Some cliches are true.
In the town of Appenzell, nestled in Swizerland’s eastern mountains near the Austrian border, it seems there are more cows than people—even though only 13% of the canton’s inhabitants make their living as dairy farmers. Tourists visiting in the fall can witness the ceremonial procession of the cows down the mountains to their winter grazing pastures. These stylish bovines wear elaborate, hand-stitched leather accessories that any Palm Beach socialite would kill for.
Residents of this area adhere strongly to traditions that date back to Medieval times. Appenzell is a pure democracy, and once a year everyone gathers in the town square to vote on legislation for the coming year. Every citizen can speak, and a single persuasive voice can influence or alter the agenda.
In the town itself, hand-painted houses preserve village life as it was three or four centuries ago. Blissfully there is no fast food, no shops selling T-shirts or mass-produced “antique” beer mugs. There’s little to buy except the local Appenzell cheese. A few artisans specialize in local handicrafts, notably leather goods decorated with painstakingly created silver or brass ornaments that usually depict cows or native flowers such as edelweiss. One such craftsman is Hempi Fassler, the eighth generation of his family to produce traditional costumes, cowbells and ornamental jewelry. For about $125, you can get a belt that would make you the envy of a Texas rodeo.
There are bakeries, of course, and one of the highlights is a pastry called Zungli (“little tongue”), which consists of crisp, airy layers of almond cookie filled with a hazelnut cream. At the Hotel Cafe Adler in one of the town’s main squares, you can lunch on a slice of Appenzeller Chasflade, a tart made with strong Appenzell cheese, washed down with a glass of crisp Fechy wine. The Adler is also the center of production for a regional specialty called Biberli, which consists of layers of gingerbread filled with marzipan. Nowhere near as sweet as marzipan in the U.S., it is composed of little more than almond pasted very slightly flavored with sugar. Biberli comes in all shapes and sizes; despite the lack of preservatives, it stays fresh up to five months. They are particularly popular around holiday time, when the elaborate, hand-decorated Biberli make their appearance in stockings and under the Christmas tree.