STEIN AM RHEIN, SWITZERLAND: “Hidden Treasures” are the essence of travel and Stein am Rhein, Switzerland is one of those “treasures.” All too often travelers become so wrapped up in checking cities, attractions and sights off their list they fail to achieve their primary reason for traveling. The thrill of discovery.
Alfred North Whitehead reinforced that notion when he wrote:
“One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering.”
Stein am Rhein – A storybook alive
If ever there was an ideal spot that captures the spirit of the season, the storybook village of Stein am Rhein has to be at the top of the list.
In many countries Stein am Rhein might be considered remote. Not in Switzerland. While it may be off-the-beaten-path, the accessibility of the Swiss Travel System is vast.
Combined with its proximity to Schaffhausen, Winterthur and other delightful spots along the River Rhine and Lake Constance, make Stein am Rhein a great place as a base for day trips.
The tiny municipality is a jewel in the canton of Schaffhausen.
Stein am Rhein, which translated means “Stone on the Rhine”, lays claim to being the best preserved medieval town in the country, featuring some of the finest half-timbered houses in Switzerland.
If you take your time, you can walk leisurely through this outdoor museum and back in thirty minutes. Frescoes adorn the facades of the buildings and oriels, or bay windows, overlook delightful cafes and picturesque streets.
In some places, the layers of time have elevated the streets in such a way as to force strollers to duck beneath those bay windows in order to walk under them.
A history of Stein am Rhein dating back to the 11th Century
Situated along the shores of the Rhine, just a short distance from the place where Lake Constance spills into the river on its way to the North Sea, Stein am Rhein became a strategic location during the 11th century.
It was then that Henry II, the fifth, and last, Ottonian emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, moved St. George’s Abbey from Hohentwiel in Singen to what was little more than a quaint fishing village.
Over time, commerce grew along the river and Stein am Rhein flourished. The monastery, which was abandoned during the Protestant Reformation, remains a highlight for visitors today.
Thomas Schmid and Ambrosius Holbein
Located near the Town Hall Square, St. George’s Abbey Museum, as it is commonly referred to now, dedicates its exhibitions to local art and history.
Perhaps of more interest, however, are the ceilings, paneling and murals of Thomas Schmid and Ambrosius Holbein.
Ambrosius, the son of Hans Holbein the Elder and the older brother of Hans Holbein the Younger, lived in Stein am Rhein in 1515 while assisting Schmid with the murals in the main hall of the abbey.
With a population of just 3,000, Stein am Rhein is only twice the size it was during the 1800s.
Castle of Hohenklingen
Adventurous travelers can walk up to the Castle of Hohenklingen. The castle is a 13th-century fortress overlooking the city. From its windows, visitors can view the Lake of Constance and, weather permitting, the Alps.
For less ambitious visitors, there is still plenty to explore including the frescoed facades of the buildings which depict biblical and historical themes throughout town.
In addition, the oriels that elegantly perch above the streets, are symbols of the city’s former affluence, as are the paintings.
Even today, ownership of the frescoed buildings in Stein am Rhein comes with serious obligations to the history of the village. As a condition of proprietorship, a titleholder must agree to maintain the paintings in the same condition as the originals without compensation for the investment.
For all its Lilliputian size, Stein am Rhein is on a human scale. It is a charming place for walking and exploration.
Stein am Rhein logistics
Most people begin their strolls at the 16th century Town Hall. From there a walk means pausing frequently to admire the frescoes and bay windows before stopping at a café along the way to savor the surroundings.
You can access Stein am Rhein by car, boat or rail. The train station sits on a hill across the river from the main village, but it is only a short walk over the bridge which spans the Rhine. Bike rentals are available at a kiosk at the railway station. There are several well-marked bicycle paths along both shores of the river.
Schaffhausen is just 13-miles to the west or you can peddle eastward to Kreuzlingen which is 18-miles away.
There is also regular boat service between Kreuzlingen, which is easily accessible by rail or car, and Schaffhausen. Cruises meander through a beautiful region that alternates between Switzerland and Germany.
Among the special sights are the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall, just outside Schaffhausen. The cascading torrents of water are similar to Niagara Falls. Only in miniature.
Another popular place for an outing is nearby Winterthur with its remarkable private art exhibition at Am Romerholtz. The Oskar Reinhart Collection is one of the finest in the world. Featuring the work of artists such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Miro, and Klee, the Reinhart Collection display is in a private residence rather than a public museum.
Just 17-miles from Stein am Rhein, Winterthur is a convenient 40-minute train ride to the south. There is hourly service throughout the day.
For the traveler who seeks a quiet destination far from the madding crowd yet accessible to a rich diversity of scenery, history, quaint villages, and world-class art, Stein am Rhein is a gem to consider.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winningg television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
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