Swiss Alps | Adjust Your Altitude

Do You Suppose She Is A Wildflower?

The best gift I gave myself in a very long time was a back-to-basics vacation in the heart of the beautiful Swiss Alps. I stayed on a lovely farm Schlafen im Stroh on a bed completely made out of straw. I recommend it to everyone!

This being my first visit to Switzerland, I misunderstood the address. I was convinced that I was Appenzell bound – a lovely traditional little town – when in fact I was meant to travel just a little further to Wasserauen in the Appenzell district. I only figured this out after asking the lovely shopkeeper at the train station to call me a taxi. A very expensive taxi. I asked the Taxi if I could pay by card or if he would be able to stop at an ATM along the way. He nodded and smiled and drove me all the way the Alpenrose Hotel/ restaurant in Wasserauen. It turned out that my taxi driver doesn’t speak English and does not take Euros for payment. The owner of Alpenrose was kind enough to let me draw money from the restaurant – although they do not usually do that and were not happy about it. I drank an ice tea and ordered a plate of chips at the restaurant after paying the taxi driver. An older waitress was very clearly annoyed by me. I had to ask for the wifi password 4 times. When I opened the window she immediately came and slammed it close and when I asked for a menu she rolled her eyes at me. I did go back there again and her behavior was the same towards me, but I was served by a different young and very pleasant waitress that changed my opinion of the place. The adventure was off to a rocky start, leaving plenty of room for improvement.

Schlafen im Straw – Sleeping in straw

After I was nourished I took my heavy suitcase and set out to find Schlafen im Stroh. For context it is important to note that it is exactly a 5 minute walk from the Wasserauen train station and literally opposite the Alpenrose hotel. There is a sign and everything. I have no idea how I got it so wrong, but I ended up pulling my heavy suitcase (All 23kg of it) up the path en route to Seealpsee. A beautiful couple of hikers had the courage to stop me and question this mad endeavor of the girl in city cloths and and shoes pulling her suitcase up the mountain track. The women said that she means no disrespect, but they are fit and there is no way even they would be able to pull that suitcase up the mountain. I am so thankful that they interfered and helped me find my way to Nicklaus and Ruth Signer, the owners of Schlafen im Stroh.

On all my travels I never met people more pleasant, warm and good hearted than I did here. I hope that I will one day be able to return.

I’ve grown up on a farm, so this was not really that far removed from my comfort zone, although sleeping in straw on a dairy farm in the alpes was a completely new and wonderful experience. The straw was much comfier than I anticipated, my sinuses was surprisingly okay. I think it is due to how clean the owners keep this space. The sound of bells was a great comfort serving as a lullaby at night and a slow peaceful wake-up call in the mornings. It is also great for kids as they have very safe playground available. I would love to bring my future kids here one day. There is even a braai or “barbecue” and fireplace available. The family also have supper or cooking facilities available on request. I opted in for the breakfast option, but Ruth and Nicklaus was incredibly kind and invited me over for a traditional dinner one night. It was delicious and I know I won’t do it justice describing it. It was pasta and home made cheese with a pork sausage and apple puré. I asked them about their four kids and about their lives and they asked me about South Africa and the differences in farming techniques and agriculture. They laughed when I said our 500 hectare farm is considered small in South Africa. I found it fascinating how men sits on one side of the table and women on the other side of the table.

Breakfast was a feast every morning, with lovely fresh bread, homemade cheese and Ruth’s homemade jams. My favourite jam/ marmalade was one Ruth makes out pine tree needles. She gifted me with my own bottle on the day I left. It is my most valued treasure I bought home from this adventure. They wouldn’t accept my payment. I’ve told them all about Nastergal or Mosaba. For those who did not grow up is Natal it is Nightshade jam. Nastergal being the Afrikaans name and Mosaba the Zulu name. It is a green berry that is poisonous but turns purple when it ripens and can then be cooked into a bright purple jam. It grows on the Highveld of Mpumulanga, Kwazulu- Natal and parts of the Freestate. What made the breakfast even more spectacular was that we ate it outside at the foot of an alp, breathing in the fresh mountain air listening to how the wind makes the trees sing.

Another happy coincidence of my accommodation was that it is at the start point of all the hiking trail that takes you to all the best hiking destinations Wasserauen has to offer. Taking advantage of the sun setting so late in Europe during summer I decided to do a quick hike (second attempt) to Seealpsee on the evening of my arrival after booking in. I’ve met some friendly cattle and some friendly people along the way. The trail left me breathless because it was steeper than I thought it would be and the air seemed thinner than in South Africa, but foremost because of its regal beauty that demands your attention.

Wasserauen – Seealpsee – Äscher – Wildkirchi – Ebenalp

After a peaceful deep sleep and filling breakfast I decided to take on the challenging mountain hike up to the spectacular Ebenalp. There is just something about fresh milk that tastes so much better!

Sometime around midday I was extremely mad at myself for not taking the cable car, but that was a fleeting emotion that very soon returned to gratitude. I was not as fit as I hoped I would be and an allergic reaction to leather left my feet covered in blisters. In retrospect I would do it all over again without changing a thing!

After a scenic, semi steep climb, you reach the striking Lake Seealpsee with the majestic Säntis in the background. I stopped here to drink in the scenery and buy a Solero ice cream. I grew up with this delicious holiday treat in South Africa. It was a sad day when Solero was no longer available. Alas what a treat to have a taste of home in such a faraway country, a mountain kingdom that makes you smile with your entire heart.

My next stop was the irrefutable highlight of this hike, the Äscher mountain restaurant. It was closed for a while but reopened just before I arrived. This restaurant that was featured on the cover of National Geographic’s ‘Destinations of a Lifetime’ special and that were once named one of the five most interesting restaurants in the world in the Huffington Post has been on my bucketlist since 2015. The restaurant is a welcome sight after a steep climb and is perched precariously on the base of a 100-meter-high vertical ledge. The owners are very proud of their Swiss heritage and work hard to obtain as much of it as possible. This is evident in the ingredients they use. I set out with the best intention to eat a proper meal at this restaurant, but considering the fact that I was hiking during a heatwave I settled for something sweet instead. Ice cold homemade icetea and traditional Appenzell gingerbread with ice cream and plums served with whipped cream and thyme crumble. It was everything I never knew I wanted and every bit as delicious as it sounds. It gave me enough energy for the rest of the climb.

I was lucky enough to see how the goodies reach the restaurant. The supplies is delivered with a motorised wheel barrow that makes its way through a prehistoric cave, past the Wildkirchli church, all the way to the Äscher mountain restaurant. This 400 year old wild church were once the place where hermit monks lived and worshiped from 1658 to 1853. Interesting fact: Wildkirchli consist of three intelinked caves situated in the Alpstein, north-east of Mount Säntis, and are located at a height of 1,477 to 1,500 m. It is also a wonderful place for those with an interest in archaeology. Some of the findings from these caves included skeletons of cave-bearers and stone tools from more primitive times. I was told that theses caves were inhabited by the Paleolithic Neanderthal. I choose to believe it.

I finally briefed a sigh of relief when I made my way to the impressive Ebenalp. The northernmost summit of the Appenzell alps. Its been a long time since I felt so close to heaven and down to earth. Mountain air can truly heal anything, and I breathed it all in! A new found friend and I actually spoke about how many times we had to remind ourselves to look up, look down, and look around. That we are not only chasing after a destination, especially when the going got tough, but an adventure.

There is a German proverb that holds sooo much truth: Those who have to go 10 miles must regard 9 miles as half way. Lucky for me it was the longest day of the year allowing more than enough daylight for me to make my way down the mountain unlike Veronica that extended her hike and got caught on the mountain and ended up spending the night in a kind stranger’s hut.

The way back down was beautiful and challenging. It did not feel that steep on the way up. I decided to take a much needed break and quick swim at Seealpsee. After a very cold but refreshing swim I grabbed a homemade ice tea and a bite to eat at the Seealpsee Berggasthaus. I definitely recommend them if you are ever in the area! I had a very nice and friendly waiter that made me feel at home and helped me in English. The food was also great.

Back in Wasserauen I had a shower, ice cream at the Alpenrose (avoiding the mean waitress from before who were now shushing a group of yodeling men). Finally I fell into a deep sleep in a soft bed made of straw that smelled like home.

On my second last day a visited the lovely town of Appenzell and Sant Gallen that is only a quick train ride away. On my last day I took the cable car to Mount Säntis and walked around as much as possible taking in the crisp contrast of the snow against the dark mountains, breathing in lungs full of air as if trying to make a single breath last forever. My phone’s battery wasn’t properly charged so I couldn’t take my own photos, but the below photos was taken by my new friend Veronica Keutt.

Wasserauen was a magical place that humbled and delighted me. I felt like I was living my own real-life-Heidi-adventure. I was the right kind of busy. I made new friends (some was human, some was not). Saying goodbye to the Nicklaus and Ruth was like saying goodbye to my own family.


Happily Lost In The Swiss Alps

3 thoughts on “Swiss Alps | Adjust Your Altitude

  1. This place and this post is incredible! What an experience and the Signers sounds like earthly angels. Deffies moving this one up the travel list.

    Liked by 1 person

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