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A day's outing on the fairy trails

Little surprises are in store along the dwarf trails Keystone

Over the past few years, there's been a "little" trend in parts of the country to reawaken local legends for the sake of tourism.

This content was published on July 29, 2000 - 11:28

Persecuted dwarves, charitable gnomes and wicked witches are among the fascinating characters said to roam Switzerland's alpine wilderness.

In central Switzerland, legend has it that once a year dwarves are found dancing by the light of the moon. In the Bernese Oberland, secretive gnomes are on a quest for precious stones. In the northeast, another mythical world comes to life.

Aware of the romantic appeal of legends, tourist officials in the resorts of Braunwald, Hasliberg and Toggenburg have made it a little easier to enter the mythical world of the Alps. They've set up well-marked "fairy" trails following the routes of dwarves, wild men and gentle countesses.

The dwarf trails in Braunwald and Hasliberg are definitely for the small of stature, or at least the young at heart. The story of "Dwarf Baartli" unfolds on a winding mountain path above Braunwald.

Baartli and his companions know they must reach home before the moon disappears. But legend has it that one night Baartli is caught out watching the moon descend behind the mountains. His punishment is swift and severe: he is taken away by a wicked witch who hangs him from the branch of a tall tree by his beard.

The fate of Baartli and his small friends is revealed along the trail at different stations, including a dwarf castle and cave as well as a crevice where they dug for precious stones.

Jewels are also at the heart of the story of "Muggestutz, the Hasli Dwarf". He sets off on an adventure to find a gemstone for his little woman, Raurinde. Sustained by wild berries and morning dew, he comes to the aid of several other gnome-like characters along the way.

Sightings of Muggestutz, or Baartli, are rare indeed. However, it's easy to imagine them sheltering in the hollows of old trees twisted by the wild mountain winds, or bedding down in a forest clearing on a carpet of moss. In the late summer, blueberries are ripe for the picking.

Giant steps are needed for following the "Trail of Legends" in Toggenburg. The route takes between four and five hours to complete, but much is revealed along the way. Signposts explain how the region with its scattered houses came to be, and they tell the story of cold-blooded giants and their treasure chests.

There's also the legend of Idda, the gentle countess and hermit of Toggenburg. But hikers will only find out about that story if they're able to make it past a crazed woman who tries to lead everyone astray.

Although all three walks are easily done in a day, it's easy and tempting to extend a visit to spend more time enjoying the stunning scenery and wide variety of activities.

In Toggenburg, one hotel promises a "legendary evening", although the food served in the "witches room" might be considered a little less mythical: Chinese fondue with a mixed salad and chips.

by Dale Bechtel

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