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A Trip to the Eastern Cantons of Switzerland in the Winter/Spring

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The eastern cantons of Switzerland, including St. Gallen, Grubinden, and the two cantons of Appenzell, may be lesser known to travelers, but they offer a truly enchanting experience. The region boasts abundant travel and hiking routes that lead to awe-inspiring vistas of lush green plateaus, serene lakes, and majestic alpine peaks, and, along the way, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich culture and heritage of these exceptional cantons.

While the routes are popular in winter, they are also highly recommended for early spring, before the snow melts in the low Alps. Even during the winter season, all the recommended sites and attractions are open to intrepid winter travelers, with access subject to weather conditions. So, whether it’s a snowy wonderland or a blossoming spring landscape, the eastern cantons promise an unforgettable journey filled with natural beauty and cultural exploration.

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Landscape of winter resort Davos – the home of annual World Economy Forum.

In the months of December and January, visitors to Appenzell have the unique opportunity to partake in the Silvesterkläuse festival, an unusual celebration that is part of Switzerland’s rich festival culture. This outstanding event occurs twice a year, on December 31 and January 13, in the towns of Harisau and Urnasch, as well as in the villages nestled between them.

You will see vibrant groups of characters wearing traditional masks, some carrying large bells on their backs and donning traditional clothing or mysterious forest costumes – you will even see some eerie masks boasting elements like wolf teeth, skulls, and horror motifs! At dawn, they go from house to house, not turning down sips of wine.

To help you navigate your way through the best Swiss cantons, we’ve compiled some of the most outstanding points of interest along the proposed route:

In the city of St. Glen, a notable attraction awaits – the ancient library located on the second floor of the cathedral monastery. Be sure to check the entry hours to avoid disappointment! The library houses a remarkable collection of about 160,000 titles and manuscripts, all set amidst the library’s stunning baroque woodcarvings. The ends of the shelves conceal doors used for storing the catalog cards, and the library contains a mummy, an impressive globe, and glass cases that display ancient manuscripts and books.  

After exploring the library, venture to the cathedral with its impressive exterior, and from there to the historic streets where you can see a surprising variety of hanging balconies with a variety of decorations, carvings, and vibrant colors.

The city of Appenzell is an exquisite architectural gem. Its charming pedestrian street is lined with wood-framed houses in a unique local style, and its lively shops are bustling most days of the year.

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Werdenberg castle and Alpstein mountains

A short distance away, in the town of Stein, there is a fascinating ethnographic museum that showcases the finest Swiss traditions, including clothing, occupations, building styles, and exquisite native art from the local artists. Adjacent to the museum, there is an interesting dairy that produces the region’s delectable local cheeses.

The enchanting Appenzell hills stand tall – between 2600 – 3300 feet above sea level. In the winter, they are transformed into a snowy wonderland, while, in the spring, the area blooms with vibrant greenery. There are charming villages and small towns nestled at the foot of the jagged Santis mountain range, whose peaks soar to a height of over 8208 feet.

For adventurous travelers, Appenzell serves as a launching point to explore the Ebenalp Mountain. An all-season cable car ride ascends to an impressive height of approximately 5380 feet. From the cable car station, a short walk leads to the mountain station and a restaurant that offers breathtaking views. There are also hiking trails along the Santis ridge, and the station has snowshoes available free of charge to ensure a more stable walk on the snowy terrain.

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Overhead cable car to the top of Mount Pilatus in Canton Lucerne, Switzerland

Chaserrug, situated above the picturesque Lake Walen, is located on the southern side of the magnificent Alps. It is a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts! Begin your adventure from the parking lot in the charming town of Unterwasser, where a funicular will take you to the intermediate station called Iltios.

At the Iltios station, you’ll find a cozy restaurant and inviting seating areas, kept warm by a wood burning heater. It is the perfect spot to take in the breathtaking panoramic view of the Graubünden Alps. Don’t forget to take a leisurely walk towards the edge of the cliff, where a stunning sight awaits – the Walen Valley and Lake Walen sparkling at about 6562 feet below. From there, continue your ascent to the mountain’s summit, which offers unparalleled vistas.

Chur, the capital of the Graubünden canton in Switzerland, is nestled south of the picturesque Walen Valley. This vast canton is the largest in Switzerland, and its vibrant city center boasts a delightful array of shops and shopping centers. As you explore the city, don’t miss the train station, where two extraordinary routes await. First, hop aboard the “Bernina Express,” a tourist train offering a breathtaking route with stunning views towards the Bernina Pass. You have the option of selecting a route to one of the stations between Chur and Tirano in Italy or to St. Moritz before returning to Chur. Arrangements can be made easily at the Chur train station.

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Bernina Express Red Train between the Ice of Piz Palù and Bernina

For another memorable experience, hop on the train heading to the charming city of Arosa, nestled in the foothills of the Alps above Chur. Arosa is a winter wonderland, renowned for its excellent skiing and winter sports facilities. The town exudes Swiss charm, and its winding streets hold a magical allure. For a truly unique tour, consider taking a snow sleigh ride drawn by two horses. The magical route climbs to the higher part of the town, guaranteeing an unforgettable experience.

Nestled in the valley where the Rhine River gracefully flows northward from Merkur, lies the charming small state of Liechtenstein, and its capital, Vaduz. The magnificent Liechtenstein Castle dominates the landscape, offering breathtaking panoramic views.

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Vaduz Castle, Liechtenstein, winter view with snow covered Alps mountains in background

This picturesque valley is dotted with natural thermal springs, inviting travelers to indulge in the soothing waters. Set aside several hours to explore the Tamina Terme baths in the wonderful city of Bad Ragaz. Immerse yourself in the warmth of indoor and open pools, while gazing at the majestic snowy Alps in the backdrop.

At the baths, you will find convenient amenities like changing rooms and towel rentals, ensuring a hassle-free visit. In addition, for those who may have forgotten their bathing suit, you can purchase a reasonably priced one at the reception desk. Allow yourself to rejuvenate in the healing waters of Tamina Therme and revel in the tranquility of this extraordinary valley!

This list would not be complete without a description of Flums, located in the stunning Sarganserland mountain range. Flums is home to a delightful walking route that takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half, all downhill. Begin your adventure by parking your car at the Flumserberg cable car station’s parking lot, where the road offers breathtaking views overlooking the Chaserrug ridge, majestically jutting out to the north. Ascend to the Prodalp cable car station and then descend along a wide, marked path that leads to the charming village of Tannenbodalp.

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Flums, Switzerland

In Tannenbodenalp, a delightful Swiss fondue experience awaits at one of the city’s outstanding restaurants. After savoring this delightful treat, a short bus ride will bring you back to the cable car station.

The magical city of Feldkirch, nestled in the heart of a cliff, can be reached via Route 43 that meanders northward along the Rhine, alongside the Austrian border. The city has an impressive historic section, and the Schattenberg Castle, perched high above, has a delightful restaurant with a breathtaking view of the e city. Additionally, the city museum displays fascinating ethnographic exhibits, providing a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the region.

From exploring picturesque medieval towns and vibrant city centers to venturing into the tranquil, breathtaking Appenzell hills, this region beckons with a memorable journey through Switzerland’s lesser-known but enchanting eastern gems.

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