25 August 2015

Hoher Kasten hike in Appenzell alps

Hoher Kasten is a mountain in the Appenzell area, with panoramic views of Eastern Switzerland and lots of hiking options. This hike starts at the top of the Brülisau-Hoher Kasten cable car, descends ~400m over ~5.5km to the Ruhesitz guest house, where you can rent a trotti scooter to ride the rest of the way down on a paved road. In the middle of the trail, there is a nice detour to a pretty pond in the forest, an extra 3km loop but well worth it.

The views are spectacular and the hike varied: rocky steps, forests, fields, gravel paths, cow pastures, paved roads, muddy bogs, etc. The hike is not particularly difficult since it is mostly downhill, but it is long and could be challenging for very small children. Instead of hiking, you can simply enjoy the view from the complex atop Hoher Kasten, with a rotating panorama restaurant, open year round. We really liked this area and plan to go back and tackle some of the more challenging hikes along the mountain ridges to some alpine lakes and mountain huts.

04 July 2015

Hoch Ybrig Panorama Hike

Updated July 2015: Hoch Ybrig, about 30 minutes south of Einsiedeln, is one of our favorite local hikes, with fantastic panorama views and an easy downhill hike for little kids and strollers. I particularly like this trail because it starts on a ridge, so you can see everything on both sides of the mountain, including Lake Luzern to the north. The trail wanders back down through rolling meadows to a small pond, with lots of picnic spots and fire pits. There are several restaurants and picnic areas with fire pits. It's also nice for visitors as it's close to Zurich, relatively inexpensive, and usually not as crowded as other famous places. We've been several times, both for hiking and skiing. I hope you like it as much as we do.

18 June 2015

Flumserberg "Wild Man" Nature Theme Trail

The Flumserberg "Sagenerlebnisweg" is a theme trail with several interactive educational stations for children along the way. Story boards tell a story of a little wild man that lived in a cave at Flumserberg, who was unkind to animals and nature. After a change of heart, the wild man is allowed to return to Flumserberg every year for three days to make amends. Using the story and information gathered along the trail, children can solve a word puzzle and enter a contest to win a prize. At the end of the trail, there is a big play area, restaurant and even a ropes courses for both big and small. It's a full day of adventure in the mountains. Flumserberg has a Oktoberfest celebration on the last weekend in September, so you might want to plan your visit then.

17 June 2015

strawberry picking

It's strawberry picking time again! It's a short season, from about the first week of June through the first week of July. I always plan to go, but some years, by the time I get around to going, the season is already over. So don't delay.

Jucker Farm is an obvious choice. I picked strawberries there a few years ago and we had a nice time. I really liked picking cherries there too. Jucker Farm has a lot of extras, like the playground, animals, and restaurant to make it a full day excursion. But Jucker Farm can get really busy sometimes. So if you just want to get the strawberries, it's probably better to find a local farm near you.

The past few years, I've been going to Sunnehof farm in Mettmenstetten. It's not closer to my home than Jucker Farm, but I don't have to drive through Zurich traffic to get there. It's just a farm, no extras for kids. But that's entertainment enough on some days. It costs about 4.50CHF/kilo, about half of what you pay in the store and of course, you can eat as much as you like in the field.

This website lists all Pick Your Own, or "Selberpflucken," farms in Switzerland.
This website lists farms near Zurich that sell direct to consumers.
Other "Pick Your Own" near Zurich: Bonstetten, Dübendorf, Riedenholzhof Zurich-Seebach (Bio)
If you have other recommendations, please leave a comment.

View Larger Map

Swiss strawberry picking is a bit more structured than I had encountered in the US. So here's a step by step for Sunnehof farm in Mettmenstetten:

Step 1. Bring your own baskets to collect strawberries. Otherwise you have to pay a small fee for the cardboard boxes. You can use any container, but it helps the little ones if it has a handle. We brought a toy toolbox one year. Anything works.

Step 2. Using the above map as a reference, drive to Mettmenstetten and turn off Zurichstrasse to Albisstrasse. In less than a minute you'll see a sign for "Erdbeeren" so turn left onto Oberdorfstrasse, then right on Hombergstrasse, which is a one lane road. Follow this up to the farm and park in the market spots after you drive past the farm buildings.

Step 3. Bring your containers to the farm shop. They will weigh each container and put a sticker on it, so that weight will not be included in the strawberry weight.

Step 4. Walk over to the strawberry fields and talk to a worker. S/he will assign you a row and you are only allowed to pick on that row. You start at the white pole (where the last person stopped picking). When you are done, you move the pole to where you stopped picking. They expect you to pick rather methodically, to help keep the field in good condition. Of course, kids will pick wherever and that's not a big problem as long as you stay in your row. You will also be instructed to only pick berries that are completely red, no white. The worker will also give you an "Abfall" bucket, in which they expect you to put any trash like rotten strawberries, weeds, etc.

Step 5. Pick and eat. My kids mostly eat rather than work. One year my 2.5yr old spent his time collecting rocks instead of strawberries (as shown below). Whatever. It's all fun at the farm. This isn't a particularly long activity. My kids are usually ready to go after about 30 minutes or so, while I'm obsessively searching for the perfect strawberry. I'd recommend an overcast day as manual labor is harder than you might remember.

Step 6. Go back to the farm shop and weigh your baskets and pay. It's always way more than I think. So remember to bring enough cash in case your eyes are bigger than your wallet, like me. I picked over 9 kilos last time. Luckily I was with friend that helped me carry them and lend me a bit of cash to cover my bill.

Step 7: Eat and be merry. The strawberries start to go bad after about a day. So it's good to have a plan before you bring home a ridiculous amount of strawberries that you can't eat quick enough.

Here's what I did with mine:

strawberry milk
strawberry jam
strawberry cake
strawberry frozen yogurt
strawberry fruit leather
freezing strawberries for smoothies, cobbler, etc.

28 May 2015

The Swiss Path: Overview

To celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation, the "Swiss Path," aka "Weg der Schweiz" was built around the southernmost end of Lake Luzern. The trail is broken into 7 sections, each easily accessible by public transportation, so you can walk as little or much as you like. So far, we've hiked sections A-D, from Rütli to Flüelen, each section with its positives and negatives. Below is an overview of the whole Swiss path, with maps and links to details for each section.

The Swiss Path: Rütli to Seelisberg to Bauen (Sec. A and B)

The Rütli-Bauen section of the Swiss Path, aka "Weg der Schweiz," is a lovely trail in the forests and high alpine meadows bordering the southwest section of Lake Luzern. This hike is just one part of "The Swiss Path," aka "Weg der Schweiz," was built to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation. The whole Swiss Path is 35 km, but is broken into 7 sections, each easily accessible by public transportation, so you can walk as little or much as you like. This post covers sections A and B, the 8.6 km stretch from Rütli to Bauen, which includes a steep ascent to the alpine village of Seelisberg, then a leisurely walk back down to Bauen on the lake. Even though this hike sometimes follows roads and dips through small towns, we still really liked this hike and would definitely recommend it.

This hike is not suitable for strollers, but sections C and D of the Swiss Path are. That hike, from Bauen to Flüelen, is a mostly wide, flat path hugging the lake shore, with nice views of the surrounding mountains. It's not nearly as nice as this hike, as it is often right next to the road. But it's still a good time and I would recommend it if you need a low-key, easy walk with a view. See details for sections C and D here. I've also written an overview of the Swiss Path here

The Swiss Path: Bauen to Flüelen (Sec. C and D)

The Bauen-Isleten-Flüelen stretch of the Swiss Path is a flat, stroller-friendly trail on the shore of Lake Luzern, with pretty views of the surrounding mountains. This hike is one part of the much longer "Weg der Schweiz," aka Swiss Path, was built to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation. The whole Swiss Path is 35 km, but is broken into 7 sections, each easily accessible by public transportation, so you can walk as little or much as you like.

This post covers sections C and D, the only two stroller-friendly sections, about 10 km from Bauen to Flüelen. It's a flat, easy trail hugging the lakeshore, with lovely views of the lake and surrounding  mountains. There are lots of sculptures and art pieces along the way, celebrating the culture and history of Switzerland. Unfortunately, much of the trail is right next to a busy road and some even inside a tunnel with windows, which is not my ideal hike. But it's still a good time and I would recommend it if you need a low-key, easy walk with a view. It's also a good option for the shoulder season when higher altitude trails are closed.

I'll tell you all about sections C and D below. But you might also be interested in sections A and B, from Rütli to Seelisberg to Bauen, which are much prettier, through lush forests and flowering alpine meadows, but also more challenging, with steep ascents and lots of stairs. I've also written an overview of the Swiss Path.

27 May 2015

Stoos Hiking - Panorama, Ridge and Moor

Instead of taking visitors to Pilatus or Rigi, consider Stoos in the Swiss Knife Valley, which offers amazing views, slightly more affordable, with less crowds. There's a short panoramaweg at the top, suitable for strollers, with spectacular views of Lake Luzern and the surrounding mountains, as well as other more challenging hiking options, a couple of which I'll describe below. There's even a short theme trail the Stoos valley, with fun activities educating children about the Moor. The ride up, first on a super steep funicular, then two chair lifts, is a thrill in itself. There is a restaurant and picnic area + playground at the top, all with fantastic views. Please note that it requires a chair-lift, but it does have a windguard that makes me feel a bit safer with small kids. I've been here several times and taken many visitors. I highly recommend it.

25 May 2015

Toggenburg Tone Trail

The Toggenburg Tone Trail (aka Klangweg) is the gold standard when it comes to theme trails, with over 20 musical "instruments" scattered along a mostly stroller friendly hike in the eastern part of Switzerland. Every few minutes along the walk you'll find a different musical instrument for the kids to clank, bang and make lots of noise with. Your kids will be motivated to keep walking because you can usually either see or hear the next music station. This is a popular option for families and school groups, so you won't be alone on the trail. But there's plenty of room to spread out.

The whole trail is a little over 6km one way and you'll need to take a bus back to your car (details below). We usually spend about 4+ hours on the trail, playing at every station along the way and grilling our lunch. This is a full-day affair, but totally worth it. The trail is has a few ups and downs, but is not especially difficult and is mostly suitable for strollers. I've sent many people here and everyone has enjoyed it. I hope you do too!         (Last updated: May 2015)

17 May 2015

Emmental Show Dairy and Cheese-making

The Emmental Schaukaserei, aka Show Dairy, is a living museum showcasing cheese production throughout history. You can see various artifacts associated with historical cheese making, view modern cheese making live, and taste a few cheeses from the region. The site is free to visit and there is plenty to see without paying extra. Informational brochures, audio guides, guided tours and cheese making workshops are available for a fee. Kids will be pleased with the big playground, the puzzles and games on signboards around the property, and a scavenger hunt with a detective kit. It's touristy, but well-done and a fun place to take visitors.