Two of Switzerland’s most exquisite medieval towns are along the Rhine – so all on-board now for a visit.
North and just a little east of Zurich, on the border of Germany, is the invigorating town of Schaffhausen. Modernity meets the Middle Ages in this classic Swiss town.
We arrived at the railway station and coming out into the day, the streetscape looked fairly ordinary: a few baroque curly bobbles on top of the buildings and traffic…
But a walk through a railway tunnel took us to a modern precinct of glass facades, modern edges and an inviting modern hotel. Bags stashed away, we go out for a walk.
Heading downwards and through a narrow alleyway and a stone archway, the medieval town of Schaffhausen appeared, standing straight and tall. Charm personified.
The historic Old Town is built in a prime position near the Rhine River, which adds to its picturesque appeal.
The well-kept facades of the buildings, the oriels (cantilevered and bay windows – there are 171 oriels) and alleys are ripe for discovery. There are many boutiques here, small galleries and of course watch shops. It was here that the American Florentine Ariosto Jones founded the International Watch Co. (IWC) more than 140 years ago.
The ancient town never shut its doors to progress and evidence of early modernity came in the guise of Hallen fur Neue Kunst (a museum of contemporary art), the IWC Museum and the famous Fischerzunft with its Gault Millau chef Andre Jaeger.
The town has always been pretty special in this region as, in the year 1045, the Villa Scafhusun received the right to mint and issue coins. It’s easy to be transported back in time in this town of yesteryear as you explore the streets and view such sights as Haus zum Ritter, with a façade that is the most important Renaissance fresco north of the Alps. The façade, as on most decorated buildings dating back to the Middle Ages, depicts and eulogises common virtues.
Leaving the town behind, the next big thing in this region is the Rhine Falls.
Take the public bus to Neuhausen am Rheinfall. A short walk from the bus station and you’re at the Rhine Falls, the biggest waterfall in Europe with around 700,000 litres of water per second plunging down with a thunderous roar, a width of 150m and a height of 23m. The trip here and in the water feels like a vintage holiday – you can imagine the families visiting the attraction at the turn of the century (20th century).
A ‘Weidling’ boat took us across the water where there’s a large rock in the centre of the falls that you can climb to the top. I have no idea why anyone thinks that is a good idea but my boat companions climbed!
Early morning and we dawdle through the sunlit empty streets of the Old Town in Schauffhausen and embark for a gentle cruise along the Rhine River.
The banks along the way are green and grassy with pretty towns still festooned with the last of the summer flowers.
Our next stop is the exquisite town of Stein am Rhein. The beautifully preserved architecture of medieval times crowds the cobbled streets. This is a gem on the edge of Lake Constance and the Rhine. The landscape surrounding is chocolate box on steroids. A spell is cast with the first step taken through the town and to catch the bus (or you can walk up) to the Castle Hohenklingen will give you an awe-inspiring view. Looking down on Stein am Rhein you’ll see the distinct half circle of the perfectly retained medieval town.
In this 16th century town, you are surrounded by art and beauty and the best way to begin to take it all in is to grab a seat under an umbrella in the Rathausplatz, order some lunch, a cold beer or a local wine, sit back and soak it up.