A babbling brook, cowbells echoing in the mountains... these are some of the sounds that Toggenburg is hoping might entice you to its region for "sound wellness".This content was published on August 19, 2009 - 15:38
For German-speaking countries, wellness usually means relaxing in the spa or having a massage in a nice hotel. But the mountain region near St Gallen believes it can be a holiday for the senses as well.
"Sound wellness is the possibility of coming into contact with sound. When you go onto an Alp and all the cows are wearing cowbells, you have this cloud of sound, and when you lie on the grass and listen to it, you can go deep into your mind," local musician and composer Peter Roth told swissinfo.ch.
Roth is part of the Toggenburg World of Tone, a project aiming to keep the natural vocal and musical tradition of the region alive. Along with Toggenburg Tourism, it has created the sound wellness programme.
Toggenburgers, he says, have strong voices and native instruments which produce sounds with a lot of energy.
"Sound is a shelter from negative influences, so we sing prayers on the Alps, to shelter the Alps," said Roth.
This is an "old magic concept of sound", he added. "We can look inside ourselves to find our creativity... sound is a wonderful opportunity to touch this deep site of our soul."
Visitors to one of the four hotels offering the sound wellness concept can, from September 1, go on tours to hear the sounds of the Toggenburg countryside. For a touch of regional authenticity, guests can also attend courses on natural yodelling - the wordless form of the art.
For something a little more individual, there are sound rooms, where you can experiment with instruments and your own voice.
Traditional "wellness" activities, such as relaxing in the pool, also get the sound and light treatment.
Sound relax couch
But if you want to totally switch off, you might like the sound of the sound relax couch. It has been specially designed by sound artist and music therapist Berndt Vogel.
"It's a special kind of sound couch, you lie there and you see different lights, hear different music, vibrations and sounds, it's an all body experience," Vogel explained.
This can be confirmed by swissinfo.ch, who, along with other enthusiastic journalists at the media launch of the sound wellness concept earlier this year, was able to try out the elegant and futuristic looking couch.
"First of all you experience the water mattress, the water is warm and the idea is to relax the body. After that you feel that the music is starting slowly and you hear it, but it's not very loud. In the third step you feel the vibrations, which come through the water and into your body," Vogel said.
Toggenburg Tourism is hoping that the innovative sound programme will attract more guests to the valley, which lies to the east of Switzerland, between the Santis mountain and the Churfirsten range.
"This can be different people, people who want some spirituality, but also normal wellness guests, families, seminars and groups, anyone who likes relaxing in this way," Christine Bolt, Toggenburg Tourism's director, told swissinfo.ch.
At present around 70 per cent of guests to the region are Swiss, with the rest coming from neighbouring Germany.
The tourism region has, however, been undergoing an economic dip in fortunes. The important ski season tends to be limited to day trips and this is hard for the hotels. It is hoped that all-year-round sound wellness will create around 8,000 overnight stays.
But how will sound wellness fare in a competitive market that only sees nine per cent of overseas visitors coming to Switzerland for relaxation therapy?
The national Swiss tourist board Switzerland Tourism thinks the concept has a chance.
A sound chance
"I think it's great if a destination positions themselves in a certain field and it's a good opportunity because it fits perfectly with the positioning of the valley, with their traditions," said Rafael Enzler, the body's head of marketing.
"Additionally, it fits in with the possibility of finding a certain niche within the wellness field," he said.
And with the economic crisis still looming and people living ever busier lives, perhaps a little bit of tonal time out is just what is needed.
"I hope that sound wellness will be part of a changing of consciousness. I think we are on a very important step in evolution, for centuries we have been separating ourselves from nature, and our souls," Roth said. "That we can again relate body and soul, and people with nature, is my deepest hope."
Isobel Leybold-Johnson, swissinfo.ch
How it works
Klangwellness or Sound Wellness was two years in the making. It was announced to the media in June this year and will be officially launched on September 1.
Four hotels are taking part: Sternen and Säntis in Unterwasser and Stump's Alpenrose and Hirschen in Wildhaus. They fulfil the special sound wellness requirements and have a sound room as well as sound relax couch.
There are also sound counsellors, who have undergone a year's training, who can accompany participants through the programme.
The four parts of the programme are: sound relax, sound aqua, sound room and sound tours.
The government and canton of St Gallen support the project to the tune of around SFr1.1 million ($1.03 million). It is also hoped to develop the Toggenburg World of Tone concept.
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