Switzerland in miniature: Ballenberg

Delve into bygone rural Switzerland in the authentic farmhouses, dwellings and Alpine huts at Ballenberg, the national open-air museum in the canton of Bern. The honeycomb of paths make for lovely Sunday strolls.

We reach the sunbaked valleys of Ticino after a short stroll through woodland dappled golden. Here, on a bench beside a bulging vegetable patch, we picnic in the heat of the Swiss mediterranean. Mountains face us, tempered by a misty veil.

It's taken all of an hour to walk from western Switzerland, where we parked the car. We've passed giant industrial villas in private grounds, ramshackle wooden storehouses on stone stilts, and gingerbread-house-style dwellings with timber frames and glorious gardens.

This is Switzerland in miniature - Ballenberg, the national open-air museum in the canton of Bern. Arranged according to canton in pastures above poetic Lake Brienz are more than 100 houses and farm buildings, as well as 250 animals, representing rural culture in historical Switzerland.

In one parlour, it's as if we've stepped in while the inhabitants have popped out: a pair of shoes is warming under the oven, and a loaf of bread is set ready on the table. Upstairs, there's a small rocking horse and sweet gingham linen on twin beds.

There's a hat shop - and today, a milliner at work in the studio; and a saddlery, where leatherwork shines. Low-ceilinged huts, with living space attached to stables, are dark but welcoming, reeking woodsmoke. In a townhouse with pale blue trims, we learn how dyes used in the silk industry led to the creation of Basel's pharmaceutical empire. In every nook, the past comes to life in household items, clothing, photographs and books. The vegetable patches are enough to make the mouth water, and the freshly pressed apple juice being sold beside one quenches our thirst nicely.

Now, we're halfway through our tour of the country - and we can't resist spending a while longer on this sun-baked bench on the southern flank of Switzerland of old.


The sound of silence: Tschiertschen, Switzerland

The sound of silence bellows in Tschiertschen, a village hidden high above Chur in the Swiss canton of Grisons. Meadows teeming with butterflies tangle among mighty conifers, and wild summits orbit into the furthest distance.

The village is charmingly, quintessentially - and I mean, really - Swiss. Shuttered wooden chalets with colourful window boxes are scattered like Duplo bricks across the steep left flank of the Schanfigg valley. The scene is wreathed in woodland and wildflower meadows, which fall away before a halo of bulky mountains with profiles like sleeping dinosaurs. Tschiertschen is actually not far off a fairytale. The hotel we are staying in - the 1894-built The Alpine - shimmers like a palace atop the village rooftops. Cloud further up the valley casts a Wild Witch darkness,

We arrived earlier in the afternoon and my shoulders already feel lower. We're just 90 minutes drive from Zurich, and 20 minutes up from Chur, Switzerland's oldest city, but all that can be seen of the urban sprawl is a glow rising from the valley bottom at night. Strolling the village later, we admire tangled country gardens and nosily peer into low-ceilinged living rooms with Alpine charm in spades. There's an organic farm kiosk selling beef from local farmers and traditionally produced cheese - all much cheaper than the supermarkets in Zurich.

On the three-hour Butterfly Trail the next day we ascend wizened woodland and cross panoramic pastures - not spotting a single butterfly, until we emerge onto a sun-dappled wildflower meadow and are encircled by fluttering chessboard butterflies, pale blue counterparts, blowsy bumblebees and buzzing cicadas.

The Nostalgia bus, a circa 1950s sunshine yellow Postbus model, wakes us to the present as it noisily chugs round the corner by the church and splutters away, impossibly, between the tightly packed houses. It's touristy, but somehow at home in this time-forgotten place, which recedes like a hermit into the mountainside, blooming only to those who come and really listen.

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