So, you don’t ski; you hate cows. Chocolate makes your face look like a bumpy road, and you want to go to Switzerland? Well, hop into a plane and prepare for the time of your life. Switzerland is a land full of many things waiting for you to discover them.
Now, there is a little city with about 70.000 inhabitants called St. Gallen. Have you heard about it? Perhaps not because it doesn’t seem like St. Gallen can offer much. In the old days, it didn’t seem to, either.
More than most Swiss cities, St. Gallen owes its existence to the religious community at its core. Gallus, an Irish monk, traveled south from the Bodensee into the valley forests in his quest for solitude.
Depending on who you speak to, legend has it he either fell over, stumbled into a briar patch, or talked to a bear who understood what he was saying.
Whichever, Gallus felt he had received a sign from God, and so chose that very spot to build his hermitage. That was around 612.
In the eighth century, a follower of Gallus named Otmar established a monastic community around Gallus’s cell. And founded a soon-to-become-famous school of scribes and translators.
In the 830s, Abbot Gozbert founded the great library, and St. Gallen’s reputation as a center of culture and learning grew. The town flourished around it. By the thirteenth century, St. Gallen had become an important market town. Its reputation was as a producer and exporter of high-quality linen. That ousted its reputation as a learning hub.
By the end of the Middle Ages, St. Gallen was the only Swiss town with trade representatives in foreign cities. A stagecoach linked the city to centers of textile processing in Nuremberg and Lyon.
How could it have become a merchant hub? It was one little place, not the best climate, not very inhabited, and difficult to reach.
There was nothing else to do.
Foreigners came because of the Monastery and the inns, which were already good in those days. The land was not the most fertile, and not everybody could work at the Monastery or in the “tourism industry.” They had to come up with something else.
Someone discovered the only thing they could plant was flax, so off they went. They would bleach it there on the streets with the sun.
Then they brought in some cotton. It became the industry before Embroidery took over.
Richard Butz, in his book St. Gallen, tells us:
“By the mid-19th century, what had begun as a cottage industry, with hand-manufactured items, had become a major branch of the local economy, with articles mass-produced on machines, bringing a period of rapid growth, ascendancy, and prosperity to the city which lasted up to the outbreak of the First World War. The bales of canvas and cotton, which made their way from St. Gallen to neighboring European countries, were replaced by pieces of lavish Embroidery, which still attest to the high standard of products made in the Alpine region. This upswing caused the old town to grow, shine, and “enter spheres of greatness.”
St. Gallen is still the Embroidery and lace capital of Europe. It was here that three dozen seamstresses worked for a year and a half to make a lace gown for Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III.
For two hundred years, the highly priced embroidery industry of St Gallen relied upon thousands of women.
They worked by hand from home; the upstairs rooms in their houses, flooded by daylight through the lines of windows, served as workshops.
Today, computer-driven machines create most of the Embroidery found in the city. Yet, you can still buy handmade items. Do that! You’ll never regret it.
What should you do?
The city offers a cocktail of fun things to do. Please take a tour. The St. Gallen-Bodensee Tourismus office will be more than happy to accommodate you, whether you are a large group or you and the wife.
It takes about one hour and a half to two hours. You can have it in English, French, Italian, or Spanish.
When you’ve finished, you will know:
- how the textile industry began,
- that the Oriel windows expressed wealth,
- and that they preserved 111 of these to this day.
St. Gallen is a town you must walk. Looking above, you appreciate the decorated façades and all the lovely Art Noveau that makes it unique. You will find lavishly adorned doors, balconies, and oriels wherever you look.
After the Great Fire of 1418, the city set up the narrow streets and alleys of the Old Town as before. They haven’t changed a bit. A feast for the eyes.
Go to the library. Right next to the Monastery. You have to.
When you enter the building, one is in awe of the stillness of the place. Of the creaking of the wooden floors, which you can only walk by wearing shoes made of cloth. They’ll give them to you to protect the floor upon entry.
Once that has happened, and you are in, you will find yourself back in the Old Ages.
There are over 140.000 manuscripts, and you can see early prints from Charles-Magne. Look at the plans of the convent that are world famous. A monk thought they were of no importance. He needed to write, and there was not much space and not a lot of paper. So he partly erased them and used the other side to write St. Martin’s history.
Did you know that in the Middle Ages, Latin was like modern English nowadays? I didn’t.
It was the language of scientists and men of the church and scholars. That books took forever to write also awed me. They did them by hand. With candles as the only source of light! And I thought working with an Olivetti was difficult.
The inlaid cabinets hold two thousand handwritten books in the manuscript gallery.
Go to the textile museum: a collection of historical embroideries from the 14th century.
- handmade laces from important European lace centers,
- eastern swiss manual and white work embroideries,
- textiles from Egyptian tombs
- machine embroideries,
- ethnical textiles,
and what impressed me most:
A room full of clothes used in all those expensive haute couture collections you see on television. I could hardly resist the urge to touch them!
Fortunately for the museum, hubby, in his perfect swiss mode, was there to save the moment, and the fabrics escaped unscathed.
Another must: the music box museum. It is up in Marktgasse, hidden in a watchmaker’s shop. The watchmaker is Mr. Labhart, who will take you through years and years of music boxes.
His enthusiasm is so evident one can’t help but feel there’s much more to those music boxes than wood and watch mechanism.
In the rooms that Mr. Labhart has destined to use for his “Spieldosenkabinett,” you will see:
Vanity furniture with little figures dancing to different tunes. Little birds chirp with abandon while their tiny wings make you think they will take off in the blink of an eye.
As you go down the stairs to Labhart’s apartment, a wonderful bear will say goodbye.
A lovely way to spend a morning.
There’s the famous baroque cathedral, where you can see the ceiling frescoes painted by Josef Wannemacher.
The Botanical Garden.
The Tonhalle is home to the St. Gallen Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest in Switzerland.
It also serves as the opera orchestra at the St. Gallen Theatre, right in front of a beautiful park.
Dates can be found at www.stadt-st-gallen.ch.
What about nourishment? I can’t name them all, and the number of good places in such a small town will surprise you. That was when I counted 70 restaurants. One for every 1,000 people!
Not all are Michelin-worthy, but there is plenty to please your demanding taste buds.
What do I recommend?
Do not, and I repeat, do not leave town without eating an “Olma Bratwurst.” This carbon-grilled veal sausage usually comes with a round loaf of crusty bread called a “Bürli.” Yummy.
The best place to eat it is on the street, sitting on a bench, right next to Globus. A department store located at the beginning of the “Multergasse” is also worth a visit.
You can also get a great bratwurst before the Vadian statue—Joachim Vadian was St. Gallen’s mayor in 1526—next to the Marktplatz. Other, more refined versions lack something, and till today, I can’t point my finger at what.
Nothing beats sitting on a street bench and sinking your teeth into that white and crispy skin while the entire city passes by. There you are in heaven on holiday, and that’s no minor feat.
So, to more significant places:
Choose between two restaurants with Austrian and international specialties at the Hotel Ekkehard.
The “Ekkehard-Beizli” is for fine traditional food in a cozy setting. and the “Restaurant Schalander” has creative cuisine in exquisite surroundings.
The last time we checked it out, we had, for starters, a pumpkin soup ladled with very light foam made out of orange. Excellent.
Then we had a rack of lamb, which was salty for my taste but soft, tender, and juicy. It lay on a bed of spinach gratin, which made me wonder why I hadn’t liked spinach before when it could be so tasty.
To drink ourselves silly, we had a Spanish Rioja from Bodegas San Pedro named Vallebera Crianza 1999. Fruity and full-bodied at the same time. Delicious!
Marktplätzli—for the locals—is the most central restaurant in St. Gallen and one of the biggest, if not the biggest, downtown restaurants. Meters from the market place hence, the name.
There you can find traditional swiss foodstuff: Bratwurst, Röstipfanne, and Schnitzel. The owner proudly guarantees that all raw materials come from “the heart of the land.”
He and his team are strong defenders of a cuisine that stands for regional and natural products. In 2004, the restaurant celebrated its 70th anniversary.
Their main room is well-known as the birthplace of the Schützengarten brewery. Wine lovers are also welcome because the wine list is as long and fat as an Olma sausage.
Believe it or not, Marktplatz is open 365 days a year, which is very unusual by Swiss standards. From 8:30 to 1:00 am!!! And you can always find something warm to eat. Few swiss restaurants will do this. Remember this. Always.
Zum Goldenen Schäfli
There’s a sense of baby talk in many Swiss German words. Cozy words always end in “li” to suggest closeness. So “Schäfli” means little sheep.
This restaurant is a must. In the old days, this was a butcher’s shop. I’m talking of 1484, which makes it the oldest “Beitz” in the whole town. “Beitz” is swiss-german for “pub,” and you will find they are full of gastronomical adventures.
When you enter, the wooden floors creak so loud you think they will sink underneath you. Then you have to watch your head if you are over 5 feet 4 because the higher you walk into the room, the lower the ceiling. The floor leans to the side, and you feel you’ll fall! Do not worry. You won’t.
Once seated, you only have to enjoy the best “rösti” (fried potato cakes) in St. Gallen. To be truthful, everything in Schäfli is good. From basic Olma -Bratwurst (the refined version with potato cake and fried onions in wine sauce) to venison in red wine.
My husband finds the Nierli, a french dish that has to do with veal kidneys, heavenly. I dislike them with a passion.
Raw materials are first-rate. The service is excellent. And the ambiance is a happening partly because the noise level is explosive by swiss standards. Many alumni from St. Gallen University have their watering hole there. Imagine all those rambunctious youngsters drinking beer as if the world was at its end.
The Voyage at the Radisson SAS Hotel, offers a mixture of European and Asian cuisine.
The same interior architect who took care of the whole concept for the lobby and rooms, did the restaurant’s decor. The same light and color structure and every detail up to flowers.
From breakfast onwards, you have the freshest ingredients prepared with the utmost care. And talking about utmost care, Radisson SAS is an excellent place to stay, by the way.
Because Radisson has exceptional standards and great rates compared to others, besides, it is within walking distance of almost everything essential in the city.
It has 123 comfortable rooms. All have air conditioning, which is more the exception than the rule in Switzerland.
Swiss hotels have always had a good reputation around the world.
Lately, service has not brought in ravishing reviews.
There are not enough people interested in waiting tables. But Radisson SAS has everything figured out and personnel-wise runs like a watch. A Swiss one.
There is a policy about the hotel that allows every employee to decide. That means they do not have to wait for instructions if you need another TV set because yours is not working.
This makes Michael Kuhn, Sales Assistant Director, most proud.
As part of its focus on total guest satisfaction, Radisson offers the “Yes, I can” buzzword. One of the hospitality industry’s most dynamic guest relations training programs.
After over a decade, ‘Yes, I Can!’ has become a central part of the Radisson culture. Thus creating a point of difference for the brand in how it serves customers. Radisson caters to business people and has all the necessary amenities.
Mr. Kuhn points out with enthusiasm that he can accommodate any traveler. Little by little, they are taking steps to serve families. An open concept that welcomes guests into a place where work and play feel right!
Radisson has grown from its home country of the United States to become a global leader in the hospitality industry. It has done so by embracing partnerships with existing hotel companies.
The company’s successful agreements include Rezidor SAS Hospitality’s development of Radisson SAS hotels. It also pooled efforts with three other Carlson hotel brands in Europe. The Middle East, Africa, and Radisson Edwardian Hotels in the United Kingdom.
Global presence and expansion into new markets are essential to Radisson’s heritage. Radisson opened the first American-managed hotel in Moscow. Today, the brand has several locations throughout Eastern Europe. Its entry into the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia expanded the brand’s global presence to 61 countries.
Radisson Hotels & Resorts, is one of the lodging brands of Carlson Hotels Worldwide. Carlson Hotels Worldwide is part of Carlson Hospitality Worldwide. One of America’s largest privately owned corporations.
Radisson Seven Sea Cruises, one of the line cruises most acclaimed by Conde Nast Traveler, is a group member too.
The brand’s name comes from the 17th-century French explorer Pierre Esprit Radisson.
Other good restaurants?
- Try Engeli’s in Brühlgasse 30,
- Netts Schützengarten in Jakobstrasse 35, right next to the Radisson,
- Wok , in Bohl 1 for a taste of the East,
- O Premier in Bahnhofplatz 3 is perfect,
- Gasthaus Brauerei Stocken in Kräzernstrasse 12 is first rate,
- Atrium Ristorante is one of my husband´s favorite. Schützengasse 8.
Once you have decided where to go, remember to reserve well ahead.
St. Gallen is a busy town. Don’t think that because it only has 70.000 inhabitants, nothing is going on.
There are many important exhibitions and events. For example, the OLMA Swiss fair of agriculture and nutrition.
The St. Gallen Open Air Concert (madness personified).
This year alone (2006), the city will have 26 events throughout the year. Check with the official webpage www.stadt-st-gallen.ch and click on the English tour icon.
Tired of the city?
At that point, you go, of course, to the Peter and Paul Nature Park. From there, you will have the most wonderful views of St. Gallen on one side, and Lake Constance on the other.
Within walking distance from downtown.
There’s a small zoo on the top where you can find red deer, fallow deer, wild boar, marmots, and lynx.
Take the hiking trails that lead to many places like Arbon, located about two hours and a half from St. Gallen.
Arbon is something special. Go. Leave around 9. But don’t, as we did, take the road from the Restaurant in Peter und Paul.
There’s a better one coming out of Dufourstrasse, full of little banks and farmhouses, with many friendly doggies and people.
Once there, around noon, sit on the Hotel Metropol terrace with the lake in front of you. Have an Eglifillet grilled or in tempura.
After lunch and some pictures of the marvelous scenery, jump into a bus back to St. Gallen. They leave every half an hour, but if you still want some action, you can take a cruise across Lake Constance.
Rorschach Cruise Company can propose a tailor-made family cruise. The restaurant on board offers everything from the most straightforward meal to a full-blast menu.
Then there’s Appenzell. This village, 20km south of St Gallen, is trendy for its quaint, traditional air.
Wander around and admire the old wooden houses painted with lots of detail. Look at the rows of small, packed windows so typical of the place. For instance, look at the exquisite facade of the Löwen Drogerie that has depictions of herbs and flowers.
Check out all the hiking excursions. Go to www.ryderwalker.com to examine your options. Biking tours — like most anything in Switzerland, are well organized.
Go to www.tripsite.com and get ready to experience poetry personified in the scenery you’ll encounter.
There’s a special place I forgot to mention: it’s the briar into which St. Gallus fell. The city’s birthplace.
A lift glides through a tunnel and beyond it you can find three small lakes. They are known as the Drei Weiern in Swiss-German.
Richard Buntz says:
“The lakes are a good starting point for short strolls or longer walks. To the east, a hillside trail leads past a linden tree and memorial stone erected in honor of Friedrich Schiller in 1905, exactly 100 years after his death, to the Capuchin convent of Notkersegg.
At the gatehouse of the complex, founded in 1318, hungry hikers can purchase tasty doughnuts, whose recipe is one of the nunnery’s best-kept secrets. There are also good walks going east, such as to Falkenburg restaurant, for example, an attractive lodge that served the city mayors as a summer residence. From here, the whole town lies spread out at your feet like a “reclining woman,” to quote the original simile St. Gallen writer Christine Fischer found to describe this spectacular panorama.”
Should you rent a car? Public transportation is excellent anywhere in Switzerland, and here I will admit what I hate to admit:
St. Gallen’s weather is not….the best.
I can’t remember if I read this or my mother-in-law said, “You freeze for six months, and you boil for six months.” So it would be best if you rent a vehicle. Then, of course, there is the question of when would be the best time to visit. I would tell you to come in May, or in October.
Further, into the year, it can be hot in the summer, and there will be no place in the country with air-conditioning. So the coolest corner would be your car. We have always used Sixt. Their vehicles look and work as if fresh from the oven, and their rates are the best. Their website is www.sixti.com.
St. Gallen. More than an old town? But of course!
∙Flor Maria Cruz Blaser