30 August 2011

The Liechtensteinische Berggasthaus Experience

We fell in love with a certain kind of mountain inn while walking in the Appenzell region of Switzerland. The "berggasthaus" is a kind of hiker's refuge. Typically found alongside hiking trails in remote corners of the mountains, they offer food, drink and places to sleep - in an unpredictable range of quality.
Above the mountains town of Steg, Berggasthaus Sücka (indicated with an arrow), was the first place we stayed on our recent two-night trek through Liechtenstein's high country. It was closer to a small hotel than a hut, and was only a fifteen minute walk uphill from the parking lot.
The food at these mountain guesthouses is usually pretty heavy. Meant to satisfy tired hikers, the menus often read like a long collection of greasy starches. Spaghetti, spätzle, rice dishes and
rösti are accompanied by schnitzels and wursts, soups and omelets. Having recently made rösti, we told ourselves that it wasn't necessary to order any - somehow it was ordered anyway. This is one of Sücka's four versions, with mushrooms, onion and a fried egg. A long day's hike north, above the town of Planken, Gafadurahütte is a much more intimate and scaled-down lodging place. Run by the Liechtenstein Alpine Club, it has no private rooms and almost no amenities. It's very pleasant, though, and we were more than happy to come upon it on a misty evening, bone tired and ready to sit down.
Gafadurahütte sleeps about twelve-sixteen people, though individual places aren't well defined; perhaps more trekkers could squeeze in if it was found necessary. There's just the one room, two long bunks along one wall and two slightly smaller ones by the other. On the night we slept there, we happened to be the only guests. The comforter covers and pillowcases were freshly laundered and the "mattress" was comfortable. Not that it would have mattered much. I would have been asleep by eight had I been sprawled out on the floor.
It got cold at night, and all of the dinner guests eventually left the picnic tables on the patio and squeezed into the little dining room. A fire had been lit in a big, tiled woodstove in the corner, and the room eventually became sauna-like. The close quarters and the beer gave the space an increasingly convivial atmosphere, and conversations began jumping from table to table. We dined on pumpkin soup, followed by a huge salad (for Rebecca) and a stewed mess of lamb's belly and sauerkraut (for me).

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