It’s no secret that Switzerland has more than its fair share of vastly different outdoorsy experiences to be had, but we bet there are some you’ve never considered. Life on a farm, wandering along the slopes of one of the most recognisable peaks in the world, tumbling through a gorge or even being a beach bum – take your pick!
WORDS: RADHIKA LALLA
PHOTOGRAPHS: HASHIM BADANI
THERE’S A STORM COMING. Most of me is a bit bummed about not getting to bed down in the hay-filled loft that had been designated to photographer Hashim and I, but a tiny (old and world-weary) part of me is doing a little jig as we graciously give up our manger-esque room to a bunch of orderly Swiss schoolkids and settle into a cosy farmhouse bedroom instead. They’ve been tramping about the countryside on a school excursion, and, wisely, don’t want to spend their last night shivering in wet tents.
Why would I be excited about sleeping atop a pile of hay, anyway, you might ask. Well, do you remember Shrek talking to Donkey, way back in the first movie, about the nature of an onion? Shrek’s imaginative metaphor, cheesy as it might seem, is a bit of a personal favourite. As a young(er) person, I was captivated by the idea that no matter how familiar something might be, there’s inevitably a bit more to discover. And that discovery, oh! It’s a delightfully magical process. Especially when it’s an onion you assume you’ve reached the heart of; that flavoursome, solid piece you couldn’t imagine had any more layers.
Without getting too lost in vegetable metaphors, my point is – it’s quite thrilling to have the chance to peek into a facet of such a familiar country. I mean, I’ve believed myself to be rather knowledgeable about Switzerland’s many attractions and regions. But to me, it’s always been about gorgeous, historical cities and towns that burst with stunning architecture, and the sort of eye-achingly beautiful countryside vistas that look like postcards come to life.
I’d never actually stopped to consider exploring the cogs and wheels of the country – the bountiful farmlands; I’d never actually stopped to think about the lives of the hardworking hands that maintain them and make them thrive. Signing up for a farm-stay (complete with hayloft!) still would have been a great way, then, to gain a bit of that insight. And the Hof Tschannen, a lovely farm in Illighausen village, overlooking Lake Constance and the twinkling lights of a town in Germany beyond that, is where we’d chosen to do just that.
Farm Life: Great for families
The family Tschannen is a sun-kissed bunch. Daniel is a man of few words, and spends most of his time out tending to the farm and cattle, while his wife, the ever-vivacious Claudia, graciously welcomes us into her home and life. Their two little boys, Jonas and Timo, scamper about playing with miniature versions of the farming equipment all around us. They’re all excited to have visitors from India – it’s not a common occurrence here at all, though I’m wondering why.
We tag along behind Daniel as he goes about his day; it’s only 11am, but he’s been at work since sun-up. As he works the fertile soil, he quietly tells us about the difficulties of being a farmer in a country like Switzerland – his produce might be local, and of great quality, but it’s a terribly competitive market, considering all the produce that comes in from other parts of the world. It doesn’t help that the cost of living and production is that much higher here, but they make it work. More so now that they’ve thrown open their doors to city slickers curious to know what a working life in the countryside is like – apart from the ‘sleep in the hay’ experience and rooms in the main house, there’s also the option to rent out the spacious tent in the fields – and I’m using the word ‘tent’ rather loosely. It’s a lovely, fully-kitted-out space that seems like it would be utterly romantic.
Claudia’s prepared a special lunch for us, out in the woods that shoulder the farmlands. Jonas and Timo help Daniel get a fire going and grill chicken and sausages as Claudia regales us with stories peppered with questions about our life back home. They’re popular with school groups, like the one that’s usurping our room – it’s part of an educational experience for the students, to get a more rounded understanding of the ways of the world. Kids come out here and spend some time with the many animals that live here – there’s cows and horses and rabbits and chickens and even a few adorable pigs! – and to help out as they can; the area we’re sitting in was cleared by a visiting group some time back.
There’s plenty to do (or not do) out here, and I quickly see how the family’s all so sun-kissed. Being here paints the sort of idyllic life that you imagine when you’re reading an old English novel – tramping through the woods with a picnic lunch, going on a horse-carriage ride in the evening, or visiting the neighbours in your tractor. I do, of course, have my rose-tinted glasses firmly planted on my nose – I’m not seeing the hard work that goes into maintaining the home and fields (and entertaining the visitors!), the 5am wake-up calls come rain or shine. But it’s refreshing to be somewhere, with just fresh air, a delightful family, and farmyard animals for company – the kids are so well-behaved, I’m left astonished; it’s miles away from anything I would have imagined myself doing in Switzerland, and I love it!