True rural Switzerland: Walking above Appenzell and beneath the Saentis

Ebenalp is a land of jagged cliffs, where bundles of rock - some sharp and pointed, others rounded - are stacked ever higher until they meet the majestic, snowy summit of the Saentis (2504m). Sweeping out beneath this landscape of turrets is a carpet of rolling greenery and quaint villages of colourful houses: Appenzellerland. A place associated with dairy products and tricky dialects, farmers and country costume. Women in one region here were only given the vote a few years ago - which gives you an idea of how rural it is.

On a day's hike with my former editor Carina and her boyfriend, we all took a steep cable car ride up from Wasserauen in the valley. Hiking up that section seems a perfect waste of time, as the views really begin once you are at Ebenalp. From there, you can look down to the effervescent green depths of the Seealpsee and admire the walls of rock that reach vertically upwards around it. We crossed snow fields and grassy mounds, snaking slowly upwards towards the Schaefler Alm (1924m). Over delicious sausage and cheese salads, we gazed over the 360-degree views - our eyes ever drawn towards the Saentis. We descended beneath the jagged rocks, sloping for some distance under the protection of giant walls that were being scaled by brave climbers. We passed herds of golden cattle and cute calves with impossibly huge eyes in some of the steepest pastures I have ever seen.

It certainly is not a route for the faint hearted, as to the right of the path is a breathtaking drop of some 500 metres to the lake. One of the highlights of the descent is passing through the Wildkirchli, a cave where bears allegedly used to live and, just beyond, a church built into the rock. A real tourist trap (where fondue was being served despite the high temperature), we quickly bypassed the hut here and began a very steep woodland descent to the lake. That is not a part of the walk I would recommend, as the descent is steep and without views for a long way.

Reaching the lake makes it worthwhile though and especially the stretch beneath the woodland to the lake, which resembled a lush green scene from the Nepalese rainforest. Collapsing into chairs at the hut beside the lake, we indulged with seriously creamy home made ice cream and zingy apricot strudel in the hut beside the lake. What had been forecast as a rainy day turned out to be sunny and warm. Only late in the afternoon, as we made our way back to the car park, did clouds begin to build. We left with a sense of wellbeing and sunkissed skin; we had escaped the bustle of the everyday for a few hours and lived only in the present, with no cares or worries except whether we had enough water to get us home: never a real problem in the mountains though, where you are sure to come across a mountain stream to fill up your bottle with ice cold and deliciously refreshing water. If only it was as easy to bottle the mountain air to bring home with you ...
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