Eastern Switzerland: Places to Explore

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Appenzell

Isolated from St. Gallen by a ridge of green hills, Appenzell is divided into two sub-cantons, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden. Both make up one of Switzerland's least-explored regions. The Appenzellers are known for their quirky senses of humor, old-fashioned costumes (including hoop earrings for most men), and their good-natured anstand, which loosely translates as "decorum" or "decency." But more than anything, Appenzell is cheese and beer country, and you would be remiss to leave without a taste of either.

Named Appenzell after the Latin abbatis cella (abbey cell), the region served as a sort of colony to the St. Gallen abbey, and its tradition of fine embroidery dates from those early days. The perfect chance to see this embroidery is during a local festival, such as the Alpfahrten, when cows are herded up or down the mountains. Women's hair is coiffed in tulle, and their dresses have intricate embroidery and lace, often with an edelweiss motif; men wear embroidered red vests and suspenders decorated with edelweiss or cow figures. These traditional costumes are taken very seriously; they can cost thousands of francs, but in this case, pride supersedes economy.

To get your bearings in Appenzell, head to the Landsgemeindeplatz, the town square where the famous open-air elections (men-only until 1991) take place the last Sunday in April. The streets are lined with bright-painted homes, bakeries full of Birnebrot (pear bread) and souvenir Biber (almond and honey cakes). Embroidery is big business, but it's rare to find handmade examples of the local art; though women still do fine work at home, it's generally reserved for gifts or heirlooms. Instead, large factories have sprung up in Appenzell country, and famous fine-cotton handkerchiefs sold in specialty shops around the world are made by machine here at the Dörig, Alba, and Lehner plants.

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