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Experience Swiss Pastoral Wonderland On A Fairy Tale Trail With Heidi

A trail across to experience the idyllic country life of Johanna Spryi’sbeloved character, Heidi.

Rashmi Gopal Rao

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
- C.S. Lewis

One of the most memorable moments of childhood is curling up in a corner devouring a fairy tale book. Few things are more joyous than getting lost in the world of kings, princesses, elves, fairies, giants, fairy tale romances and ‘happily ever afters’.  As the quote by Lewis rightly says, even as adults, the virtuous and unblemished world of fairy tales continue to fascinate us, and offer a respite from the mundane. 

One place in the real world that is straight out of a fairy tale is the Heidi trail in Maienfeld, Switzerland. The Swiss canton offers an ode to Heidi, Switzerland's most famous fairy tale character created by author Johanna Spyri.

Engaging day trip from Zurich

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An idyllic town in Landquart district in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, the Heidi trail takes you back in time, to the 1880s, and allows you to immerse yourself in her world; the life she lived in the mountains along with her grandfather Alpöhi and the good times she shared with her friend, Peter the goatherd. Situated just over 100 km (64 miles) from Zurich, it is a great day trip from the bustling city.  Easily accessible by train and road, the actual Heidi village is a short walk from Hotel Restaurant Heidihof. Tickets to the trail are available at the gift shop, which is a haven for all Heidi and Johanna Spyri fans. The shop is filled with several souvenirs of Heidi including original merchandise, artefacts and magnets.

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It is interesting to note that the gift shop is also home to the smallest post office in Switzerland.  And if you decide to send a postcard from here, it is stamped with a special Heididorf stamp! The shop also houses the Johanna Spyri Museum that has on display the entire collection of Heidi books, which were translated into a whopping 55 languages. 

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It also has the details of all the movies that were made from the book and a section also displays original props and costumes from the movie.  A treasure trove for all Heidi fans, this one also depicts insightful information about Heidi’s creator Johanna Spyri.  

Relive Heidi’s adventure

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The trail starts with Heidi’s winter house followed by her Alps cottage that is where she lived with her grandfather in summer, the town hall and her school. Each one of these is impeccably recreated giving visitors a taste of her beautiful life in the countryside. The simple bucolic life of the yesteryears replete with spinning wheels, rustic kitchen and antique wooden furniture gives one an insight into the times and life of the past. The centrally heated living room, the laundry room and Heidi’s room replete with her wardrobe, bed, table, etc, is a journey back in time.  Do not forget to look out of a tiny window carved in the wooden attic that offers a breath-taking view of the surrounding lush green meadows and majestic mountains.  A chance indeed to relive your Heidi moment!

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The Alps cottage again gives visitors a peek into the life during summers for Heidi and her friend, Peter, both of whom herded goats that grazed on the green pastures while they played on colourful flower meadows. Scenes of cheese making, the food-laden pantry, cow milking and her grandfather cutting wood are realistic and a treat for the eyes. The Town Hall stable depicts horses, carriages and mountain goats all of which were intrinsic to Swiss rural life.

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The village school which Heidi and Peter attended too is recreated with little anecdotes related to school life during those times. With large wooden desks, writing instruments, blackboards, abacus sets and other artefacts, the classroom appears truly real. With several photo opportunities created in between and life-size models of Heidi, Alpöhi, Peter and his blind grandmother, this one forms for a great excursion idea for children and adults alike.

A taste of Swiss culture and customs

Apart from being utterly picturesque and hauntingly beautiful, the Heidi trail also gives visitors valuable insights on Switzerland’s rural life, traditions and practices that were prevalent in the 19th century. The houses depict how children of that age lived, helped on farms during spring-summer and entertained themselves with games like Bingo and Telephone. 

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One can also witness the traditional methods of farming, cheese making, food storage for winters, cattle and goat grazing apart from picking up cues on the transportation system including the role of horse carriages and workhorses at that time. The town hall stable depicts how mountain goats were an intrinsic part of the Alpine terrain and were more economical to rear than cows.  Their milk was commonly given to children to prevent malnutrition. 

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The school which is a part of the trail throws light on the education system wherein children attended schools from autumn to spring.  While school lessons were free, it is interesting to note that every family had to supply a quota of wood (called school wood) to heat the school stove during winters!

Photo: Rashmi Gopal Rao
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