Have you ever looked at one of the “Most Amazing Places on Earth” lists? If so, you have likely seen an image of the Aescher-Wildkirchli cliff restaurant and guesthouse. The dramatic cliff restaurant is world famous, yet many people don’t know where it is and how to get there.
On an early morning in June, my two daughters (8 and 10 years old) head out from Bern for an adventurous day in Appenzell. The air is chilly, especially after days of excruciating heat, but the day promises to be perfect. We are starting with a 3 hour train ride, first-class, among business people headed to Zurich to work. As always, they look at us with a certain curiosity, but we don’t mind, playing cards as we go. The train goes straight to Gossau, and once we pass Zurich, the compartment starts to feel deserted.
Past Zurich, the landscape becomes more and more beautiful. Rolling hills, timbered houses, sunflower fields, cow pastures, and the scenery green and bountiful. In Gossau, we change train to board the smaller Appenzeller Bahn. A 50 minute train ride takes us through an incredibly romantic area of Switzerland. Mountains are green and rounded. Houses are painted with a lot of love and detail. Appenzell is one of the most picturesque and also conservative areas of Switzerland. As a result, it is really well preserved and tradition runs deep.
Once in Wasserauen we cross the street and arrive at the Ebenalp cable car station. The ride takes us swiftly in the air and quickly gains height. Drastic cliffsides as well as alpine meadows are abundant. The ride takes less than 10 minutes.
The panorama that greets you once you step out of the Ebenalp station is incredible. Green mountain tops as far as the eye can see, snow covered mountains and Lake Constance in the distance. The air you breathe is fresh, the grass greener, and wildflowers abundant. Many cows graze peacefully along our side as we start the descent.
The walk to the Äscher-Wildkirchli only takes about 15 minutes, but is exciting on many levels. After crossing the pasture, it quickly descends to the prehistoric Wildkirchl Caves which you cross via a safe path and then leads to the ancient hermit dwellings. The hermits that settled here in the early 1600 would accompany travelers through the caves for safe passage. The caves are dark and despite some lights you might want to bring your own flashlight. Past the dwellings you then come to the actual chapel, dating back to 1621, built into the mountain side.
Around the bend you go and there it is, the world famous Aescher-Wildkirchli Gasthaus. The Äscher-Wildkirchli is a restaurant as well as simple guesthouse with a few dormitory style beds. It is built directly into the cliffside and some of its back wall is bare rock. The guesthouse dates back to the 1800 when hermits and milkers (Sennen) started serving simple food and drinks. It turned into an actual guesthouse in early 1900.
From here you can either return up to the Ebenalp cable car station or start your hike down towards Unterauen. The hike takes about 2 hours, and is very steep at times.
We decided to embrace the challenge and started our hike towards Wasserauen. It was an excellent time although due to the constant descent, very challenging towards the end.
The way down is steep and not always clearly indicated. Beautiful views, spectacular alpine scenery, many colorful wildflowers accompanied our way, and we also made new friends…
We did get lost on our way and ended up in Weissbad instead of Wasserauen which wasn’t really a problem since the train back to Gossau stopped there as well. It was a wonderful day-trip which we will treasure forever. All in all, it took us a full day (12 hours) from Bern, and we slept very well that night.
Ebenalp/Aescher-Wildkirchli makes for a wonderful day-trip from many cities in Switzerland. Here are a few things you will want to watch out for:
- Weather in altitude is generally cooler and can change in an instant. Be prepared.
- Bring a picnic. There is nothing more beautiful than to sit on an alpine meadow and have a snack. Don’t forget a little trash bag so you don’t leave anything behind.
- Your shoes need good tread. The terrain is steep, there are rocks, gravel, and steps. Make sure your shoes snug tightly to your feet and your gear is adequate.
- Trail indications are not the best. Our rule of thumb: As long as you go downhill you are going the right way.
- You will be walking through cow pastures. Before you decide to touch a cow, assess the situation. If the animal seems restless or scared, do not attempt to approach and touch it.
- The trail requires a certain level of fitness. You do not need to be a professional athlete, but it is very steep at times and if you have issues with your knees or back it is definitely not recommended.
- You can do the trail with your children, however they need to be old enough to hike on their own and you need to feel comfortable to let them run a little risk every now and then. One of my girls stumbled, one slid and fell on her butt. Some tears were shed but we survived and have some beautiful memories. My daughter told me afterwards that it made her feel stronger.
- Make sure you factor in the travel time. From Bern the train ride to Wasserauen takes about 3 hours. From Zurich it will take about 2 hours. Depending on where you are, it will be shorter or longer.
- How to get there? You first need to travel to Gossau (St. Gallen). From there you take the Appenzeller Bahn to Wasserauen. The Ebenalp cablecar ground station is located right across the street. The adult roundtrip cablecar ride prices at roughly 15 CHF.
Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specializing in customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. Being originally from Switzerland makes her an expert and she can help you create a wonderful trip. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org