Plan for the two Days
This would be the start of our 10-day-Switzerland-road-trip just after completing our 40-day-road-trip in Italy. The first day would be a long drive from Italy’s Val di Funes to Switzerland’s Appenzell. Our main destination in Appenzell was Ebenalp. We planned to go up to Ebenalp by cable car and trek down to the valley.
On the first day we figured we would arrive at Appenzell in the late afternoon and that would not leave us enough time to explore Ebenalp. We planned to visit Ebenalp the next morning and would have a whole day for it.
By the end of two days
It took us about 5 hours to drive from Val di Funes to Appenzell. We stopped for a 30 minutes break at an Austria highway stop, Trofana Tyrol to explore. Wow! the price of a cup of capuccino went up by 4 times compared to the same thing on the Italy highway stop. As for using the toilet it charged €2 per person. On the Italy’s side using toilet at highway stop was free! Trofana Tyrol was probably not a typical highway stop, it was too grand! It had restaurants, shops and a hotel and looked more like an upmarket shopping complex.
We stayed two nights at a Agriturismo in a village, Gais, in Appenzell. We booked this place because its price was relatively less expensive than those in Appenzell town but we did not expect it to be located in such a stunning place.
Ebenalp was lovely but the trekking to the nearby lake, Seealpsee was much tougher than our expectation! Gladly the beautiful sight was definitely worth the effort of getting there.
Gais was a village in the canton of Appenzell. It was where our “stay” for two nights was located. After we settled in and rested we went out to explore the village. It was a small village and did not take us long to get to the town square. The most prominent architectural building in the square was a church with a clock tower and a very tall conical six sided roof.
Our “random” walking brought us to a path that went up a gentle slope. From the ridge of the slope we could see the town on our right and the vast farm lands on our left. The scenery was amazing. It was made up of gray and shining white alps in the distance, refreshing green meadows dotted with farm houses nearer to us and darker green colored forested hills interspacing the farmlands. This scene was further enhanced by the golden rays from the setting sun.
We chose to stay in Gais village because of its less expensive rooms and that it was a convenient stop for us. So it was an unexpected bonus that this place turned up to be a beautiful place. Its lovely scenery certainly caught us by surprise.
Swiss Half Fare Card
Many of the beautiful places we planned to visit in Switzerland were not accessible by car. We would need to park our car somewhere near and get to the destinations by trains, cable cars and/ or funicular. Tickets for these transfers were prettly costly. We estimated that the total ticket cost for two of us would add up to more than CHF500. We could reduce this cost by half if we showed a Swiss Half Fare Card at the ticketing counters. A Swiss Half Fare Card costed CHF120 per person and was valid for one month. Each card would be issued under the name of a person and could not be used for another person.
We had tried to purchase a Swiss Half Fare tickets in Gais but could not find a manned train station. So on the way to Ebenalp cable car station we drove into Appenzell Train Station to purchase two Swiss Half Fare cards.
The staff at the Appenzell train station was very helpful. She explained the usages of the Swiss Half Fare card and recommended other discounts cards too. But after looking through the different type of discount cards we still found that the Swiss Half Fare card was most suitable for our needs.
From our stay at Gais we drove to Appenzell train station to purchase two Swiss Half Fare cards and then to Ebenalp cable car station. The total distance was about 13 km, pretty short just a 10 minutes drive to Appenzell and another 10 minutes drive to Ebenalp cable car station.
Parking was not allowed directly at the cable car station but just a short drive ahead of less than 300 meters was a huge free carpark. From the carpark we walked back to the cable car station and on the way we past a “cute” cafe restaurant.
At the cable car station we found out that a oneway ticket was CHF20 per person and for return ticket it was CHF31 per person. With our Swiss Half Fare cards we only paid half of the full fee. We bought two one way tickets up to Ebenalp as we planned to trek down later.
The cable car cabin was huge and could hold up to 40 persons. It moved up an altitude of 723 meter in about 6 minutes. We loved standing by the window facing downhill and as the cable car ascended we had a lovely view of the valley. It was summer and the valley was beautifully green.
The top cable car station was a huge structure with full glass windows on the side facing the valley and the view was gorgeous. We picked up a English brochure on Ebenalp hiking trails and tried to understand the 11 trails listed in the brohure. We just wanted the shortest trekking route to Seealpsee, a beautiful lake in the valley. The trails looked pretty complicated but a staff at the station assured us that they were all pretty simple and well marked on the slope.
From the google map the hike down to Seealpsee would be about 5.5 km and take about 1.5 hour. Once we hiked down to the lake we planned to explore it before taking the valley road back to car park where we parked our car. The valley road was about 2.8 km and should take about 45 minutes. From the top cable car station we would be following trail 1 all the way to Aescher restaurant before going downhill on a “nameless” trail (the trail was marked on the map but did not have a number allocated to it) that descended to the lake.
Immediately upon exiting the cable car station we saw a group of paragliders, every now and then one paraglider would be “taking off” and “sailing” into the air. It never failed to fascinate us from seeing the paragliding action from up so close. One day… one day… I would take up paragliding.
Walking trail 1 started from the upper cable car station and it was a gentle downslope walk. The scenery was breathtaking, the air was fresh and the valley below was stunning. It was not a time to rush but a time to walk slowly and savour the beauty of the surrounding, a time to stop at every bench along the trail to “smell the air”, to hear the “ding dong” of the cow bells coming from somewhere in a distance.
The trail led us to an entrance of a cave at the side of the cliff and we were surprised that the trail continued into the cave! The cave was dimly lighted and there were steps leading down into the cave interior. It was a good thing that there were metal hand guards/rails installed in the cavern path which made navigating the steps easy and safe.
The path in the cave was not long and soon we could see the bright opening of the cave exit. Near the exit we saw some information signboards and came to realise that the name of this cave was Wildkirchli Caves. It became famous in 1904 when prehistoric stone tools was found in the cave, these findings were evidence that man had lived in the Alps during the Palaeolithic Era. Archaeological digs in the cave also uncovered the remains of around 800 animals including the bones and teeth of cave lions, wolves, ibexes, chamois, martens, birds and bears. At the exit of the cave was the Hermit Hut which housed some artifacts of the digs.
Outside the cave was a walkway built into the side of the cliff. Along the walkway was one great panoramic view of the valley and the mountains. The walkway led us to a church. This was a 400 year old church. In 1658 to 1853 hermit monks lived in the Hermit Hut and worshipped in this cave church. Wow! These monks had certainly chose a breaktaking beautiful place to stay.
Finally we reached the stunning Berggasthaus Aescher. This was a guesthouse built into the cliff which today served as a restaurant/cafe to tourists. In the past it was a hut housing farmers, goats and cows then in the mid 1800s it evolved into a guesthouse for pilgrims visiting the monks for spiritual advices.
From Bergasthaus Aescher we continued our trekking forward on a path that would bring us down to Seealpsee. We walked for about 20 minutes and then decided to turn back. In this 20 minutes we had met a few groups of trekkers coming from the opposite direction. They were all huffing and puffing and perspiring a lot. They told us that they had been walking for hours from the lake. After the same story for a number of trekkers we “chicken out” and back tracked to the upper cable car station. We were still going to Seealpsee but via the easiler valley road from the valley cable car station.
So it was 20 minutes back to Berggasthaus Aescher and another 15 minutes back to the upper cable car station. At the cable station we thought that we had to purchase another oneway ticket to go back down since our ticket coming up was a oneway ticket. But the staff upon knowing that we already had the oneway ticket up told us to just top up the difference, to the price of a return ticket for our trip down. One way ticket was CHF20, whereas return ticket was CHF31. The difference was CHF 11. We produced our Swiss Half Fare cards and was requested to top up CHF5.50 per person. Wow, this was definitely a fair policy as it did not pressurise customer to buy a return ticket up front to enjoy the discount of a return ticket.
At the restaurant/cafe near the valley station we spoke with a cafe staff regarding the valley route to Seealpsee and was glad to find out that it was a proper relatively flat road that led all the way to the lake. The road started out pretty flat and easy soon we saw a “hut” selling icecream. There was nobody at the hut but there was an icecream machine. So I dropped in CHF3 and to my huge annoyance the machine ATE UP MY MONEY. No icecream came out no matter which button I punched, no money returned no matter how I turned the “Refund” knob.
The route seen so much longer than the 2.8 km shown on google map. Though it was a proper road and started relatively flat it became mostly uphill soon after. There were stretches that were very strenuous to climb. Soon we were huffing and puffing and perspiring and wondering when we would reach the lake. We regretted taking this alternative route to the lake. If we had stuck to our earlier route, which was from the upper station to the lake, though it might be longer it would surely be less exhausting as it was mainly downhill trekking. Too late for regrets!
After an hour we finally reached the lake. Our first impression was that the lake looked small. Had we trekked all the way for this “small lake”? The consolation was it was a stunning looking small lake.
The water was still and the reflection of the alps was amazingly clear. We had took a long time and spent a great deal of energy reaching this lake and felt such a shame to just view the lake at its “start” point near a cafe, Berggasthaus Seealpsee.
We moved on to explore the lake, taking a trek beside the lake in the clockwise direction. Soon we realised that the lake was much larger than the part we saw at the start point. The start point was just an inlet of the lake! We trekked the entire loop of the lake and it took about 1.5 hour to return to Berggasthaus Seealpsee. This one and half hour trekking was nice and easy, it was mostly flat walking and we got to see the lovely lake a different parts.
By the time we were back at Berggasthaus Seealpsee it was close to 5.30 pm. We figured we still have about 3 to 4 hours before sunlight disappeared. Enough time for an hour of coffee break before trekking another hour back to our car. Two cups of capuccino and a cake costed CHF16 (€14). Two days ago while we were still in Italy a similar coffee break would cost only half the amount! Switzerland was indeed pricey.
We had booked two nights at “Countryside Appenzell Agriturismo” from booking.com. The cost for two night was CHF167. It was a double room with ensuite bathroo and free parking on site. The price did not include breakfast but we could buy stuffs from the farm grocery store and prepare breakfast in our room.
We were initially looking for a “hotel” in Appenzell as it would be very near to our target sightseeing destination, Ebenalp. Unfortunately the price of a double room in Appenzell town was very expensive. We found Countryside Appenzell Agriturismo in a village nearby and a double room price was relatively so much cheaper.
Since the reviews for Countryside Appenzell Agriturismo was good and the distance to our Ebenalp Valley station was only 2 km more than if we were to stay in Appenzell we booked it.
Our double room was on the upper level of the main house. Our host and his wife stayed in the lower level which consisted of their rooms, living room and a huge kitchen. Our room has a double bed and looked pretty well equipped. Though it was a bit tight it was spotlessly clean and cosy and definitely very comfortable. We especially liked the wooden floor, walls and ceiling.
On one end of our room was a newly installed glass shower room and on the end was an attached toilet. The shower was powerful and the hot water was good.
In the room was also a “cooking cabinet” with all the crockery we needed. There was a microwave, a mini fridge, a bread toaster and a coffee machine (including coffee capsules). We found the “cooking cabinet” setup only good enough for preparing simple meal like breakfast. Preparing dinner posed a small challenge for us as it was pretty inconvenient to wash our food/fruits and crockery using the shower head or the tap in the toilet wash basin.
Though the owner did say we were welcome to use his kitchen for preparing meals we still ended up doing it in our room.