Thursday, December 14th, 2017

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Switzerland’s living traditions remain part of its charm, appeal for visitors

Cows1 AlphornLessonsBy SARAH JAQUAY

The road to Heididorf is a scenic trek above the town of Maienfeld and site of the Heidi Museum pictured here. (Photographs by Sarah Jaquay)

The road to Heididorf is a scenic trek above the town of Maienfeld and site of the Heidi Museum pictured here.
(Photographs by Sarah Jaquay)

The Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach’s inkblot test to determine thought associations may be passé, but many people associate Switzerland with snow-covered chalets, ski resorts and dunking crusty bread into fondue pots. These seasonal impressions merely scratch the surface of Swiss traditions visitors may experience year-round. These “living traditions” are a way of life practiced today —   ust demonstrated for tourists.

First, some basics about this country of eight million that’s as linguistically diverse as it is geographically. Switzerland has four official languages: Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh (descended from spoken Latin.) And it is even more diverse when it comes to traditions. Many of the 26 cantons have singular cuisine and wines, not to mention festivals and customs dating back centuries.

While Switzerland’s known for cheese, chocolate and crispy cakes of golden-brown potato rösti, there are many other delicacies. Western Switzerland’s Fribourg is a capital place to dine. This lush region offers fresh produce, perch and trout dishes as well as crisp wines from the nearby vineyards of Vully. The town of Fribourg boasts 14 Michelin-rated restaurants. Some of the more renowned include: Café Hotel de Ville, La Tour Rouge and Auberge aux 4 Vents — an eclectic country inn where occupants of the blue room can bathe in a tub that glides over their lovely gardens. The inn and restaurant are just a few minutes from the heart of Fribourg. The Auberge’s Chef Emmanuel Gremaud serves Swiss cuisine with an inventive twist. When the Fribourgois are in the mood for bistro food, they gather at Café du Midi. Diners can’t go wrong ordering fondue moitié-moitié (a combination of Gruyère and Vacherin cheeses), fondue aux truffles or herbes. The Café is vibrant, family-friendly and the servers look like they stepped right out of Heidi.

In Northeastern Switzerland, the village of Appenzell honors its past as perhaps no other place. It’s an archetypal Swiss village with almost as many cows as people. The region mainly attracts Swiss nationals, so it’s rather an undiscovered gem. Whether eating siedewurst (a mild sausage), dishes made with Appenzeller cheese or noshing on biber, a doughy dessert made with honey and almond filling, Appenzell is a place to unwind and observe the rhythm of the seasons.

Every spring there’s a parade of cows when herdsmen move their cattle and goats up the mountains for summer grazing. In late August or September, herdsmen drive their cows back through town before winter. This reporter was fortunate enough to witness the running of the cows as they returned to their farms. The only sounds louder than cowbells and clattering hooves on cobblestones were people shouting, “The cows are coming!”

Another Appenzel l ritual is the Landsgemeinde or cantonal assembly. It’s the meeting where adults discuss issues and elect members of government. This gathering embodies the tradition of direct democracy. There’s no secret ballot and everyone participates. When asked if candidates or residents try to influence how their neighbors vote, life-long resident Maria Hamm replied, “We wouldn’t do that. It’s not polite.”

The canton of Graubünden is a great destination for musical and literary traditions. The major city is Chur, a bustling town of 35,000 located on the Rhine River and known as Switzerland’s oldest town. Visitors can take a trip to the top of a nearby mountain and learn to play the Alphorn, the musical instrument inextricably linked to Switzerland and popularized in Ricola commercials. Once used as a communication and warning system from mountain to mountain, it’s also a great way blow off steam (through the lips) and make music. Accomplished Alphorn conductor Werner Erb plays in the region and says anyone with “loose lips can learn to play.”

Finally, for thosewho love the children’s classic Heidi, a visit to Heididorf is worth the short train ride to Maienfeld. Heididorf is the re-created village where Heidi stayed when she wasn’t summering on the mountain in her grandfather’s cabin. Don’t miss the strenuous but gratifying climb up to grandfather’s cabin at Heidi Alp. Hikers are rewarded with hearty lunches, local beer and panoramic views of the valley below.

For more information, visit myswitzerland.com or call 800.794.7795.

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