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.

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