The Pro Patria Foundation of Switzerland is a patriotic organization dedicated to the preservation of Swiss scenery, monuments and historic buildings – particularly the architectural gems of its Swiss forefathers. In 2009, the foundation celebrates its 100th birthday. We visited Zürich during the national Swiss holiday, observed every August 1st, for a special Pro Patria centennial celebration.
Funding for Pro Patria comes from the sale of those irresistible Swiss postage stamps, so coveted by philatelists world-wide (see http://tinyurl.com/propatria ). This year’s Bundesfeier hosted one of the best Pro Patria celebrations ever! Not only was the weather perfect, the centennial event was stunningly beautiful with all the extra costumed participants and floral displays (see http://tinyurl.com/bundesfeier09). Hundreds of parade participants marched down Banhofstrasse wearing traditional costumes from each Swiss canton – it was the pinnacle of Heidi-era couture.
Zürich is the gateway to Heidi’s enchanted alpine meadows. Her creator, Johanna Spyri, penned her stories from the mansion at Zeltweg 9, overlooking the beautiful and tranquil Lake Zurich. Spyri was born not far away, in Zurich Canton, in the village of Hirzel, in 1827. The schoolhouse where she attended during her early childhood in Hirzel is now the Johanna Spyri Museum. She spent several summers during her childhood in the not-too-distant alpine village of Maienfeld, which became the setting for her books about Heidi.
We made a visit to magical Maienfeld to trace the footsteps of the famous folk character, Heidi. A most regal castle, Schloss Brandis greets visitors to this fairy-tale village. Situated in a wine-growing region, Maienfeld is famous for its blue Burgundy wine, which we sampled at one of the several brook-side cafes lining the cobblestone streets. On gold-trimmed porcelain we sampled the local “Heidi’s hard goat cheese,” a translucent blue Züri Oberland cheese roasted over an open fire like Grandfather prepared for Heidi.
Maienfeld is located in the eastern Swiss canton of Graubünden and, more specifically, Heidi’s village is a nearby hamlet known as Oberfols (the village of Dorfli in Spyri’s novel was fictional, as Dorfli simply means “little town.”). The ascent to Oberfols is stunningly beautiful. Wildflowers, verdant meadows, summer-shorn sheep and the cling-clang of cowbells transported us back in time some 150 years to Heidi’s homeland. We passed an elderly man and little girl dressed in bright red dress guiding a horse-drawn wagon up the mountainside.
At the lofty peak of the mountain, we came to HeidiDorf, a historic little farm decorated to look as if Heidi were living there. Inside a rustic cabin were furnishings, crockery, and costumes, which were typical of the 1850’s. One little nook was “Heidi’s bedroom,” where an adorable straw-stuffed mattress lay before a four-paned window overlooking a breathtaking view of Alps, through which der Föhn (alpine breeze) entered, carrying the scent of meadow flowers. Although Heidi may have been poor, she was rich in many ways otherwise.
Little kids (of the goat persuasion) were grazing peacefully along the paths, strategically located within easy range of a child’s reach. Other animals like little lambs comprised the petting zoo (which was quite popular among the wee ones). The gift shop offered a large variety of Swiss chocolates, souvenirs and refreshments, and lots of shaded areas were available for family story-reading and picnics. (see http://www.heidi-swiss.ch/en/heididorf/index.html)
Some visitors chose to stay in one of the 200 “Sleep on the Straw” farms in Switzerland, where guests enjoy an authentic experience in an old-time rural Swiss farm. Guests literally sleep on piles of straw in Senns’ (Swiss farmers’) guesthouses, then enjoy a country breakfast in the morning. This would afford an awesome memory for young families with small children, and be affordable at the same time (see http://www.abenteuer-stroh.ch/en/default.asp).
Less than ten minutes away from HeidiDorf is a “Sleep on the Straw” cabin, at Max and Dorli Just-Buchli’s farm. This cozy cabin has charming flower boxes lining paned windows revealing spectacular views of the Alps. (see http://www.hofjust.ch)
The breakfast room has beautiful wooden tables, just perfect for re-creating the ultimate Heidi experience – where tales of the optimistic orphan foster the love of mountains and of nature.
No trip to Switzerland could be complete without enjoying a traditional fondue. Our Nachtessen farewell fare in Zurich consisted of das Gipfeli (a croissant pastry) dipped in a Neuchâteloise mixture of Gruyère and Emmental cheese. On the side were golden potatoes smothered in a rich melted raclette, known as Bratchäs. The first written mention of „Bratkäse“ (Bratchäs) in a written source comes from a monastery in the Middle Ages, indicating it was eaten as early as 1291 in the Swiss cantons Obwalden and Nidwalden.
The Nachtessen feast was followed by slices of fruit dipped in a caquelon of melted Swiss chocolate.
Our visit to Switzerland left us all aufgestellt (a Helveticism for “happy”), and proud to share a tiny piece of the rich cultural heritage of this tiny country.
As Heidi said to Aunt Dete “I don’t want to go away! I want to stay here. I love the Grandfather, and he loves me. It’s my birthday and we’re going to have a party.”
Happy 100th birthday to Pro Patria. We wish you many more to come.