and one card, the Swiss travel pass, which allows the visitor to avail of any public transport (train, boat, bus and even trams in cities)…. Just hop in and hop out! This makes it easier for beginners like us, to embark on hiking. Wherever, one feels tired or unable to go further on foot, just take the nearest public transport to the destination. We decided to take three routes in our trip. The first was from Biel to Twann, the second from Lauterbrunnen to Grindalwald and the third from Wasserauen to Gais.
The websites give information regarding the altitude variation and the difficulty level of the routes and the visitors can plan their itinerary easily before the start of their journey. There are online route planners too.
The routes are numbered and marked very clearly all along the trails and it is easy to follow them. There are biking trails also along with the walking ones.
In this article, I’ll cover the Wasserauen to Gais route which goes along the Appenzellbahn railway track and is just straight walking through lovely villages of Appenzell. There is very little climbing up and down.
Our farm stay in Gais.
Gais Train Station, from where there is a train to Appenzell every half hour.
Wasserauen can be reached from Appenzell, Gossau and Herisau by train. Swiss train system is very punctual and the time table is scheduled in such a way that connections from one part of the journey to another can be done smoothly without lengthy waiting periods. It’s an amazing experience to hop from one train to another without any worries, hassles or huffing and puffing!!
We took the train from Gais to Appenzell and then further on to Wasserauen. The train station at Wasserauen is adjacent to the cableway station to Ebenalp. There is a more difficult hiking path from Wasserauen to Ebenalp via Seealp Lake and Ascher. The scenery is supposed to be ever changing from flat land around the lake to steep climb over craggy rocks. Sounds very exciting….maybe for the next time!!
The Appenzell region is primarily a farming area. Each place looks like a picture postcard. We had exceptionally good weather with abundant sunshine but mild temperature. It was very comfortable for walking. We carried food and water but there are roadside bakeries where one can buy freshly baked bread, croissant and buns, farm fresh fruits and drinks.
The walking path passes through small farming villages; one can walk from village to village and hop on to the train at any village train station. There are stretches of winding path through the wooded areas, sometimes crossing a quaint but rickety wooden bridge over rivulets and suddenly opening out in green pastures where the quiet and serene atmosphere is broken, only, by the tinkling cowbells.
I’ll let a few pictures describe the wonderful experience of walking through the villages of Appenzell.
Wasserauen, the starting point of our hike is a very small place. It has two cableways to carry tourists to the higher points of the mountains.
It was fun and a novel experience watching the train cross our path on its way to the next station.
Hiking and Biking trail sign on our way from Wasserauen to Gais via Appenzell.
A village with the church steeple standing tall amidst the wooden cottages.
A sleepy calf enjoying the sunshine.
Vast stretches of green field and clear blue sky.
A small church by the roadside.
Zurich to St.Gallen is about two hours by train and St.Gallen is very well connected to the entire Appenzell area by Appenzellbahn. The small farming villages and towns offer numerous hotels, inns, farm stays and ski cabins (only in the ski area) for comfortable night stays. We stayed in Gais which is a small town on the St.Gallen – Appenzell train route.
The hike was very relaxing and enjoyable. We saw another side of the country which is known for commercial tourism. The farm stay experience gave us the opportunity to interact with the local people and know their culture. The people are very friendly and helpful and no different from other rural area people. Their lives revolve around their farms and the village community. It was so refreshing to be natural and share our thoughts freely. This was a Switzerland I would like to visit again and again.
I hope you enjoyed reading about a different kind of tourism offered by Switzerland. Next time I’ll cover the other two trails. So, enjoy hiking in the Alps!
Enjoying a well-earned rest in Appenzell (mid-way to Gais).
Sunset over Gais, our final destination.