Did you know that there’s such a place as Heidiland?
Obviously I had to go there. It’s wayyyyy over in eastern Switzerland, which meant a long drive from where I’m staying near the French border, but it was worth the early start and the aching back as soon as I left the car and started skipping along a worn mountain path to Heidi’s house.
Well, OK, not Heidi’s actual house, Heidi being a fictional character and everything. But it’s the house of Johanna Spyri, the author, who lived there when she created Heidi’s beloved mountain world, and based it all on her own surroundings. It is the closest I have ever come to actually stepping right into a storybook and seeing it come to life.
There’s a little “village”, which consists of a couple of houses, a hen coop, a fountain, even some goats with bells around their necks! I walked around, enchanted, picturing Heidi and Peter chasing the goats up the mountain path, and Clara in her wheelchair looking out over the vast hillsides with their bright flowers and long grass. “So the mountain just… healed her?” asked Riho dubiously as we picked our way along the path to the village and I paused for breath in my telling of the classic children’s story. He is an unbeliever. I, on the other hand, have no difficulty whatsoever in imagining that a weak and sickly little city girl could be brought to these gorgeous Swiss mountains in her wheelchair and be running around in no time thanks to a combination of simple, hearty food, fresh, mountain air, views that bring tears to the eyes, and the magical company of Heidi.
“Riiiiiight,” said Riho.
I left him looking for his imagination, and went to explore the Heidi House – which is admittedly a little tacky, but I cared not one jot. They’ve made an effort to give you an “experience”, to make you feel as if Heidi really does live there, and while they may have gone a little bit OTT by placing lifesize figures of the book’s characters in some rooms, their hearts are in the right place. They clearly want Heidi fans to have a lovely experience as we wander from room to room – and they have been successful.
A nice touch is that you buy your ticket (well, it’s not all about being nice, I suppose!) at the nearby giftshop, and use it to operate a turnstile entrance to the house. This means that there are no security guards or – as was the case when I was there – anybody at all in the house. I tiptoed from room to room, ducking through low doorways and under beams, with a delighted intake of breath when I saw a simple wooden sled in the hallway or a milk pail in the pantry or a cloak hanging on a peg. Once I’d recovered from my near heart attack upon turning around to see Heidi and Peter sitting at a table staring lifelessly at me, I loved every moment of it – particularly when I looked uncertainly at a set of loft stairs, decided to clamber up just in case there was something there, and found my head poking out into Heidi’s bedroom.
“Cute” is a word I’ve found myself using far too much lately. But in describing Heidiland, there is no other appropriate adjective… other than “sweet”, perhaps!