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Few tourists have Elm in their sights

Elm's tourism potential has still to see the light of day

(swissinfo.ch)

There are not many mountain villages as attractive, unspoilt or steeped in history as Elm.

But Elm is a curious place. Despite its natural beauty, perfectly preserved houses, excellent hiking trails and skiing, it sees few visitors.

If you ask any Swiss about Elm, they'll tell you about Elmer mineral water and a lemonade soft drink, Elmer Citro, which are bottled in the village.

Then they would have to admit that they couldn't even place Elm on a map, since they've never been there.

Even though Elm is less than two hours from Zurich by train, it couldn't be further off the beaten track. Surrounded by tall peaks, it lies at the end of the Sernf valley in canton Glarus.

Time stands still

Time has either stood still in Elm, or its residents have simply refused to keep up with the times.

No one really knows which is closer to the truth. The residents are either happy to keep Elm as it is, or they lack the drive to change it.

The former ski star, Vreni Schneider, is Elm's most prominent citizen and a case in point.

The hometown girl returned to Elm upon retirement after chalking up an amazing 55 wins during her career on the World Cup circuit, three overall world championships and three Olympic gold medals.

She opened her own ski school when she returned to the village, but by her own admission, it's modest and she's more than happy to keep it that way. She doesn't want to turn Elm into a top ski resort.

"Elm is a small tourist village," she says. "It's very peaceful and quiet. When I was on the ski circuit I always enjoyed coming home to get away from the hustle and bustle."

"My ski school keeps me busy as it is." As far as appearances go, it would seem many people in Elm share her view.

Agriculture

An incredible one in three people is still employed in agriculture. Few of them have abandoned their farms to work in the tourist industry nor have they been willing to convert their homes into hotels.

The wooden houses, many dating back to the 17th century, have been so perfectly preserved that the village has been commended on different occasions by Swiss and European heritage societies.

The young people of Elm, however, see little reason to remain because there are few interesting or well-paid jobs.

No future

"The problem is that the young people think they can't do anything in Elm so they leave," says Sara Elmer. Elmer is young herself - in her 20s - and unlike her friends, she has chosen to remain in Elm.

She runs the local tourist office, and it's her job to sell the ski area and numerous hiking trails, as well as tours of the village and of a disused slate factory converted into a museum.

The museum bears witness to a devastating rockslide that buried part of the village on September 11, 1881, killing more than 100 people, or about one in every ten citizens.

Suvorov and sunbeams

And the great Russian general Suvorov and his troops stopped in Elm in 1799 before making a harrowing retreat from Napoleon's forces over the Panixer Pass.

Visitors can follow in Suvorov's footsteps along a signposted trail and see the house where he stayed, or visit the Swiss army's ultra-modern tank firing range located at the end of the valley.

There is also plenty of reason for fans of astronomy to visit Elm. Twice a year, the sun shines through Martin's Hole, a large gap in the peak of the Tschingelhorn Mountain, directly onto the village church.

The sunbeam illuminates the church while everything else remains in the dark.

"If more young people would stay here and try to do something, we could build a future for ourselves. But no one is willing to try," she adds.

Elm boasts a disco, pub, and a couple of hotels and restaurants. In winter, a second dance hall opens up beside Vreni Schneider's ski school.

It may not be enough to attract more tourists, but for anyone wanting to get off the beaten track, that's a blessing in disguise.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Elm

Key facts

760 residents and shrinking.
35 per cent of population is employed in agriculture.
The village centre is listed as a national heritage site.
Elm is home to the former Swiss ski star, Vreni Schneider.

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In brief

Elm has not lived up to its tourism potential, despite its attractive alpine setting in a side valley of canton Glarus.

The lack of development has been a blessing in disguise, since most of the old wooden houses and buildings in the village centre, many dating back to the 17th century, have been preserved.

However, most young people see no future staying in Elm and are leaving for better opportunities in Switzerland's urban centres.

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