We’re atop the northernmost summit of the Appenzell Alps – the Ebenalp. Since 1955 this mountain has been a popular hiking and parasailing destination for tourists and locals.
We board the cable car in Wasserauen, the last stop on the Appenzellerbahn that will wisk us up to the top of the Ebenalp.
At 1644 meters, the Ebenalp is a popular starting point for a hiking adventure with trails that lead you to the mighty Santis mountain or the picturesque lake Seealp.
At the top you get a breathtaking view of Appenzell, Saint Gallen, Lake Constance, and the picturesque Alpstein mountains.
From March through October each year, paragliders flock to the summit to set sail.
Thanks to its ideal thermal conditions and location, the Ebenalp has become a popular spot to launch from for experienced paragliders.
We follow the signs to some hot spots atop the Ebenalp – Wildkirchli and of course Gasthus Aescher.
This turnstile seems a bit out of place, but reassures us that we are headed toward the Wildkirchli.
The 15 minute walk along the trail leads us to the Wildkirchli, a paleolithic cave system that was inhabited around 40,000 years ago.
The Wildkirchli were home to Neanderthals who lived in this area during the last stone age about 45,000 to 30,000 BC
Stone tools, cave wall carvings, and ancient bear bones dating from 90,000 BC were discovered here by Emil Bachelor in 1940.
The caves were inhabited by modern man from about 1658 to 1853, with the last hermit who lived here falling to his death off the Ebenalp.
After that, the caves were empty until the hermit hut was renovated and transformed into a tiny 3 room museum in 1972.
Inside this tiny hut are life-size models of prehistoric cave bears, ancient bones, and some paleolithic age stone tools.
This 400 year old church was used by hermit monks and shepards up until 1853.
The name Wildkirchli means “little church in the wilderness” and that’s exactly where this little church is located – in a huge cave ruin on the southeast flank of the Ebenalp.
After making it through the caves, we enter the sunlight and see the 170 year old Berggasthaus Aescher – a guesthouse tucked into the side of the Ebenalp.
The guesthouse has a small restaurant and bar, famous for it’s Rosti, the Swiss version of Hash Browns.
Originally just a small mountain hut for climbers and hermit monks, today the guesthouse is literally built into the side of the cliff, with the back wall being the mountain face.
We’re here in the small town of Stein at cheese lover’s paradise, the Appenzeller Show Cheese Dairy, to see just how those yummy Swiss cheeses are made.
In the glassed-in gallery you can look down straight into a 6500 liter cheese vat and watch how craftsmen prepare and produce artisan cheeses from six meters up.
There are over 12,000 cheese wheels in the factory and a robot gently moves them and cares for them.
The Show Cheese Dairy opened in 1978. Since then over 7 million visitors from all over the world have come to see the fine art of cheese making.
The process of making cheese is a long one and on any given day we can only see a small part of it. Luckily, there’s a half-hour documentary you can watch that shows you the whole process.
There is a small museum dedicated to cheese where you can learn about the history of Appenzeller cheese making.
Appenzeller cheese making goes back over 700 years, when it was originally made by herdsmen on the Alps and delivered to the St. Gallen monastery in payment for grazing rights.
Today, Appenzeller cheese is available in six different varieties with a flavor for every taste – from mild to intense. There’s even a certified organic variety.
Next door to the Appenzeller Show Cheese Dairy in Stein is the Folklore museum, which showcases the rich farming and Alpine dairy traditions of Appenzell.
The museum consists of displays between two floors – on the first floor is a display of cheesemaking in a reconstructed authentic Alpine hut.
The hut also showcases some of the implements and receptacles that were once used to make cheese: pails, crockery, Tansen or milk buckets, Brenten or creaming tanks, and “Buder” or butter churns.
In addition to the cheesemaking display, there are exhibits of traditional clothing decorations worn by the local people and animals including traditional bells, belts, braces and collars made by Alpine saddlers.
Costumes and traditional jewelry are also on display.
The upper floor features peasant art including rural Alpine paintings.
Timber plank walls painted in Renaissance style that were originally inside a peasant parlor in Gais are on display.
There’s a textile section featuring an original satin stitch loom and a manual stitching machine used for intricate embroidery.