Enjoy nudist hiking? Rethink that holiday in Switzerland

Last year we reported on a major victory for nudist hiking in Switzerland. A hiker in the conservative Swiss canton of Appenzell got fined for baring all, appealed, and won.

Now that victory has turned into defeat. The BBC reports that Switzerland’s highest court has ruled that local authorities can fine people for hiking in the buff. Naked hiking isn’t illegal per se, but but public indecency is, and if the local authorities decide naked hiking is indecent, well, then you can’t do it. And since this came from the nation’s highest court, it applies to all of Switzerland.

The court stated its ruling was only a “marginal” infringement on personal liberty. Much more marginal than, say, forbidding women to vote, which is what Appenzell did until 1990. This makes me the local authorities aren’t so much concerned with individual rights as they are with a buttoned-up conservatism.

But individual rights are an issue here. In a truly free country, shouldn’t a person have the right to get an all-body tan while hiking? In a truly free country, shouldn’t people who are offended by the sight of naked strangers be able to have a picnic in peace?


Photo courtesy Alain Tanguy.

Off the beaten path: St. Mauritius Cathedral in Appenzell

On a tip from the Switzerland Tourism Board, during my stay at The Null Stern (Zero Star) Hotel, I spent a day wandering Appenzell, a small town known as “the tourist center of Appenzellerland” … a region in the eastern Swiss highlands of which I had never heard. Appenzell is a beautiful town, filled with brightly-colored, intricately-painted buildings and windy streets rich with little shops and the occasional charming cafe.

Then, like a diamond in the not-so-rough, I discovered the St. Mauritius Cathedral.

I actually found it on a postcard. I was looking for a few postcards to send home from the picturesque village and saw a stunning, ornately decorated cathedral. I took the card to the cashier’s desk and said “Where is this?”

“That way,” answered the shopkeeper, pointing earnestly down the road. I was practically next door. These are the kind of delightful surprises one encounters when one has no plan.
%Gallery-93157%The St. Mauritius Cathedral was vast, empty, and open. Sorry for the grainy-ness of the photo; the flash ruined everything so I had to go without and adjust the shadows. I was immediately taken aback by the outrageous splendor in the midst of such a notably quaint town. A sign indicated that the area up by the altar was equipped with an alarm, but being alone in a sanctuary of such opulent grandeur was a strange experience. I certainly wasn’t going to steal anything, and yet I felt like I should be supervised. It was like being in a museum all alone with no security and wide open doors.

I know it sounds like I was casing the joint, but I was really just stunned at how simple it was to walk in and absorb the glory. What looked like a museum to me was an active church, immaculately kept, and full of things that any church in America would have roped off — things that were still in use.

Perhaps equally awe-inspiring was the graveyard behind the cathedral. Each grave, facing the rolling Swiss mountains, was freshly decorated and pretty, and some included small statues, trinkets, and other gifts beyond the usual flowers. I was particularly struck by a small section of tombstones for children, decked in toys and even pictures of the deceased. Heartbreaking and unbelievably beautiful.

If you should ever find yourself wandering Appenzellerland as I did, I highly recommend a visit to the under-appreciated Cathedral of St. Mauritius. It was one of the most unexpectedly dazzling places I’ve ever been.

My trip to Switzerland was sponsored by Switzerland Tourism, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Gadling takes on the Null Stern (Zero Star) Hotel

You may remember an article back in 2008 called Zero Star Hotel opens in Switzerland fallout shelter. Well, it took me a year and a half, but I managed to get there.

The “Null Stern,” or “Zero Star” Hotel is a cross between a hostel and an art installation by Swiss concept artists Frank and Patrik Riklin. The former air raid shelter retains remnants of its past purpose and challenges one’s perception of what “hospitality” means. There are ear-protecting headphones and heavy machinery, as well as sleigh beds and a sexily-dressed female butler. It was quite an experience.

%Gallery-93062%When I arrived at the Null Stern, I was greeted with the sign at right. Unfortunately, I don’t speak German, so with little idea what to do, I pounded on the door.

I was greeted by another guest, who said he’d call the butler for me. Having just traveled for over 24 hours to get to the small hotel, which is a quick walk from the train in Teufen, Switzerland, in the eastern highland region of Appenzell, I thanked him and headed inside hoping he wasn’t a serial killer. He wasn’t.

The underground cement interior was brightly painted and full of strange touches like chalkboards and hot water bottle heaters on a clothesline along the wall. A tiny reception area was indicated by a contraption reminiscent of an “ON AIR” radio sign and a couple of t-shirts saying “Null Stern: the only star is you” were for sale on a shelf.

A few minutes later, the butler arrived in the form of a glamorous Swiss woman with long dark hair and a very short skirt, as well as an adorable four year old child who I assume was her son. She gave me a key, assigned me a sleigh bed in a room of about six and informed me that there would be other guests that evening, but that she was putting us in separate areas for privacy. She asked me what I’d like to drink in the morning, and shortly after, she was gone.

After exploring the many bathroom stalls, the double shower and the locker room, which was harder to get a suitcase into than an overhead compartment (pack slim!), I headed out into Appenzell to explore the rest of the day. When I came back to the Zero Star that evening, my bed was a welcome sight.

The bed turned out to be more attractive than comfortable, but having stayed in many hostels, I certainly wouldn’t complain about this one. I availed myself of the shower as well, fortunately alone, and found it quite comfortable. That night, I slept soundly in the underground lair, waking only when a group of Russians passed through to get to their room. You can hear absolutely nothing from outside in the Null Stern.

In the morning, the butler and her son greeted me with the coffee I had requested, which I’m fairly certain came from a Keurig or something like it. I packed up my things, turned in my key and headed off into the real world again. When I stepped up the stairs into the morning light, I felt what perhaps many have felt when leaving a bomb shelter — like today was truly a brand new day.

Staying at the Zero Star Hotel is not only fun to tell your friends about, but it’s an interesting place to contemplate what you consider to be “hospitality.” Is it the cleanliness? The service? The beds or decor? The view?

If you had to spend some time in a bomb shelter, how would you make the best of it?

A stay at the Null Stern is around $30 for the highest grade of bed and includes a morning drink. While I wouldn’t say Teufen is the most “happening” town to visit, it’s very pretty, as is the surrounding area, and there’s a Spar for any toiletries or munchies you might need, as well as a couple of restaurants. Swiss Travel System train rides to local Appenzell attractions like the Appenzeller Cheese Dairy and St. Mauritius Cathedral are scenic and convenient.

My trip to the Null Stern was sponsored by Switzerland Tourism, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.