With its quaint paved alleys, hill-top castles and Mediterranean charm, the town of Rapperswil-Jona in the canton of St. Gallen, makes for a lovely day trip from Zurich.
Wedged elegantly between Germany, Austria, France, and Italy, Switzerland blends the best of all worlds. When you think of the Alapine nation, you visualise gigantic mountains accessible with cable cars, soothing sounds of cowbells, melt-in-mouth Swiss chocolates and all kinds of cheese. Come down from the mountains and you find thriving, cosmopolitan cities that are steeped in history, culture and tradition. One such town is Rapperswil-Jona. While travellers visiting Switzerland typically gravitate toward larger cities like Zurich, Bern, Lucerne and Lausanne, some of the country’s rewarding and best-kept secrets are alternatively set well off the-beaten path. A 45-minute train ride from Zurich, Rapperswil is a relatively unexplored, cultured little town on Lake Zurich’s eastern shore. If you’re in Zurich for a short while and have little chance of visiting other parts of the country, consider spending a day or night in Rapperswil to experience a typical Swiss town. This is where you’re less likely to be interrupted by tour guides spearheading large groups of tourists, thronging the old town. Be free to wander around at your own pace, taking in every spectacle and landscape, one moment at a time.
Rapperswil is also called ‘Rosenstadt’ or the ‘town of roses’ owing to more than 15,000 roses of 600 varieties that blossom in the public areas as well as rose gardens of the Capuchin monastery and on the ‘Schanz’ from June to October. The latter is a rose garden for the blind with particularly fragrant roses. There are labellings on the roses with both embossed Braille letters and normal lettering. Come summers and the town oozes a Mediterranean holiday atmosphere. During the warm weather, you see locals strolling along the lake promenade and sipping on coffee or local wine at chic, street-side restaurants housed in the car-free medieval old town. Just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station, a modern 841-metrelong wooden structure (Holzbrucke) makes for the architectural highlight of the town. Take a walk on this bridge that runs across the water parallel to the Seedamm, and connects Rapperswil, canton of St. Gallen, and Hurden, canton of Schwyz. Back in the middle ages, pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela crossed the lake here on a rickety walkway with no handrails. Today, it is more than just a way across the lake. The filigree timber structure invites you to observe the richly-varied flora and fauna in the surrounding nature reserve. Expect to spot gulls, coots and crested grebes in specially created nesting areas. Along the Rapperswil side, situated on a small island on upper Lake Zürich, is a small chapel – the Heilig Hüsli. The stone building dates back to 1551 and is a reminder of the historic importance of the Holzbrucke. Although the bridge doesn’t look particularly imposing at once, but as you approach it, you see it zigzaging across the lake and that’s when it’s extent becomes apparent. This is the longest wooden bridge in Switzerland (841m).
The charming town looks gorgeous when lit up at night. Consider enjoying a Swiss meal at one of the traditional taverns or historic cafes in Fischmarktplatz, Hauptplatz, Marktstrasse or lake-facing Seequai. Its upbeat mix of pavement cafes, lounges, pubs and wine bars with ambient lighting gives you ample options to spend the evening on a high note. If you are an art lover, visit Kunst(zeug)haus that organises exhibitions to showcase contemporary, cutting-edge local art.
Enthroned on the Lindenhof hill high above the town and lake, Rapperswil castle offers a panoramic view from the Glarus Alps all the way to the Zurich Oberland. Built by the nobles of Rapperswil around the 12th century, the castle served as a cantonal prison until 1820 and as a tenement house until 1869. With ample grass and open spaces, don’t be surprised to see a dozen deer grazing around. If you’re a history buff, don’t miss the Polish museum that portrays the harmonious co-operation between Poles and Swiss. Based on one common ideal shared by both nations – Magna Res Libertas or Freedom Above All, it tells you how the Swiss supported Poland’s yearning for independence. In other words, it is a striking example of co-existence of two cultures. Browse through a collection of old prints, the oldest of them dating back to 1494, a collection of 19th and 20th century paintings, a gallery of late 18th century miniatures, collections of militaria, numismatic items, as well as a rich cartographic collection.
Several churches, chapels and monasteries in Rapperswil bear testimony to the past. Immerse yourself in the monastic way of life at the Capuchin Monastery. Be prepared to actively participate in prayers, day-today work, discussions and silence which is an essential condition for staying here. While the monastery church was consecrated in 1607, the original structure has been largely preserved. It also boasts of a large garden which is well maintained by the monks. The garden opens its doors to visitors only once a year.
DID YOU KNOW?
In January 2007, the towns of Rapperswil and Jona merged to form a new municipality, Rapperswil-Jona, with a population of about 26,000, making it the second largest town in its canton, with St. Gallen as its capital.
The official language of Rapperswil is German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect.
WHERE TO STAY-
While Rapperswil is often visited as a day trip from Zürich, it has a couple of characterful places to stay in its Old Town. Located in the centre of the historic district since 1840, Jakob makes for a great option. Moreover, it’s just a two-minute walk away from the lake and train station.
HOW TO GET THERE-
Swiss Airlines offers direct flights to Zurich from cities like Mumbai and Delhi. The town of Rapperswil-Jona is not more than a 45-minute train ride from Zurich.