Friday, October 5, 2007

Hidden Organic Treasures

If you are in Switzerland, a visit to the Appenzell canton of Northeast Switzerland, a region known for its beautiful farm land, progressive health laws, and rural traditions, is highly recommended. There are countless farms and fabulous “wanderweg” hiking trails throughout. A favorite farm and farm store is in Gais, but if you don't know it's there, you wouldn't be likely to find it.

From the city of St. Gallen, you would take the Appenzeller Bahnen, a small, red train which, as its name implies, travels through the canton with trains running about every 30 minutes. Take this train for about half an hour to the town of Gais. (If you are in Teufen, Gais is about half-way to Appenzell on the train.) Once off the train, you will walk about 1 mile. Cross Schulhausstrasse and walk along Zung St., then cross Stossstrasse and slightly to the right of where you have been walking will be Kehr St. Walk on Kehr for about one-quarter to one-third of a mile and take a right onto Bommes Road – looks more like a driveway - within 20 yards or so you will walk into the yard of the Biodynamic Hofladen Farm (Bommes 3, Gais, Tel: 71 793 37 85; )where there is a little farm store.

The store’s entry-way has fresh organic produce delivered on Fridays. Further inside you will find a mini-health food store with organic and free-trade food and treats, including farm fresh, biodynamic dairy products from the Hofladen Farm. There is nothing quite like farm fresh yogurt in a glass container – seems from a lost world - perfect and delicious (my apologies to non-dairy eaters.) Fresh, organic spelt bread, made from spelt grown a few towns over ( - they make their own spelt pasta, pastries, and bread - directions on their web site), is delivered Tuesday, Fridays and Saturdays. On those days the store is open from 9-11:30 am and then again from 3-7pm. Every other day it is open from just 6-7pm.

Not much English is spoken, but everything seems to get across just fine. Two tips: In Switzerland (and many other places in Europe), when buying fresh produce you are responsible for weighing and pricing it. There is a number by the name of the item – e.g. Red Cabbage #62 – take your red cabbage over to the scale (somewhere in the produce area) and weigh it – you will need to punch in that number. A sticker will spit out with the weight and price that you apply to the bag or item. In lower-tech establishments, you may have to write it on the bag.
Also, remember to bring your own bags – many stores either do not have bags or charge for them, and often they are flimsy – so just get used to having a stash of canvas bags rolled up in your daypack.

The farm belongs to the Langenegger family. The grandmother, Lilly Langenegger, is a local famous artist who writes children’s books with beautiful illustrations of traditional Swiss rural images and Appenzeller farm life. The books are available in German, English and French. Pictures and purchasing information are available at the publisher website (in German, but translatable):


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, Italy...
I sort of hate to write about Cinque Terre but thankfully it has its own self-protecting mechanism in place – allowing only so many people at a time into the area so as to minimize the human impact, controlled by a limit on ticket passes sold.

Cinque Terre sits on the coast of the Ligurian Sea - the northern Mediterranean in the western upper curve of the Italian coast. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site which affords it recognition and protection as a unique and extraordinary spot on earth. The five villages that make up the Cinque (five) Terre (land/villages) are Rio Maggiore, Manarola, Carniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso spread along 12 km of spectacular Mediterranean coast. The villages are built into the hill/cliff-sides and footpaths (sentieri in Italian) connect the villages as well as an underground train. Cars can only access the upper parts of some of the villages. Maps are available from the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre - - as well as the "Carta" - ticket you purchase at the local train station which allows you to walk on the footpaths and ride the train between the villages. A word of caution - do not plan a tight schedule - every train was between 15-30 minutes late when we were there.

There are a number of path options - along the coast,or up through the olive orchards, or through tiny paths between grape vines. Be prepared for trail closures – mudslides, downed trees – nature at work. Whatever trail you take, be assured that there is no shortage of photo opportunities no matter the weather.

The combination of the ancient, the necessary and the modern is breathtaking – dry stone walls, terracing, bountiful food, the brilliant turquoise mixed with olive leaf silver, the yellow of the lemons and the pastel rainbow of the buildings stacked into the hillsides all illuminate the magnificence of humans and nature together - rather than spoils, riches on every level.

While we were there - we had to make an impromptu route change as there had been a mudslide on our path, closing the trail. Our unmarked path brought us to the back of one of the towns where we serendipitously found a wonderful, unadvertised hostel (Ostello in Italian) - - off the beaten path where we could bed down for the night at 17 Euros per person and for an extra 5 euros have a large bowl of pasta and organic local basil pesto. It doesn't get much better than that!

In Manarola village there is one of the best smoothie and fruit drink places I have ever found - we had one that was apple,cardamon and lemon - divine! and another that was mandarin, melon and lemon. They also had drinks with an almond milk base. Everything we had was delicious and with wonderful combinations of flavors. They are up the hill on the right - can't miss them - and don't.

The local people were open and friendly. In a little ceramic shop in Manarola, run by people who have lived there all their lives, I purchased a huge, round platter hand-painted in pastel colors depicting each of the five villages. They were so delighted that I was buying the huge platter that they gave me 2 other hand-painted dishes - all of which I have hanging in my kitchen at home.

The official, local organic Pesto is made with the Parco Nazionale label on it and is incredible - made with local lemons, olive oil, and basil (basilico). Remember to buy a few jars to savor once you are home.

Cinque Terre is heaven for the eco-conscious traveler - you will not want to leave.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


I am spending far too much time in front of the computer screen working on my book, "Traveling Naturally in Western Europe" - I would rather be hiking and drinking lattés.

Hope you enjoy these samplings:
Health in a Bottle:
If you are traveling in Switzerland (or most other European countries) try these over the top juices made by the Biotta company, headquartered in Tagerwilen, Switzerland which has been making organic juices since 1951. They have twenty-three different juices made with organic vegetables or fruits and processed with natural, dairy-free lactic acid, so even though the juices are bottled they taste like freshly made juice. Biotta farms organically, with 600 acres in Switzerland, 900 acres in Germany and smaller parcels in Israel and Northern Italy. Most health food stores, some pharmacies or apothecaries, and large supermarkets sell Biotta juice, which does taste like health in a bottle. - web site avaiable in German, French and English.

Alternative Health Care Extraordinaire:
Paracelsus Biological Medicine & Dental Clinic, Lustmuhle, Switzerland - - is a comprehensive, outpatient clinic employing state of the art biological medicine therapies, including Chinese, anthroposophical, homeopathic and detoxification therapies and treatment of all diseases. The adjacent dental clinic can be visited separately or as part of your whole body care at the clinic. My husband who has debilitating and joint-deforming Rheumatoid Arthritis, lives pain-free and with high energy since starting treatments at this clinic three years ago.

Clever No-Carbon Transpo in France:
Paris and Lyon have city-wide bike rental services. In Paris there are 750 “Velib” stations where bikes can be easily picked up or dropped off with 230 miles of bike lanes in the city. A day pass costs 1 Euro while a full year is 29 Euros and a 7-day pass
is 5 euros – these prices are assuming you have any one bike for no more than 30 minutes. Additional charges apply per every extra 30 minutes you have the bike. For a one-year pass, apply online at (Choice of French, English and Spanish in upper right corner) for list of bike stations and one year pass. If you want a 1- or 7-day pass, have your credit card ready for one of the automatic ticket machines at the Velib stations. (All passes are subject to 150-euro refundable deposit.) Renters need to be 14 years or older and at least 5 feet tall. You need to have your own helmet. If you want the same bike for an extended stay it may be less expensive to use the Velo-Rent-a-Bike with English website at :