The Klus west of Aesch near Basel – wine and culture
West of Aesch near Basel there is a small valley with southward looking slopes that have a tradition of wine growing – it is the largest wine growing area around Basel. On the hills around the Klus valley there is culture – a dolmen tomb, an old cave and various castles (all ruins). The ruins south of the Klus valley are connected by the marked “Burgengratweg” (“ruin ridge path”), and there is another ruin north of the upper Klus, Frohberg, that is more difficult to reach out to.
I like the Klus and check out the marked hiking paths and the more hidden unmarked paths to get ready to lead the Monday Nordic Walking group to the tomb and the castles. Thank you, Andreas and Helga, for uncovering the secrets of this valley to me.
The Dolmen tomb
I start my walk above the vineyards in the forest following the yellow hiking signposts. A brown plate directs me to the dolmen tomb.
Only the basis of the tomb is left and protected by a fence. Originally it has been covered with stone slabs and must have been some 2-2.5m high. It has been built around 2500-1500 BC (late stone age or bronze age).
Nearby I have a wonderful view of the Klus vineyards and the forest hiding the ruins along the “Burgengratweg”. The Gempenplateau can be discerned in the background.
Looking for the ruins defending the Klus
A narrow path takes me up to the ruin Frohberg that is well protected sitting on the top of an almost inaccessable rock. The castle has not been explored by archaeologists. They assume that it has been built by the Schaler family in the 13th century, perhaps as an additional stronghold against the family Münch that also owned a castle overlooking the Klus valley. Like most castles around Basel it has been destroyed in the 1356 earthquake and may not have been reconstructed. Later the bishop of Basel owned Frohberg with the farm Tschöpperli/Tschäpperli and gave it to the family Thierstein as a fief. They managed the farm from the nearby castle Pfeffingen.
Today, the Tschäpperli farm is one of the renowned wine growers of the Klus.
These are some of their vineyards.
A short round hike on unmarked paths makes me discover the lama farm
I walk towards the Blattenpass and turn left on an unmarked path to cross the Bielgraben (“Biel ditch”). A beautiful panorama view of the Tschäpperli vineyards and a charming path under birch trees…
… take me to this sign announcing llama xing. Llama xing – here in Switzerland! Yes, the farm “Obere Klus” has lamas – among other animals. The lamas are rented out for hikes.
The narrow and sometimes exposed Burgengratweg (ruin ridge path)
About 50m down the valley I enter the Burgengratweg. There is warning: The path is not in good state, you go there on your own risk. Well, it is narrow, stony, with roots – pretty rough for standards around Basel, but there are more dangerous hiking paths in Switzerland. Each of the sights I will come across on the Burgengratweg has a plate that explains the history.
After having crossed a small creek, I reach the Schalberghöhle (Schalberg cave). Flint stone tools and animal bones from 50’000 years ago (“Moustérien” ) and from the late stone – and bronze age (about 3500BC and 1000 BC) have been found here.
The first castle is Schalberg, built by the family Schaler (they have also built Frohberg). After the earthquake they rebuilt this castle. They later sold it to the bishop of Basel (1437) who gave it to the Thierstein family as a fief. Soon thereafter the castle must have been abandoned, as it is no longer mentioned in the archives.
Also the second castle, Engenstein, belonged to the family Schaler. The castle was also called “Alt-” or “Vorder”-Schalberg. A dizzying iron ladder leads to a platform. It has been given up already in 1280, probably, because the family had built the “newer” Schalberg castle not far from here.
The next castle, Münchsberg, built in the 13th century, belonged to the family Münch that later also sold the castle (with farms) to the bishop of Basel and received it back as a fief.
The last castle on the Burgengratweg is Peffingen above Aesch and the namesake village Pfeffingen. Its origins go back to the 11th century. In the 12th century, the family Thierstein owned Pfeffingen (along with nearby Dorneck). From 1522 it belonged to the bishop of Basel; his bailey then lived here. In the late 18th century the castle was abandoned. It is currently being renovated.
As it starts to pour with rain, I leave the forest and the narrow, now slippery ruin ridge path.
Strolling through the vineyards and discovering innovative wine growers
In the rain I prefer to stroll through the vineyards. There is a round tour with posts explaining the business of wine growing throughout the year.
Monika Fanti is a winegrower that also runs a small restaurant (“Winzerbaizli” or “little winery pub”). I like the names of her wines: “ilFANTIno”, “exKLUSivo”, “FANTIssimo” and “mySEELEdröpfli” (literally translated: “my soul droplet”). I take a leaflet with me announcing “Neus vo eus”, meaning “news from us” in the dialect of Basle Country.
I plan to get back to this place. Some of the wines of Monika Fanti would be a great addition to my gift drawer – besides, of course, trying them out myself.
A few meters higher up I find “chez Mitz”, where I can hear laughing through one of the open windows – I think a Sunday brunch is going on. Teddy bears sit on the window sills looking down at the hikers.
Really, the Klus of Aesch is a charming corner! I look forward to the Monday walk with the group and I will surely come back more often.