Part of the fun — and much of the expense — of enjoying the Alps is riding the various lifts. Whether you’re riding cogwheel trains, steep funiculars, or gondolas, the views are breathtaking. This gondola drops us in the traffic-free village of Gimmelwald. This tiny intersection is the heart of downtown. On a sunny day, you understand why people say, “If Heaven isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, send me back to Gimmelwald.” The village — established in the Middle Ages, incredibly on the edge of this cliff — was one of the poorest places in Switzerland.
Its traditional economy was stuck in the hay. Its farmers make ends meet only with help from Swiss government subsidies and by working the ski lifts in the winter. Modern tourism has perked up the local economy as well. The village operates like a big family. In fact, most of the 120 residents have the same last name: von Allmen. Collecting grass to get their cows through the winter in this rugged terrain is labor-intensive.
Each hardworking family harvests only enough to feed 15 or 20 cows. Life can be tough, but they’d have it no other way. A generation ago, developers wanted to turn Gimmelwald into a big resort town. The villagers thwarted those plans by getting the entire town declared an avalanche zone. From that point on, no one could get permission to build anything bigger than a house or a barn. Unlike neighboring resort towns, Gimmelwald remains a vital community of families — locally owned and proud of it. Most of the buildings house two families and are divided vertically right down the middle. The writing on the post office building is a folksy blessing: “Summer brings green, winter brings snow. The sun greets the day, the stars greet the night. This house will keep you warm. May God give us His blessings.” The oldest building in town dates from 1658. Study the log-cabin construction. Many are built without nails. Gimmelwald has a strict building code. For instance, shutters can only be natural, green, or white.
The stones on the huts are there to keep the shingles from blowing off during strong winter storms. Farmers hang big ceremonial cowbells under their eaves, waiting for that festive day in the spring when the cows move from their barns up to the high meadows..