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Visiting Elm

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With its ski slopes, large network of hiking trails and historical monuments, Elm has tourism potential all year round.

This content was published on September 26, 2002 - 19:39

It also boasts an unusual natural phenomenon: twice a year, the sun shines through a hole in a mountain top directly onto Elm's church.

Walking through Elm, it is easy to get the impression that history seeps through the darkened wood of the old houses, crowded together in the centre of the village.

Many of the houses date back to the 17th century and the larger buildings bear witness to the time when the inhabitants became modestly wealthy through the cattle trade.

In summer, the cows were taken to graze on the alpine pastures above Elm before being taken over the Panixer Pass to be sold in southern Switzerland and Italy.

Elm has received two awards for the preservation of its village centre: in 1975 during the European year for heritage and monument protection; and in 1981 from the Swiss Heritage Society, which placed the centre under heritage protection.

Devastating rockslide

The second citation came on the centenary of the rockslide that killed more than 100 people.

A plaque on the wall of the village church lists the names of the victims and attests to the tragedy that still haunts the village to this day.

The rockslide was set loose when an open pit slate mine dug into the side of a mountain collapsed.

It is estimated that ten million cubic metres of rock crashed down to the valley floor in a matter of seconds, burying people inside their homes.

The disused slate factory has been converted into a museum to tell the story of the industry and of the tragedy that claimed the lives of one in ten people in the village.

Astronomy tourism

Elm attracts a certain number of "astronomy" tourists twice a year, who come to witness the natural phenomenon known simply as Martinsloch, or Martin's Hole.

Around eight days before the astronomical start of spring and eight days after the beginning of autumn, the sun shines through Martin's Hole, a large gap in the peak of the Tschingelhorn Mountain, directly onto the village church, and only the church.

Firing range

Two centuries later, it is the Swiss army that maintains a military presence in the area, having converted the end of the valley into a tank firing range.

The tourist office organises tours of the range, where visitors can observe tanks firing live ammunition while sentries keep watch to ensure no hikers wander into the sights of the tank gunners.

The army even uses mine throwers to target the glacier on the upper flanks of the 3,000-metre high Hausstock Mountain.

In winter, skiers appreciate the benefits that come with a small resort, and Elm has invested in a new ski lift system that will shorten the time between runs.

Skiers also have the chance of taking lessons from hometown hero, Vreni Schneider, possibly the greatest female alpine skier ever.

swissinfo/Dale Bechtel in Elm

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