St Gallen is one of Switzerland’s oldest and most picturesque cities, founded by the Irish monk Gallus in around AD 612. A Benedictine abbey was erected on the site of his cell in the eighth century. In the mid-18th-century a Baroque cathedral and abbey library were built, both with elaborate rococo interiors. Among the library’s 170,000 books are 2,500 handwritten texts, 420 dating from before the year 1000. St Gallen joined the Swiss Confederation in 1454.
The story of the city’s later wealth – accrued from linen, embroidery and cotton – is vividly illustrated at the Textile Museum. The medieval Old Town is a beauty, with its profusion of cheery geraniums and ornate oriel windows – there are 111 of these protruding bays, competing in a joyous display of architectural one-upmanship. The statue of a man resembling Henry VIII depicts Vadian, the town mayor who brought the Reformation to St Gallen in the 1520s.
The Drei Weieren (Three Ponds) natural bathing and walking area is reached from the Old Town by the historic Mühleggbahn funicular. Birders should take the bus from the railway station to Winkeln for Lake Gübsen where 50 species can be seen, including kingfishers, goosander and tortoiseshell flycatcher. It’s only 15 minutes by train from St Gallen to Rorschach Hafen on Lake Constance; cruises, which call at three countries, can be picked up from the pier near the station.
Food & drink
The town’s speciality is olma sausage, a white bratwurst made of veal, pork and milk. The Old Town’s many first-floor restaurants (termed erststockbeizli) often serve chäshörnli (Swiss macaroni and cheese, with apple sauce and fried onions). Praliné Scherrer has been making truffles, pralines and more since 1875; a picture of the cathedral decorates its traditional St Gallen biber gingerbread. Also traditional to St Gallen is cinnamon cake – try it at Oya Bar Kafé.