The tiny village in Switzerland that is mad for Scotland

The entrance to the Appowila Highland Games in east Switzerland that started 10 years ago by a resident who fell in love with Scotland on holiday. PIC: Flickr/Daniel Sennhausen.
The entrance to the Appowila Highland Games in east Switzerland that started 10 years ago by a resident who fell in love with Scotland on holiday. PIC: Flickr/Daniel Sennhausen.
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In the far eastern reaches of Switzerland is a village that likes to go 'full Scottish' once every two years.

Abtwil has no obvious connection with Scotland, but a resident had such a moving experience on a Highland mountain with a dram and a pal more than 20 years ago, that he wanted to bring some of that magic home.

Around 13,000 people attended the event last month with heavy sports, bagpipes and drums and refreshments of haggis, whisky and BrewDog beer on offer. PIC: Flickr/Daniel Sennhausen.

Around 13,000 people attended the event last month with heavy sports, bagpipes and drums and refreshments of haggis, whisky and BrewDog beer on offer. PIC: Flickr/Daniel Sennhausen.

Now, Abtwil holds the Appowila Highland Games to celebrate all things Scottish.

READ MORE: 5 places around the world that consider themselves Scottish

At the event, you'll hear the bagpipes and drums, taste a bit of haggis if you fancy or enjoy a whisky and a BrewDog beer. One of the bars at the event last month was called the Last Drop, named after the one found in Grassmarket.

Mock street signs read Cowgate and Princes Street, and they point to a field where the caber tossing contests are heard. Saltires fly alongside the Lion Rampant.

Musicians come from all over Switzerland to take part in the bagpipe competitions. PIC: Flickr/Daniel Sennhausen.

Musicians come from all over Switzerland to take part in the bagpipe competitions. PIC: Flickr/Daniel Sennhausen.

Resident Martin Tschirren set up the Appowila Highland Games 10 years ago and mobilised a group of friends to organise the popular event.

READ MORE: The diaspora: How Scots scattered around the world

He told BBC Travel about his experience in the Highlands when he was aged just 20. He and his friend walked to the top of a mountain and shared some whisky as the landscape stretched out far beyond them.

“It really touched me. We were sitting the whole afternoon on that hill, saying nearly nothing to each other, only enjoying this imposing nature,” Mr Tschirren told the broadcaster.

The village of Abtwil celebrates Scottish tradition and culture every two years. PIC: Creative Commons.

The village of Abtwil celebrates Scottish tradition and culture every two years. PIC: Creative Commons.

Mr Tschirren said he was also impressed by the pub culture and the friendly chat normally found in a Scottish bar.

By contrast, he said random conversations with strangers over a pint just wouldn't happen in Switzerland.

"If you don’t know the person, you don’t go to them and speak," he said.

Several more trips to Scotland followed and in 2009, the first Appowila Highland Games was held. They expected 800 people but 5,000 people showed up.

In 2019, 13,000 people attended.

Some of the sporting events are similar to those found at traditional Highland games, such as the stoneput, which is like the shotput but played with a heavy stone.

There are also versions of the hammer throw and tossing the caber but some of the events are quintessentially Swiss, such as the Schwingen wrestling event.

Mr Tschirren said he admired Scotland's long tradition of the Highland Games.

He said: “I really admire how the Scots celebrate their culture and history,” he said. “It’s coming back in Switzerland, but 20 years ago our traditions were not so popular.”