Medieval delight

When in the country of the Swiss, a visit to small towns with gorgeous lake fronts, perfectly manicured street gardens, heritage monuments and old town centres is something one should not miss. Stein am Rhein, located in the canton of Schaffhausen and just about 55 km from Zurich, is one such idyllic town.

Medieval delight

A view of St George Abbey

Rashmi Gopal Rao

When in the country of the Swiss, a visit to small towns with gorgeous lake fronts, perfectly manicured street gardens, heritage monuments and old town centres is something one should not miss. Stein am Rhein, located in the canton of Schaffhausen and just about 55 km from Zurich, is one such idyllic town.

Perched on the banks of Lake Constance where it meets the Rhine river, the town of Stein am Rhein is not only replete with picture postcard beauty but also known for its distinct medieval vibes. Known for its half-timbered houses covered with colourful frescoes and murals, Stein am Rhein’s old town is known to be one of the most beautiful in the entire Switzerland. Rathausplatz, as it is also called, retains its ancient street plan and is best explored by foot.

Walking down the winding cobbled  paths lead to you to a delightful maze of alleys that host some of the most well-preserved heritage buildings whose murals and paintings make the square a riot of colours. As you look upward, each building is an impeccably created spectacle. Rathaus or the town hall occupies a prominent place in the centre of the square with a clock face that culminates in a tower on top. The painting on the building is detailed and bears a historic significance. The tiled gabled roof coupled with its brick red hued upper facade along with ornate oriel windows complement the structure.

The town centre is full of buildings that date back as early as the 16th century. Intricately painted facades with the names of the buildings displayed graphically they are replete with pretty windows lined with dainty curtains and billowing flower pots, all of which make for an alluring scene. Water fountains, intricate shops signs and little vignettes add to the old-world charm. It is little wonder that the town municipality won the first Wakker prize in 1972 for the perfect preservation of its architectural heritage.

The town is also the place where the Benedictine monastery, St George’s Abbey was moved way back in 1007 AD. A symbol of Gothic architecture, the monastery flourished till about the beginning of the 16th century when it was finally dissolved during the course of the Reformation in 1525. Most parts of the Abbey, along with its wood carvings and elaborate murals, have been preserved. The museum and the visitor centre form an engaging visit with insights into a 1000-year-old history, culture and some fine Renaissance art.

The Lindwurm museum in the centre of the old town is also a key place of interest. Set inside a medieval house, it has several exhibits that demonstrate social, agricultural and family life during the 19th century.  Walking around the town, along the lake front, treats you to some tranquil scenes of spectacular scenery. Old walls and arches speak volumes of the history and stories behind the town that was once bombed in February 1945.

Just about 22 km from the town lies the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls, which is a magnificent handiwork of nature.  Roaring since the past 15,000 years, the sight of water gushing at speeds of almost 23 metre/sec is fascinating, to say the least.

Fact file

How to reach: A train ride just over an hour from Zurich will take you to Stein am Rhein. You can also take a bus or a cruise into the town.

What to buy: There are plenty of boutique shops for you to pick up authentic Swiss souvenirs.

What to eat: Relax over an authentic meal of fondue or raclette at many local restaurants here.

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