Stadels: The age-old barns that fed the Alps

In Hiking


Virtually unchanged from the outside, inside, the self-catering “huts” have been contemporised in Cheseaux’s signature pared-back style, with smoothed concrete floors and spruce wood walls. “I quickly realised that the laws did not allow me to transform the buildings because they were in an agricultural zone. So, I decided to save heritage from ruin by using the philosophy of our ancestors, that is, by moving them [to the pocket-sized village of La Forclaz, which is outside the agricultural zone]” he told me. During the Little Ice Age (from the 14th to 19th Centuries), Swiss farmers frequently dismantled their barns and re-erected them away from advancing glaciers.

Few have travelled the distance that Nikola Kapp’s 150-year-old stilted barn has. Nestled in the back garden of the former banker’s Zermatt home is a 4.5mx5m gädi transplanted from the village of Eisten in the neighbouring Saas Valley. “We had to fly everything in on a helicopter,” she told me, pointing out the original wooden crucifix still affixed to the larch facade. “We numbered each piece of wood and even used some of the authentic nails,” she explained of the painstaking four-month-long restoration project undertaken in 2008. A labour of love, its Heidi-esque interior has made two-storied Kalu Gädi an instant hit on Airbnb. “My heart opens when I see the Matterhorn,” Kapp said of the gingham curtain-framed view of the snaggle-toothed peak.

My own gaze was drawn to the sunburnt, stilted barns in the foreground. Though dwarfed by the snow-capped mountain, they still stand defiant centuries later, and hopefully for several more centuries to come.

Heritage Architecture is a BBC Travel series that explores the world’s most interesting and unusual buildings that define a place through aesthetic beauty and inventive ways of adapting to local environments.


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Read More: Stadels: The age-old barns that fed the Alps

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