Swiss Family Destinations
Two memorable Swiss destinations for both parents and kids.
Regarding an African safari, comedian Paul Lynde once said, "If the children don't hunt, there really isn't much for them."
Though he had no offspring, Mr. Lynde instinctively realized that the trick to traveling with kids is to find activities both they and you can enjoy. Here are two in Switzerland that ought to fill the bill.
Swiss Outdoor Museum
If, as your car or train speeds through the Swiss countryside, you wonder what it's like inside those massive combination house-barn structures, Ballenberg is for you.
The Swiss Open Air Museum, near Brienz at the east end of the Brienzersee, is a collection of some 100 farm buildings, houses, barns, and mills, all fully operational, which have been carefully dismantled, brought to Ballenberg and reassembled. They have been collected from all the Swiss cantons and the Ballenberg staff's reassembly and furnishing has been done with attention to the smallest detail. You don't just see a bare farmhouse bedroom, for example. It will be completely and authentically equipped. There will be shoes under the bed and clothes in the closet. The kitchen's table will be set and bread baking in the oven. The garden behind the house sprouts the same varieties of vegetables that grew in the farm garden of 1850.
In many buildings, Swiss artisans practice their crafts and on given days visitors can see weaving, spinning, bobbin lace making, wood carving, wool dying, tatting, netting, and roof shingle making, among others. There is an alpine cheese dairy, a bakery, a charcoal works, a lime kiln, a small lumber mill, a blacksmith shop, and an historical drug store. You can observe clock making, milk being made into butter, and one exhibit entitled "At the Hairdresser in Days of Old."
As you pass through the kitchens of the old farm houses you may be offered a bite of something that has been cooked there using an historic recipe. The museum also keeps a few rare animals among it collection of about 250, including peacock goats, Appenzell crested chickens and some strange looking wooly-haired pigs. In one corner of the park is a garden of medicinal herbs used in times past, and even sometimes today to treat various ailments.
The museum's buildings are scattered throughout the 200-acre site above the Brienzersee. The paths connecting them wind through gentle hills, groves of trees and past outcroppings of rock. You'll have to do some walking to see Ballenberg but nothing strenuous, and many of the buildings are designed for easy wheelchair access. Allocate at least three hours. However, those with a special interest in architecture or Swiss country life over the past 200 years may wish to spend as many as three days.
At lunchtime, many visitors take advantage of the park's picnic area. Smoked sausage, cheese and fresh bread are available from various Ballenberg shops or there are three restaurants: Wilerhorn at the eastern entrance, Alter Bären at the west entrance or, inside the park about 25 minutes walk from the entrances, is Zum Alten Degen.
Ballenberg is open daily from mid-April through October, 10am-5pm.
Prices: adults CHF 16 ($11), children 6 to 16 CHF 8 ($5.50), families (parents with their children from 6 to 16 years) CHF 35 ($24). Ballenberg is free to holders of the Swiss Museum Pass, which covers 275 museums throughout Switzerland. The one-month Swiss Museum Pass is CHF 30 ($20) for adults and the Swiss Museum Plus Pass costs CHF 35 ($23) and covers entry for one adult and up to five children under 16.
H. Huggler-Wyss Woodcarving Factory
Near Ballenberg, the lakeside village of Brienz is the center of the country's small but still vital woodcarving industry. Aspiring carvers come from throughout the country to attend the Cantonal Woodcarver School and the region is recognized as the birthplace of Swiss woodcarving.
Even travelers with no special interest or knowledge of this rare craft will be fascinated by a short tour of H. Huggler-Wyss, a Brienz manufacturer of wood sculptures and Switzerland's leading producer of hand-carved figures.
The firm's little three-story building provides workbenches and good light for 18 to 20 of the country's most skillful carvers who quietly turn out hand-carved pieces ranging in size from one or two inches to life-sized statues, mostly from linden, a wood which takes three years to cure, has a fine grain and stains well.
Some artisans have unique skills or techniques and the company constantly searches for others who can be trained to ensure the art is not lost. Carving faces, say those who know, is a special talent that greatly diminishes when the artisan stops working at his craft even for just a few months. What they produce we find to be of far more interest and artistic merit than the mass-produced-by-many-hands Hummel figurines.
Huggler-Wyss accepts special orders. The charge for a small carving of a family pet will be approximately $140 to $200. A life-size statue of a person can cost as much as $15,000.
To arrange a visit, contact the company by regular mail or email.
Other kid-friendly activities in this area include the ride up the Schynige Platte Railway for a walk through the Alpine Garden with its many rare plants, the funicular and cog railway to Mürren from Lauterbrunnen, a boat ride on the lake or the funicular from Brienz to the Rothorn.