Hands up who thinks of Heidi when thinking of Switzerland. Trouble is, when you move here and become an expat in Geneva, Zurich or any other modern Swiss city, you lose sight of the country’s most evocative and enchanting cliché.
Expat Husband and I are definitely guilty as charged: we make the most of the Swiss slopes in winter but then spend all our spring and summer holidays with family in Italy or the UK.
All this changed the summer Little Miss Cutie was born. The weather in Geneva was great and we were just too exhausted to travel to Italy with two energetic toddlers and a newborn baby, so we took full advantage of Expat Husband’s holidays and set off in search of the full Heidi experience, complete with emerald green pastures, hopping baby goats, soaring mountain ranges and wooden chalets.
And here’s what we found! The Swiss open air museum of Ballenberg (250km from Geneva, approx. 3h by car) is unique: over 100 historical rural buildings from all over Switzerland were saved from demolition and transported here in the heart of the Bernese Oberland, one of Switzerland most scenic regions.
If it’s the Switzerland of Heidi you’re looking for, Ballenberg has all you need to take a step back in time and really feel what it must have been like to live in rural Switzerland hundreds of years ago. At least, this is how it was for me. Cars aren’t allowed inside the museum’s green dominion: it’s just you, the other visitors, 250 farm animals roaming around happily and the vastest alpine sky you could ever imagine.
I had an unexpected but wonderful epiphany here: I am very much a city girl at heart and whenever I spend more than a few days in the countryside I start pining for some hustle & bustle. Although I love to daydream about idyllic country retreats, I always believed that I’d never be able to live there permanently as I’d feel too lonely. But as I sat on the long, soft grass in Ballenberg watching the boys run around safely and stroke the farm animals, Baby Girl dozing in my arms, lulled by the rythmical chime of cows’ bells, I finally GOT IT.
It’s certainly not by accident that bells are used in meditation practice as well, because I felt my mind float gently to a higher ground of peaceful stillness, of fundamental togetherness with nature and its rhythms. And I finally got that there can be no loneliness when man is at one with nature and its boundless pulse.
I don’t know if this was also what Heidi felt, and the reason why she loved her mountains so much, but I’ll always cherish the memory of this fluttering, amazing feeling. When you sense you’re one piece of a great puzzle, fitting into place is all you want to do and I doubt anything can feel as liberating or as fulfilling.
There are many options for overnight stays around Ballenberg, which you can find on the My Switzerland website. We decided to try out one of Switzerland’s fab campsites and stayed at the Aaregg Family Campsite in Brienz, right on the shores of the majestic Brienzersee Lake.
As you can see, the boys were very happy with the choice and absolutely loved being able to go fishing with Dad at the end of our long day!
The Aaregg Family Campsite is fantastic: small, cozy and lovingly run by a young couple. You can bring your tent, camper-van or rent one of their pretty bungalows (see photo below), which is what we went for.
Ballenberg is a perfect destination for a family getaway, hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did!