Off to Heidiland

Photographer Asif Jiffry relives a childhood fantasy by visiting Maienfeld, the setting for an evergreen children’s classic

When I was a child, I used to watch the TV anime “Heidi”, based on the well-loved children’s classic by Johanna Spyri, the story about a little girl from a small village in Switzerland sent to Frankfurt, Germany to be a live-in friend to a girl in a wheelchair. I loved everything about this story as it captured so many scenic locations, and I dreamed of visiting Maienfeld even though I knew that it was a work of fiction.
This year, the dream came true, when I went to Zurich on work. I had one free day, and decided to take a train up to Maienfeld. It was sunny but not too hot, the perfect weather for a hike up the mountainside of Maienfeld.

A picture postcard scene: Road to the Heidi house A scene that brings back memories of Peter in the book

I went to a ticket window at the train station in Zurich, and asked, “A round trip ticket to Maienfeld, please.” The man at the counter was most helpful- he wrote down where I should get on the train, which station to get off to get on the connecting train, and gave it to me with the tickets.

After about a two-hour train ride, I arrived at Maienfeld, a tiny station with two platforms. As I walked out of the station, excited by the beautiful scenery, it hit me. “I don’t know how to go to Heidiland from here!!”

I knew that there was a replica of Heidi’s house and a fountain (mentioned in the story many times) somewhere, but had no idea where they were… I looked around, but didn’t see any public buildings or shops near the station. I didn’t see anyone on the street, either.

Panicking a little, I walked back to the station hoping to find someone to ask. I went to the ticket window and asked the counter clerk if he knew how to get to Heidiland. He pulled out a piece of paper from a desk drawer, and gave it to me with a smile. It was a brochure of Heidiland with directions. I guess, I was not the first to ask him this question.

Maienfeld is as lovely as a picture postcard, a steep village with cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered shops selling handmade wooden toys. From Maienfeld, you can easily walk up to Oberfols, the tiny hamlet which was Spyri’s inspiration for the fictional village of “Dorfli” in the book.

Oberfols is considered the Heididorf or Heidi Village, home to the Heidi Haus, a mid-19th century Swiss hut outfitted with Heidi-era furniture, crockery and clothes to give visitors an authentic feeling for what life in Heidi’s time was really like. Readers of Heidi from all over the world come here to witness the source, each one seeking something private and personal that speaks of health, tranquility and freedom. Thus the sign on the path that reads:

‘May the Heididorf be a place of inner reflection where our dream of oneness and our search for peace become a fruitful reality.’

In Oberfols I also found a souvenir shop, a small petting zoo and a post office where you can send letters with the Heidi cancellation postmark. From Oberfols I began my hike up the Heidi Weg or Heidi Path. This is a gorgeous 1 1/2 hour walk in the woods that rises to the mountain top.

According to the brochure, there are two hiking courses - blue and red. I took the course that leads to the fountain and to the Heidi museum. The paths were marked very generously with signs at every corner and intersection. There were no worries of getting lost. From the bottom of the hill up to near the fountain, the walk takes you through vineyards.

The fountain was set on flat ground, re-designed with a statue of Heidi. I saw a bus load of tourists there. From the fountain, it was up through woods and fields up to the Heidi museum. The hill was really steep (most of the tourists come by bus as a group), but that was a best part of this trip. From there, I could further walk up to Grandpa’s house, but I decided not to. I had to be back in Zurich by dinner time.

I left Heidiland knowing I would return. For Maienfled with its soul-inspiring scenery, natural mineral spas, and fresh food is as beguiling a region as it eternally appears in the beloved children’s classic.

(Visit Asif’s work at the Pedlars inn Gallery in Galle fort or visit

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