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Regarded by cosmopolitan urbanites as the epitome of country bumpkin-ness and mercilessly mocked for its folksy ways, Appenzellerland is the stuff of jokes in Switzerland. Yet although a sophisticated Lausannois or Basler might chortle to hear it, the region is actually something of a sensuous delight: as you cross the verdant hills south from St Gallen, the pungent smells of cows and cheese assault your nose; on a wander through the villages, busy embroidery and the fussily net-curtained windows of wooden houses delight the eye; and local cooking, particularly rich with butter and cream, has a delicious silkiness.
Encircled by rolling hills, with the looming snowy peaks of the Alpstein ridges to the south, Appenzell has for centuries been a land apart. Monks from St Gallen colonized the area in the tenth century, calling it Abtszell or Abbey Cell, but the local fiercely independent peasantry threw off ecclesiastical control in a series of wars in the fourteenth century. Although surrounded by St Gallen’s territory, Appenzell joined the Swiss Confederation in 1513, long before its more powerful neighbour. Shortly afterwards it split into two tiny autonomous half-cantons – Protestant Ausserrhoden, and Catholic Innerrhoden. For touristic purposes, the two half-cantons are together dubbed Appenzellerland, but the divisions between them remain to this day, with Ausserrhoden’s dynamic economy based on manufacturing industry and Innerrhoden’s more languorous one based on tourism and the preservation of traditional culture and crafts.
Appenzell village, 20km south of St Gallen and the capital of Innerrhoden, the least populous of all Swiss cantons, is the main draw of the area for its quaint, traditional air – preserved even amidst the hordes of high-season day-trippers. Previously accessible via a series of winding backcountry lanes, the village was only recently connected by train to the national network. Other than Stein’s excellent museum and show dairy, surrounding villages hold few attractions, but there’s plenty of excellent hill walking, with routes crossing the velvety green hills around Appenzell and south to the higher, rocky peaks of the Alpstein and its highest point, the snowy Säntis (2502m).
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