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Appenzell, Switzerland

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ABOVE: The annual Landgesmeinde in Appenzell.

Appenzell is both a canton (actually two half-cantons) and a town of 5,000 in Eastern Switzerland, less than two hours from Zürich by train. The town, which we'll talk about in this article, lies amid green hills with just enough low-altitude alps to remind tourists that they're still in Switzerland.

As you might guess, the town of Appenzell is a cantonal capital--more accurately, the capital of Appenzell Innerrhoden, a Roman Catholic half-canton which lies within the arms of a Protestant neighbor called Appenzell Ausserrhoden.

The town is most famous for its annual Landesgemeinde, an open-air parliament where citizens vote directly on major issues instead of trusting elected officials to make decisions for them. (Only men were allowed to vote until 1991, when the Swiss Supreme Court ruled that excluding women was unconstitutional.)

Appenzell's respect for tradition goes beyond electoral issues. On special occasions, you'll see Appenzellers decked out in regional costume, and Appenzell has long been one of Switzerland's most active centers for yodeling, alphorn playing, and other expressions of Swiss musical tradition.

The local houses are also distinctive, with their painted façades and attached barns. And for tourists who fancy primitive art (especially with bovine subjects), there's no greater attraction--and no better souvenir--than a traditional Appenzeller panoramic cow painting.

Appenzell sights and activities

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ABOVE: Building façades with painted gables in Appenzell.

The town of Appenzell may seem touristy at first glance, especially in summer. Still, that's a small price to pay for the preservation of a town's heritage--and if you see a farmer walking barefoot with an earring dangling from one ear, you can be sure that he isn't doing it to impress the rubes from the city.

The best way to enjoy Appenzell is to simply stroll around the town, soaking up the atmosphere and sampling the local honey cakes or pear bread (Birnenbrot) when you get hungry. Visit the town's museums, which include:

Museum Appenzell - History and culture of the town and canton, from ancient times through the present.

Museum of Art Appenzell - Inside this museum's avant-garde building, you'll find works by the artists Carl August Liner and Carl Water Liner along with other examples of modern art. The Liners are also featured in the Kunsthalle Ziegelhütte, which includes a 16th Century brick kiln.

The two most popular excursions from Appenzell are:

Ebenalp, a 5,394-ft. (1644m) mountain that you reach by cablecar from nearby Wasserauen, at the end of the Appenzeller Bahn railroad line. From the summit, you can walk to a cave that was once occupied by religious hermits.

Säntis, the highest mountain in Eastern Switzerland. Take the train to Urnäsch and a bus to the jumping-off point of Schwägalp. From the latter, an aerial cablecar lifts you to the 8,209-ft. (2,502m) peak of the Säntis, where you can see across Lake Constance into Germany on a fine day.

Walking or biking in the surrounding hills is a pleasant, inexpensive diversion. Appenzell is one of the greenest and prettiest regions in Switzerland, with 750 miles (1200 km) of well-marked paths that don't require mountain gear or a head for heights. Depending on the time of year and your itinerary, you may encounter herds of miniature cattle--the smallest cows you're likely to see anywhere.

The railway station in Appenzell rents bicycles by the day. If you'd rather hike, one option is to head for a distant village and return by train or postal bus. (TIP: When waiting for a train at an unattended rural station, be sure to press the button that signals the engineer to stop!)

You can check transportation schedules at the Appenzell railway station or at www.sbb.ch.

Practical information 

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ABOVE: Subcompact Appenzeller cattle are led to pasture.

Reaching Appenzell

The most enjoyable way to reach Appenzell is via the Appenzeller Bahnen railroad from St. Gallen or Gossau, both of which are on the main railway line from Z¨rich.

 The narrow-gauge cogwheel trains zigzag their way through the green countryside, gaining several hundred feet in elevation during their short but leisurely journey.

If you're traveling by car, two-lane roads from Herisau or St. Gallen will take you to Appenzell.

Tours and excursions

In summer and fall, it's usually possible to book guided excursions in and around Appenzell. You can visit an Appenzeller cheese demonstration dairy, tour the Alpenbitter liqueur factory free of charge, and take a walking tour of the historic town center.

Hotels

Appenzell has a number of pleasant, comfortable hotels in the town center. The Romantik Hotel Säntis, on the main square, may be the fanciest, but you're unlikely to go wrong in any of the hotels.

For hotel listings with photos and reviews by paying guests, see:

  • Booking.com: Appenzell our partner
    Europe's leading secure reservations site offers hotels, guesthouses, and other accommodation in all price ranges. Listings include photos and reviews by paying guests.

Vacation rentals

  • Airbnb: Appenzell our partner
    If you're traveling with your family or staying more than a few days, a self-catering holiday rental can be a good alternative to a hotel. Our affiliate partner, Airbnb, has a good selection of apartments, private rooms, and vacation houses.

More tourist information:

Appenzellerland
You'll find a wealth of information at the local tourist office's site.

 

Top photo copyright © Aztech.
Photos 2, 3 copyright © Swiss-images.ch.