It was Heidi who decided our Swiss itinerary. French speaking Switzerland was never on our wish list, it sounds just too French. As far as we were concerned, the REAL Switzerland was the home of taciturn goat herds, German speakers eating large sausages and little girls who live with their grumpy grandfathers. When we discovered that you can visit ‘Heidi’s house’ and the village of Dorfli, we knew that we had a plan.
Of course Heidi is a fictional character and Dorfli is a fictional village, so the Lonely Planet is very scathing about the whole operation, claiming it’s a shameless marketing exercise. But having grown up watching the dubbed TV series and loving the books about the happy little girl who adores the mountains and her hermit grandfather, and having read Heidi to Eve, we had to go. It’s obvious that the Lonely Planet writer doesn’t know any small children, as it turned out to be one of the highlights of our holiday.
Joanna Spyri, the author, often visited the small town of Maienfeld at the base of the Falkniss mountain and created Dorfli in this real setting. The inhabitants of a small hamlet up the mountain from Maienfeld have turned some old farm buildings into ‘Heidi’s house’ and a shop, with a small children’s farm and a fountain completing the little village square.
After feeding the friendly (ok, greedy) goats, we entered the house on the ground floor, going straight into the cool, dark, food store with shelves of cheese presses and sacks of potatoes. Local villagers have donated artifacts which furnish the house, and give you an insight into 19th Century Alpine life. The very best thing about Heidi’s house, is that you are allowed to touch EVERYTHING, infact it is positively encouraged. So we dressed up, chopped wood, tried out the beds, stoked the range, churned butter, dried apples, washed clothes and generally had a fabulous time. After thoroughly testing the contents of the house and discovering that the axe was actually a real axe and look, it’s not glued down, we headed outside before we lost any fingers (I could digress here about how Switzerland is incredibly safe, yet strangely unconcerned with health and safety, but I won’t).
After the Heidi house, you can do the Heidi hike up to the Alm Uncle’s hut and Heidi’s pasture. We started walking up the incredibly steep mountain path which is cut through the towering pines and switches back every hundred metres or so. At each switchback there is a water fountain where we filled our bottles with freezing cold, sweet mountain spring water and a board featuring a different aspect of the Heidi story. These were helpful in encouraging the children upwards, but after stopping for a picnic lunch and cajoling the children for the best part of 45 minutes, we realised that we had rather depressingly only covered about 200m. The path was so steep and our walk from the railway station to the house so long, that we realised the boys would never make it in one piece and decided to split up. Steve and the boys played in the beautiful meadow pictured at the top of the post while Eve and I climbed ever higher in search of Peter’s hut and a glimpse of the Alm Uncle, a real bearded goatherd recruited by the tourist office to look picturesque outside a suitable hut with his goats. An hour later we made it to Peter’s hut, which according to the map was only half way to the meadow, so we celebrated with an ice cream and headed back down. That’s the disadvantage of climbing mountains with small children, mountains are really steep and children’s legs are really short.
The area around Maienfeld has been dubbed ‘Heidiland’ by the local tourist board, and at times the Heidi branding can get a little cloying. There’s a stupendously ugly Heidi hotel and conference centre (why?), the only truly ugly buildings we saw in two weeks, Heidi mineral water, Heidi wine, Heidi dried meat (quite nice actually!) and more. But all the tackiness that the Lonely Planet is so rude about doesn’t detract from the Heidi house, which was charming, informative and one of the most child-friendly museums I’ve ever been to. Apart from the axe.