When we first started planning EuropeanMarket in 2009, one of our first decisions was where to take our initial scouting and buying trip. If you’ve ever been involved with launching a business you know there is a lot happening at once (usually multiple things at once). And, where to take our inaugural European trip was another item on the decision list. I’d like to say we did months of research or spent a lot of time on the Internet looking for companies to work with. Instead, we pretty much tossed a dart at a map of Europe and it landed on Switzerland.
So, we set off on our first trip with fingers crossed we’d discover incredible items to offer our customers. Five years later, we still laugh at our incredible luck because Switzerland had been very good to EuropeanMarket. After landing in Zurich, while walking through the wonderful airport, we came upon an outlet of the Schweizer Heimatwerk (Swiss handmade items) shop. Talk about divine intervention. It was here we first saw the beautiful, unique bags of Karlen Törbel. Yvonne and Hans Karlen craft totes, weekenders, purses, briefcases from vintage Swiss Army blankets and Swiss Post bags. Proud to say they were our first Swiss partners and we continue to work and grow with them. Everything is made in their studio located in Törbel, in the Canton of Wallis, overlooking the Weisshorn Mountain.
Pinching ourselves after such a fantastic find, we hopped in our rental car and drove to the woodworking capital of Switzerland, charming Brienz. This small town lies below the Rothorn Mountain along the shores of the sparkling Brienzer See (Lake Brienz). We checked into our hotel and set off for town on the little footpath that hugs the lakeshore.
Once in town, we discovered Huggler, the area’s oldest remaining woodcarving studio known for their crèche figures. Again, fate showed the way, because on the first workbench inside the shop was a bumper sticker that said, “You’ve Got a Friend in Wisconsin.” What? Turns out the bumper sticker belonged to Hans Peter (now one of our good friends), the lead woodcarver at the studio. Hans Peter had spent time in New Glarus, Wisconsin demonstrating the art of woodcarving during an exchange program. In fact, he and his wife Sonja will be back in our area attending a Swiss festival in September.
During our visit with Hans Peter, he suggested we go to the neighboring village of Hofstetten and visit the studio of Trauffer Woodworking. So, into the rental car for the short drive. We met Marc the owner and learned his family started the business in the 1930s. We offer several of their Swiss cows (a specialty of the company) and Christmas ornaments.
During this visit, we also went to Lucerne for a day. This is a completely walkable town on the shores of Lake Lucerne and the Reuss River. Stroll the streets and alleys of the Old Town and explore the beautiful old wood bridges spanning the river. Be sure to stop at city hall (built in the 1600s) for a grilled sausage and beer. If it’s a sunny day, grab a table outside and watch folks stroll along the river.