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The Heidi Village above Maienfeld is an enchanting place. If you were charmed by Johanna Spyri's Heidi books, then a visit to Heidi's home will transport you back in time.
Here in the tiny hamlet "Ober Rofels", visitors will find the Idyll described in Johanna Spyri's books. She starts with the following sentence: "From the old and pleasantly situated village of Mayenfeld, a footpath winds through green and shady meadows to the foot of the mountains, which on this side look down from their stern and lofty heights upon the valley below."
Who does not know the story of the orphaned child Heidi, her grumpy grandfather - the Alpöhi (Alm-Uncle) - the stubborn goatherd Peter (Geissenpeter), the strict Fräulein Rottenmeier and Klara, the fragile child from Frankfurt who recovered from her illness in the fresh and crisp mountain air?
The cute girl Heidi from Graubünden is still the most famous Swiss and though there are not many reminders of her in town itself, Maienfeld set up a memorial in her honour in the tiny hamlet of "Ober Rofels" now, aptly, called Heidi Village - complete with wandering goats.
However, do not expect Disneyland. The Village is set up with no frills and glamour, though the effect is charming. The Heidi house is an authentic Walser home renovated and converted to a museum; its interior furnished with original period pieces, depicting rural life as it was more than 120 years ago, even Klara's wheelchair is the type that she could have used at the time. I am certain you'll recognize the setting if you read the book.
Heidi's home is a typical farm house in this area - built with mixture of wood and stone, clear lines and small windows to keep the heat inside in the long winter months.
A footpath next to the house leads up to the Alp where Heidi spent her most beautiful years with her grandfather.
Right next to the entrance is the root cellar, filled with wine, apples, root vegetables and dried meats hanging from the ceiling. Milk is stored here and everything that one has to be kept cool.
On the floor above one finds Heidi and Peter sitting on the living room table and it seems that Heidi is trying to teach something to the deliberately obtuse Peter.
Though the inside of the museum looks as if Heidi and Peter just left to roam outside and return any moment, children might be a tad disappointed that they don't meet the "real Heidi".
Apparently, the girl that inspired Johanna Spyri to write her story was called Marie and lived here in "Ober Rofels". Nobody knows exactly if that was the case but extensive research points to this hamlet and the alpine pasture above, where Alpöhi lived his solitary life.
Water was fetched from the fountain and most of the washing was done here too.
The small attached extension at the house is the toilet - quite common in those days.
This is main street and 'downtown' of "Ober Rofels", the real name of the Heidi Village. To the right the old "Town Hall of the Free Walser", straight ahead Heidi's House and to the left (not in the picture) is a museum and gift shop.
Visitors from around the globe come to see Heidi's world. The book has been translated into more than 50 languages and has inspired millions of children and adults alike.
I read Heidi's story at a very young age when I was still in the process of learning how to read. The story kept me glued to the book and turned me definitely into a reader. I was fascinated by Heidi and how she ignored grandfathers' grumpiness and eventually turned him into a better human being who was willing to leave his alpine retreat and spend winters in the company of others; the way she accepted her challenges, thought first of others and learned as much as she could along the way.
A visit to the Heidi Village feels like a journey back in time. One has kept the traditional character of "Ober Rofels" the way it was at the time when Johanna Spyri wrote her world-famous novels about Heidi more than 120 years ago.
The author Johanna Spyri spent many summer holidays at her friend's house in Jenins, a wine growing village in the Bündner Herrschaft, where she found inspiration for her stories on long walks and hikes around Maienfeld.
Heidi's adventure in this Alpine Idyll has been captured on celluloid dozens of times. Hollywood produced the first film in 1920 but it took the Swiss until 1952 to make the first film, the most identic one I might add. The casting was so brilliant, and Heinrich Gretler gave such an excellent performance as wrathful and obdurate Alpöhi that it is still the most popular Heidifilm in Switzerland and probably the most successful Swiss film in the USA.
A very successful animated cartoon film, a Japanese television series from 1977, conquered the hearts of the Japanese. They exceed the number of visitors of other Nations by far and even state, that Heidi was their reason to visit Switzerland in the first place.
Maienfeld is reached by train from Zürich in a bit over one hour with a change of trains in Sargans.
Take exit Maifenfeld on the motorway Zürich - Chur.
Following a few routes for those who'd like to enjoy the beautiful wine growing region around Maienfeld and Jenins:
You can download the brochure with the map here.
Time: About 1 hour - good footwear
For those who are somewhat in a hurry, the shortest route (red line 1 and 2, blue line 3) to the Heidi Village leads from the train station in Maienfeld through the town past stone entrances, through vineyards and rolling green pastures straight to "Ober Rofels". Add about 45 minutes when you return the same route or via "Unter Rofels" (red line 4).
Time: About 1.5 hours - good footwear
Starting point for the longer Heidi Trail is the railway station in Mainfeld (510 metre above sea level - 1673 ft.). Follow the signs up through the town, past the Brandis castle and through narrow streets and vineyards to the "Heidibrunnen" (Heidi fountain - red line 7, 6 and 4) - an ideal area for a picnic. The fountain was designed by the artist Hans Walt in 1953 in honour of Johanna Spyri. Then continue to the Heidi Village (660 metre above sea level - 2.165 ft.). From there you can return via Rofels to Maienfeld (add about 45 minutes to the journey - red line 4).
Time: about 1.5 upwards for the Heidi Adventure Trail (a little less coming back) - hiking boots
The steep path starts behind the Heidi House and leads up to the Ochsenberg (1111 metre above sea level - 3645 ft.), where Heidi spent the best time with Alpöhi, Peter and the goats. 12 stations on the themed trail tell you more about Heidi's life.
Return the same way to the Heidi Village and Maienfeld or continue on the trail that leads to Jenins, a picturesque village in the "Bündner Herrschaft" vineyards (add approximately one to one and a half hours from Ochsenberg to Jenins).
From Jenins, the postal bus will take you to the train stations Maienfeld or Landquart.
Time: approximately 45 minutes - good walking shoes
Jenins is easily reached by PostBus from Landquart or Maienfeld (or you can hike all the way, if you bring enough time). From the Town Hall square, the Johanna Spyri Trail leads through the vineyards and meadows to "Unter Rofels" and up to the Heidi Village. Magnificent views.
Time: bring about 3 to 4 hours for the whole experience - good walking shoes are enough, unless you plan to hike beyond the Pizol Trail.
Neither Heidi nor Geissenpeter were ever on the Pizol trail. Nevertheless, this trail is especially interesting for families. The Heidi trail "on the other side of Maifenfeld and the Rhine River" is a themed path with oodles of fun for children, playgrounds and BBQ sites along the way.
Heidi's story is depicted on colourful wooden panels along the path. Wooden goats delight children and the view to the vineyards in the "Bündner Herrschaft" and beyond captivates grown-ups.
This is an interesting alternative for those who can't visit the "Original Heidi Alp" across the valley, which is quite steep and not suited for strollers.
How to get there: a short train ride from Maienfeld to Bad Ragaz and from there by bus to the Pizol valley station. A themed gondola will whisk visitors up to the Pardiel station where the trail begins. The path is pretty level, wheelchair and stroller accessible and wanderers will reach Alp Schwarzbüel in about 30 minutes (where Alpöhi serves simple alpine dishes).
Typ: The Heidi Village has its own postal service. Send a card home and you will have a nice souvenir with a stamp and postmarked by the Heidi Village.
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