Hike to Berggasthaus Aescher
Hike to Berggasthaus Aescher
If you want to add a little history and culture to your Swiss Alps hike, try the hike to Berggasthaus Aescher. Along the way, you’ll pass through ancient caves, an old hermit’s hut, and a chapel built into the cliff. At the end of the trail, you’ll reach the 170 year-old cliff-side restaurant and former inn, one of the most famous views in all of the Alps. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see paragliders sailing by over the farmland below.
In the “old” days, there was only one way to get to the caves and Berggasthaus Aescher: by hiking up from the valley floor. But in 1955, the Wasserauen-Ebenalp Cableway opened direct access to the top of the mountain. As a result, people could now ride the cable car to the Ebenalp summit and then walk down.
While it sounds like that made things easier, it’s still a slight challenge. After you walk a mile downhill to Berggasthaus Aescher, you still have to walk back uphill to catch the cable car down.
During our visit, we met this 63 year-old woman who was about to go paragliding just below the summit. In a mix of English and German, she told us that she began paragliding only a few months ago. In addition, she mentioned that the slopes of Ebenalp are a favorite launch point for paragliders.
As you head downhill towards Berggasthaus Aescher, you often see paragliders. When we were there, we watched several slowly floating by while holding their legs in front of them.
Prehistoric Wildkirchli Caves
The trail to Berggasthaus Aescher offers several points of interest along the way.
First, you’ll reach the Wildkirchli Caves, a complex of three interconnected underground “rooms.” At one time, parts of the rooms were a refuge for pilgrims and hermits. Today, the caves are a tourist destination.
In the early 1900s, local archaeologist Emil Bächler found tools suggesting that humans had lived in the caves from 45,000 to 30,000 BC.
In fact, the caves may have been a hunting site in the summer months. Over the last 100 years, archaeologists have found the bone remains of more than 800 animals like bears, mountain goats and wolves.
Hermit’s House near Berggasthaus Aescher
Next, we came upon the Hermit’s House, which is built on the site of a former inn run by hermits. Today, the Hermit’s House is a small museum describing how hermits once lived there for nearly 200 years.
As far back as 1800, hermits and herdsmen began selling food and drink to pilgrims who came to the mountain for spiritual guidance. Over time, they turned the alpine hut into a guesthouse and restaurant.
As we kept hiking, we enjoyed the valley views while walking beside the mountain walls. Even so, it was good to know that this part of the trail had a built-in rail!
Wildkirchli Cave Chapel
In no time, we came to the Wildkirchli Cave Chapel. There, hermit monks and others worshipped from the early- to-mid 1600s until 1853. Legend has it that the hermits rang the bell five times each day at prayer times.
A Capuchin monk founded the cave chapel in 1621. Today, the chapel holds a “Festival of the Guardian Angel” service each July, complete with a yodeler chorus. The monk who founded the chapel came up with this idea.
Even though that founding monk moved away, an Appenzell priest set up a foundation in 1679 to ensure the continuation of the service. From that early vision, the service continues to this day.
Finally, we reached the rustic Berggasthaus Aescher, tucked into the mountain on the same path as the caves.
In recent years, this spot has become very famous. Among other things, National Geographic featured the inn on the cover of a book about “destinations of a lifetime.”
Actually, we didn’t realize any of that before we got there. Instead, we just thought it would be a good pausing point for our hike.
Since we arrived at Berggasthaus Aescher at mid-morning, we luckily avoided the biggest crowds of the day. Still, things started to get busy as we were ready to leave and head back uphill.
We later learned that new managers will be taking over the restaurant this spring. News reports indicate the previous managers left due to failing infrastructure.
When you think of it, it’s very tough to bring water and electricity to a remote place like this. Also, it’s not easy to keep an old inn in good shape. On top of all that, the soaring number of visitors in recent years was apparently too much to handle.
Since this is such a special spot, we wish the new managers good luck!