I love to hike. But, you won’t see me with an overnight backpack and intimidating hiking sticks. I’m more of a moderate day-hiker who enjoys trekking for epicurean rewards. In my quest to find the best “food trails,” I’ve located the prettiest region to hike for cheese. That region is Appenzellerland in north-eastern Switzerland. More specifically, this slice of heaven is located in the canton Appenzell Innerrhoden. Here, alpine lakes are framed by mountain peaks and green meadows are dotted with bell-wearing cattle. Welcome to a waking dreamland.
To taste the best regional cheese, you have to hike into the Appenzell Alps. There you will find dairy farms and mountain inns that sell the bold and nutty Appenzeller Käse (cheese). Below, you’ll discover two hikes in the Alpstein mountain range that promise both dreamy scenery as well as tasty treats.
1) GEOLOGICAL TRAIL TO FÄHLENSEE
The Geological Trail begins at the Hoher Kasten tram station at the very top of the mountain. First, you ascend the mountain in a cableway from Brülisau (it’s not cheating). Many travelers just take the cableway up to the mountain peak to enjoy the view combined with a meal at the restaurant. The hike begins at an elevation of 1,794 meters with sweeping views of the Rhine River Valley, Appenzellerland, and Lake Constance.
The trail continues downhill towards Saxer Lücke, which is a gap in the mountain. As you approach the gap, you’ll have an incredible view of the mountain Kreuzberge. You’ll also see the alpine lake Fählensee off to the right. And, I’d venture to say, this is one of the greatest views in Switzerland.
As you descend the mountain towards the lake, you’ll hear a chorus of cow bells from the valley below. Follow the signs and the sound of bells to the mountain inn Bollenwees. Situated directly on Fählensee, this is the place to take a break and order the regional specialty: Rösti mit Appenzeller Käse und Eier, which translates as hash browns with cheese and eggs. We were informed by a local that they serve the best Rösti in Appenzellerland.
After lunch, take the footpath around the lake to a goat dairy farm. The resident goats spend the day mountaineering and grazing around the lake. You’ll likely meet a few long-haired beauties during your visit. Surrounded by boulders and fallen rock, the farm itself occupies the most enchanting spot I’ve ever seen.
When you’re ready to complete the hike, retrace your steps back to Bollenwees. From the mountain inn, the hike continues for two more hours downhill to Brülisau. The whole hike is 14.6 km and takes 5.5 to 6 hours. The vast majority of this hike is downhill, which is easy from a fitness perspective, but your knees will definitely feel it by the end.
2) WASSERAUEN TO SEEALPSEE AND ÄSCHER
This perfect day hike begins in Wasserauen. Take the dirt trail (not the paved path) to the alpine lake Seealpsee. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach Seealpsee. It begins steeply, but then plateaus in a beautiful alpine pasture where horned cattle graze. As you hike between dairy farms, you’ll have several opportunities to purchase cheese directly from the farmers.
After you circle the lake, ascend the steep trail for one hour to the mountain inn Äscher. Berggasthaus Äscher is one of the most photogenic places in Switzerland. The view of the wooden inn pressed up against the mountain is reason enough to climb up here. It’s something out of a fairy tale. Once you’ve taken too many photos, settle in and order a slab of cheese and some local beer. The inn might be packed, but the service is swift.
From the mountain inn, the trail continues for about 20 minutes to the mountain station Ebenalp Seilbahn. You’ll pass through Wildkirchli, three interlinked caves, before reaching the cableway station. Interestingly, these caves were inhabited by Paleolithic Neanderthals (~45,000 to 30,000 BC). In the early 20th century, archaeologists performed several excavations here and found ancient bones and prehistoric tools. From the caves, it’s a 10-15 minute hike uphill to the station. To complete the loop, simply catch the next aerial cableway down to Wasserauen. The hike is 7 km and takes 3.5 hours (hiking time only).
So, you’re probably thinking, what makes this cheese so special. Well first, before you even take a bite, you’ll experience “love at first smell.” After savoring the aroma, you’ll taste something bold, spicy, and truly unique. The flavor is attributed to the quality of the milk. The dairy cows only feed on grass, hay, and maize plants, and they spend half the year grazing in the mountains. In addition to the quality of the dairy, it’s the herbal brine recipe that contributes to the flavor. It’s composed of a variety of herbs, roots, leaves, and flowers from the region. But, we’ll never really know why it’s so delicious, because the Appenzeller folk keep the recipe a secret.
LEARNING ABOUT APPENZELLER KÄSE
If you’re interested in learning more about the Appenzeller cheese-making process, you can visit the Appenzeller Schaukäserei in Stein. You can observe every step of the process and learn about how cheese-making and tradition are synonymous in this region. The entrance is free. There is also an adjoining restaurant that sells cheese platters and fondue. They are quite generous with the cherry schnapps, so you might feel a bit tippy after eating the fondue.
TIPS FOR PLANNING A TRIP TO APPENZELLERLAND
Stay in the town of Appenzell. It’s a charming town and there’s a nice selection of restaurants to choose from. You can also stay in Gais and Hundwil. Time your trip with a local festival, such as a cattle drive. Locals will be clad in their traditional attire, which is a treat to see. Buy a “Swiss motorway sticker” or “vignette” for 40 CHF (approx. 41 USD), if you’re driving in Switzerland.
Do you love to hike for food? Have you discovered any food trails? Please share your favorite hiking-foodie experiences in the comments below!
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