Zurich to Coire, By The Lakes of Zurich and Wallenstadt
25 Stunden = 82 English miles.
A diligence goes daily; but it is a tedious conveyance. Down to 1837 it took 23 hours to perform the journey.
That is absolutely crazy! The year prior to Murray’s visit it took an entire day and night to travel the 120km that can now be done in just an hour and a quarter, and which I covered in just 7 hours by bicycle.
Fortunately, for Murray (and the locals obviously), the journey had been reduced significantly thanks to the Minerva, the Mancunian steamboat described in Route 8, although, presuming they weren’t on the afternoon “booze cruise”, the people of Rapperschwyl would have had to rise bloody early if they wanted to be sat at their desk in the office in Zurich by 8am.
A steam-boat traverses the Lake of Zurich, to and fro, twice a day, in 2 ½ or 3 hours, starting from Rapperschwyl, at 5 a.m., and 2p.m.; and from Zurich at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. It is not a quick conveyance, as it zig-zags from one side of the lake to the other, to take in and let out passengers at the different towns.
Nor is it cheap, the price of a place from Rapperschwyl to Zurich being 32 batz (=4 fr. 60 c.); and the charge for a 4 wheeled carriage, with 4 persons amounts to 33 fr.
As with everything in Switzerland still to this day, it was bloody expensive, although that said, it can’t have been cheap transporting the heavy bugger all the way from Manchester and the alternative of hiring a carriage for the journey by road cost double.
Those who have a carriage of their own may proceed as speedily, and at a less cost by land. There is a threat of starting an opposition steamer, in which case all this may be altered.
So indeed, that’s what I did. Travel by land that is, not start an opposition steamer company. That role was fulfilled by both the Linth-Escher and Republik steamboat companies just after Murray went to print. The three companies merged in 1839 to form the Gesellschaften zur Zürichsee und Walenseegesellschaft company, much later growing into the easier to pronounce Zürichsee-Schiffahrtsgesellschaft (ZSG) company that still operates on Lake Zurich today. Their oldest ship still in operation, the Stadt Zürich, dating back to 1909, primarily serves tourists with the locals opting to travel by train or car instead.
Diligences are in readiness on the arrival of the steamer at Rapperschwyl and Wallendstadt, to carry on the passengers.
You can imagine the hustle and bustle at both towns as diligence, carriage and Uber drivers congregated with horses to offer their services to those passengers looking to further the journey from one lake to the other after disembarking the steamer.
Ah, “disembarkation”, a word only ever used in transport safety announcements as “get off” is obviously deemed too complicated for foreigners to understand. It’s amazing how the brain still remembers certain words despite virtually never having to process them since the day it was first heard.
I always imagine how baffling aircraft safety briefings must sound to somebody not fluent in Boeing’s lawyer written English jargon:
“A life jacket is stowed under your seat. In the event of landing in water, and only when instructed to do so by the cabin crew, remove it and place it over your head like so. Only once you have disembarked the aircraft, inflate it by pulling on the toggle. There is a light and a whistle for attracting the attention of a passing native speaker who can translate for you into more simple English what the words ‘stowed’, ‘disembark’, ‘inflate’ and ‘toggle’ mean if you haven’t already drowned or got stuck in the doorway. You will find this and all the other safety information, on the card located in the seat pocket in front of you, together with an Oxford English Dictionary and Collins Thesaurus”.
Anyway, back to Murray, 77 years before the first passenger plane took to the sky and 66 years before Orville reminded Wilbur that this is a non-smoking flight and that his nearest emergency exit maybe behind him.
Today, both post buses (the modern day diligence) and trains (the modern day post horse) connect “Rapperschwyl” (Rapperswil) with “Wallendstadt” (Walenstadt), and the cycle is a spectacular one through the Linth valley, which we will come to later, however first I had to get to Rapperswil.
Good carriage-roads run along both sides of the lake, and are traversed daily by diligences. The road to Wallendstadt and Coire runs along the right or North bank.
The “right bank” being the one on the left as you leave Zurich, fittingly known locally as the “Goldküste” (Gold Coast) due to its vast wealth.
By bike, you can either stay on the flat but busy lake road, or follow the more enjoyable rolling hills of Cycle Route 66, which runs above it.
The Lake of Zurich has no pretensions to grandeur of scenery; that must be sought for on the silent and savage shores of the lakes of Lucerne, Geneva and Wallenstadt; but it has a charm particularly of its own – that of life and rich cultivation. Its borders are as a bee-hive, teeming with population, and are embellished and enlivened at every step by the work of man. Its character is smiling and cheerful.
Whilst it retains somewhat of its charm, it’s true to say that today The Lake of Zurich has cultivated a life of the rich, the very rich and the super rich. “Its borders are embellished and enlivened at every step with the work of man”; where the work of man is the construction of multimillion franc luxury apartments. “Its character is smiling and cheerful” in a kind of “Woo hoo, those shares in that rainforest deforestation company, which my financial adviser added to my portfolio, have just shot up” kind of way.
The hills around it are less than 3000 feet high above the sea, and descend in gentle slopes down to the water’s edge: wooded on their tops, clad with vineyards, orchards, and gardens on their slopes, and carpeted with verdant pastures, or luxuriantly waving crops of grain at their feet.
But the principal feature in this landscape is the number of human habitations: the hills from one extremity to the other are dotted with white houses, villas of citizens, cottages and farms, while along the margin of the lake, and on the high road, they gather into frequent clusters around a church, forming villages and towns almost without number
Every little stream descending from the hill is compelled to do duty by turning some mill.
At the mouths of the valleys enormous factories are erected, and thus the shores of the lake on either side, have the appearance as a vast uninterrupted village.
Whilst factories still line the route, the historic watermills have long disappeared.
The effect of this lively foreground is heightened by the appearance of the snowy peaks of the Sentis, Dödi, and Glärnisch, which are seen at different points peering above the nearer hills.
The charms of the Lake of Zurich inspired the Idylls of Gessner: they are celebrated in an ode of Klopstock, and in the prose of Zimmerman.
From Freddie Klopstock’s 1750 chart topper “Der Zürchersee” – which was banned in the UK for the risque lyrics “Gentle, the feeling Fanny alike” – to MC Gessner’s 1756 gangster rap album “Idylls von dem Verfasser des Daphnis“ and Zimmerman’s influential “Highway 61 Revisited”, Lake Zurich provided the backdrop for many 18th Century pop videos, with an infinite number of pistol-kissing, gold medallioned, bearded, pipe smokers, cruising around the shoreline with the top down on their pimped up low-rider diligences whilst pouring Ace Of Spades Champagne over their entourage of scantily clad, corset wearing, hot “honeys, hoes and bitches”.
Scarcely any of the villages or towns on the lake are at all remarkable except as the seats of flourishing industry. A few only of the principal places are enumerated below:
Whilst he listed towns on both sides of the lake, I saved those on the “left” bank for Route 15 and followed the Velo Route 66 to the first of Murray’s “enumerated” towns, “Kussnacht” (Küsnacht).
A village of 2114 inhabitants; not to be confounded with its namesake on Lake Lucerne, famous in the history of Tell
Now with a population some 11,000 higher, it has basically been swallowed up by the city of Zurich following the introduction of the railway in 1896, sixty years after Murray passed by. Its links to Küssnacht am Rigi, on Lac Luzern, extend to the town’s coat of arms; a gold crest on a red background, which is almost an exact replica of the white crest on a red background of its more famous namesake.
Küsnacht was the location of Carl Jung’s psychotherapy practice – at Seehof, Hornweg 28 – where he would treat his famous patients from 1941 until his death here in 1961. Today, however, the town is more famous for being home to “Acid Queen” Tina Turner of Chateau Algonquin (Seestrasse 180).
I was tempted to “wait till the midnight hour” and return to ring her doorbell, just so that I could point out that the sign on her gate stating “Before 12:00 AM, No Bell, No Deliveries”, was more than likely incorrect, presuming she actually preferred a lie in, rather than living the nocturnal life that it seemed to indicate. My better judgement however, told me that she probably wouldn’t speak the language of love like she knows what I mean, and I’d more than likely be shown the Küsnacht City Limits by her security.
HOTEL / RESTAURANT IN KÜSNACHT (9km):
The 4 Star lakeside Romantik Seehotel Sonne is still in existence and offers rooms from CHF200, as well as two restaurants offering Mediterranean cuisine and modern interpretations of Swiss specialities. [CLICK HERE FOR ROOMS]
Less than 10km along the lake is Meilen.
A very considerable village of 3036 inhabitants, with a Gothic church, built 1490-9. Its poorer inhabitants are chiefly silk-weavers.
Again, having grown in population by over 10,000 people, today its “poorer inhabitants are chiefly” bank managers and accountants. Although with an unemployment rate of 2.06%, it must seem like a ghetto when compared to Kusnacht with its jobless 1.51%. In fact, in both towns, there are twice as many people speaking English as a first language than those out of work. In truth, there are still 1500 inhabitants working in manufacturing however the silk-weaving industry that flourished here in the late 18th Century has long gone, the only indications of its existence being the related names given to luxury apartment projects and their surrounding streets.
HOTELS / RESTAURANTS IN MEILEN (18km):
Next to the church, the oldest tavern in Meilen is the Löwen. Owned by the town council since 1958 and still in operation as a restaurant and beer garden, it serves Swiss classics with a reasonable lunch menu from just CHF21. [CLICK HERE FOR MENU]
Now the Restaurant Alte Sonne at Alte Landstrasse 57, the gastronomic menu is seasonal, fresh and good value at around CHF45 for 3 courses. [CLICK HERE FOR MENU]
The island’s secular priest Hans Klarer (“Schneggy” to his friends), was unable to heal Ulrich and had to bury him quickly as harbouring such a controversial reformer would have cost him his job, and possibly his life.
138 years after Murray went to print, in 1968, Von Hutton’s remains were actually identified and he was reburied under a tombstone besides the St. Peter und Paul Kirche.
Photo: Roland.zh Wikipedia
This is a very picturesque old town, in Canton St. Gall, still partly surrounded by walls, and surmounted by an old Castle and Church
near which, from the terrace called Lindenhof, a fine view is obtained.
Murray doesn’t go into much detail about Rapperswil, and there’s probably very good reason for that, given that my research, despite all the modern benefits of the Internet, family trees and history books to hand, has still left me extremely perplexed too.
One thing I do know, is that the castle was built by Count Rudolf II and his son Rudolf III, descendants of Rudolf I and members of pioneering rap group, the Counts of Rapperswil, around 1200 AD (not to be confused with 1200 BC, Tina!).
The Counts of Rapperswil were a long line of Rudolfs; so many in fact that historians are somewhat confused as to who was who and, following the death of the 18-year-old Lil’ Count Rudolf V (or Rudolf VII depending who you believe), the castle was left to his sister, Elisabeth, in 1283. The young boy’s guardian, another Rudolf – the all powerful emperor Rudolf von Habsburg I (The King Of The Romans with the very shiny nose from Schloss Habsburg on Route 6, and Schloss Lenzburg in Route 13) – objected to this arrangement as she had married Ludwig, from the noble Homberg family, perceived rivals to the Habsburgs.
Rudolf of Habsburg arranged that the castle be gifted to the Kloster St. Gallen instead, in the name of its abbot, another Rudolf, Rudolf von Güttingen. It was returned to Elisabeth six years later however, following the death of her husband, Ludwig “The Brave”, at the battle of Schosshalde, where he fought against the Bernese, for friendship on the Habsburg side.
Elisabeth remarried seven years later to, yep, you’ve guessed it, another Rudolf. This time, Rudolf III of the Habsburg-Laufenburg family, close relatives of the more powerful “Austrian” Habsburg line. Cocking-up the entire lineage, they only named their second son Rudolf, so the castle passed instead to their first born, Johann I, in 1315.
Picking a fight with another Rudolf, this time mayor of the city of Zürich, Rudolf Brun, Johann and his supporters were killed in Rapperswil in 1337. His sons…yep, you’ve guessed it… Johann II and Rudolf IV of Habsburg-Laufenburg sought revenge some years later but were arrested in 1350, with Rudolf Brun burning down Rapperswil as punishment.
The Eis-zwei-Geissebei carnival held in Rapperswil every Shrove Tuesday has its origins in that fateful day, with compassionate residents serving food to hungry children through the windows of their houses.
Rebuilt in 1352, by their guardian, Albrecht II, the ruling Habsburg Duke Of Austria, the castle was passed down to various other Johanns and Rudolfs before the Habsburg-Laufenburg line finally became extinct and the castle was given to the citizens of Rapperswil in 1442.
By the time of Murray’s visit, it had fallen into disrepair and remained that way until 1870 when a Polish Count, Wladyslaw Broel-Plater, a hero of the 1830s Polish uprising against the Russians, bought the castle and converted it into the Polish National Museum, to which it has, so far, remained until this day.
Well, I say “so far”; however in these post Brexit and Trump xenophobic times, a campaign by politician and millionaire publisher Bruno Hug to evict the Poles from Rapperswil picked up enough support that, in 2016, the museum was downsized considerably and the spectacular vacated rooms used for weddings and private events.
As much as I have mixed feelings on the move, my strongest emotions are purely reserved for the disappointment that Hug’s forename is Bruno, and not, in fact, Rudolf.
An interesting side note: until 1927, the museum contained the heart of Tadeusz Kościuszko (the Polish hero from Route 3), which was transferred here from Zuchwil in 1887. It was then transferred to a chapel at the Royal Castle in the Polish capital, meaning his body is in Krakow (at Wawel Cathedral), his heart is in Warsaw, his other internal organs in the graveyard at Zuchwil, and, I presume, the Donor’s Card he was carrying at the time of his death, on display at the Kosciuszko Museum in Solothurn.
Down in the town, the medieval buildings have been wonderfully preserved.
ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS IN RAPPERSWIL (35km):
Photo: Roland.zh Wikipedia
Pfau (Paon d’Or), outside the town, best, but dear
The Haus zum Pfauen on the corner of Hauptplatz is now the town library. Previously outside the city walls, it is now very much inside the Altstadt and sits on the corner opposite the Rathaus.
The Hotel Freihof, also on Hauptplatz, dates back to the 1820s and was renamed the Hotel Jakob in 1999, referencing the fact it remains a 3 Star pilgrim’s hotel for those following the Jakobsweg (Way Of St. James) through Rapperswil. There is a restaurant offering cheap dishes made with potatoes. [BOOK ROOMS HERE]
Not mentioned by Murray, the oldest hotel in town is the 3 Star Hotel Hirschen, dating back to 1682 [CLICK HERE FOR ROOMS]
A small stone pier has recently been thrown out into the lake, a little below the bridge, outside the gate of the town, to receive passengers from the steam-boat.
The Bridge of Rapperschwyl is probably the longest in the world; it extends from the town to a tongue of land on the opposite side, completely across the lake, a distance of 4800 feet, or more than ¾ mile. It is only 12 feet broad, is formed of loose planks laid (not nailed) upon piers, and is unprovided with railings at the sides, so that only one carriage can safely pass at a time. The toll is heavy – 24 batz for a char-à-banc.
Photo: Roland.zh Wikipedia
Rapperschwyl is about 18 miles from Zurich, and the same distance from Wesen. The diligence takes about 3 ½ hours either way. A char costs 12 fr.; and a calèche, with two horses, 20 to 24 fr.
Given that I had come so far by bicycle in less than half the time, I questioned the expense of travelling in those days.
A calèche was an elegant summertime convertible, with low access. It is the type of carriage popular to this day in many tourist destinations.
Most passengers disembarking the ferry would have opted for the cheaper diligence (the bus of its time) or a smaller char-a-banc to continue their journey to Wassen.
Instead, I opted for bicycle, heading alongside the lake of Obersee to Schmerikon.
At Schmerikon, the road quits the lake of Zurich
Ignoring the cycle signs and following the main road, as those in carriages would have done, with the mountains in full sight ahead of me, I headed to the next town, Uznach.
A small town of 900 inhabitants, on an eminence, the summit of which is occupied by a small square tower of the ancient castle and by that of the church.
The ancient castle, from where the Counts of Toggenburg would rob the traffic going into Zurich, was destroyed in revenge by the powerful Rudolf of Habsburg in 1268, and the remaining tower demolished in 1865. A small pile of rocks somewhere in a forest by the side of the Uznabergstrasse road to Wald and Neuhaus (at the Gasthaus zur Sonne), are all that remain and are certainly not worth the hard effort to visit.
Staying on the main road into Uznach, I passed the oldest well-preserved country house in the town, the pretty Wirtschaft zum Hof, next to the old Kreuzkirche (built with the stones from the demolished castle) and its surrounding stork colony, before coming to the somewhat ugly and incredibly busy market town centre, which is located on a hill.
Uznach, now with a population of 6,300 has a great historical past, however most of it has been unfortunately lost in various fires, the biggest in 1762. Only the Falken and neighbouring Arche have survived, whilst the church Murray talks of was destroyed in 1867, the present one being built in 1938, one hundred years after he visited.
The castle of Grynau, on the right, stands on the Linth, a little above its entrance to the lake.
Heading down the hill out of town, the tower of Schloss Grynau marks the historical border between the cantons of St. Gallen and Schwyz.
It was built in the early 13th century AD by the House of Rapperswil to take tolls from those crossing the Linth, and is the spot where Johann I was killed. During Murray’s time, it was a bastion for Swiss troops expecting to go into conflict in the division of the canton of Schwyz. This did not happen and since 1849 it has remained in the hands of the Kälin family who converted it to the Landgasthof Schloss Grynau.
RESTAURANT AT SCHLOSS GRYNAU (51km):
Having struggled to get into the Landgasthof Schloss Grynau when I first visited, despite it clearly being advertised as open, and watching others suffer the same trouble since, I can only mirror virtually every review I have seen online and say that this restaurant is “unfriendly”, “urges potential guests not to enter” and “misses an opportunity.” One can only speculate what the typically critical John Murray would have written had he visited.
Pedestrians will find the towing-path along the Linth canal shorter than the carriage-road from Schmerikon to Wesen.
Indeed, it is possible to cycle the entire way along the largely unpaved canalside path from Schloss Grynau to Weesen or you can follow the cycle signs at the side of the castle which run alongside its embankment. Alternatively, away from the canal, head back to Uznach and either take the National Velo Route 9 through the middle of the picturesque valley floor, or the old “carriage-road”, which is now the car road.
Having travelled all four routes, it’s hard to advise which is best as they each have their merits, both in terms of panorama and their historical importance.
There are mines of brown coal at Oberkirche about a mile from Uznach, in a hill 1500 feet high.
The mines at Oberkirche, which is now part of Kaltbrunn on the main car road, existed from 1800 until stocks ran out around the time of the Second World War. The old miners’ tools are on display in the village museum and the site is now a quarry. Although I’m sure if Donald Trump, came to town, he’d no doubt promise “We’re gonna re-open the mines folks. They are going to be the biggest mines you’ve ever seen. The greatest. Trust me. Nobody knows the mines of Oberkirche better than me. Great mines. They love me.”
Soon after leaving Uznach, the valley of Glarus opens out into view with the snowy mountains near its head; a very beautiful prospect.
All four routes (canal towpath, the two cycle paths and the main road) deliver you into the middle of one of the picturesque valleys in Switzerland. The best views (and most weather exposed) being from the main no.9 cycle route, which passes through wide open flat fields scattered with old farm barns.
Murray devotes two pages of his book to explaining how, “out of this valley issues the river Linth, an impetuous torrent, fed by glaciers, and carrying down with it vast quantities of debris”. He recalls that 20 years before his visit, in 1817, the debris had built up so much, the river was obstructed, causing major flooding covering these meadows with stone and rubbish, and converting the area “into a stagnant marsh”. Again, the remains of this can be seen best from the main cycle route.
Nearly the entire valley between the Lakes of Zurich and Wallenstadt was reduced to a desert, and its inhabitants, thinned in numbers by annual fevers, arising from the pestilential exhalations, abandoned the spot.
Not wanting to catch a “pestilential exhalation”, I increased my speed and tried not to breathe in the mountain air.
To the rescue came “Mr Conrad Escher, who suggested to the Diet in 1807, the ingenious plan of digging a new bed for the waters of the Linth, and turning it into Lake Wallenstadt”.
Escher – whose grave and that of his housemate, travel writer Johann Gottfried Ebel, Murray refers to in his notes of Zurich city centre (Route 8) – also improved the lake “by digging a navigable canal from it to the lake of Zurich”, which meant that the valley would be drained of water instead of being flooded.
This important and useful public work was completed by Escher in 1822, and has been attended with perfect success
Murray explains that the result of Escher’s work is the now wholesome valley and the straight road “along its right bank” (the left side as you’re coming from Rapperswil), which is no longer “cut off and broken up by inroads of the river”. Signs dotted along the canal towpath pay testimony to Escher and explain his engineering achievement.
Immediately opposite the opening of the valley of the Linth, at whose extremity the mountains of Glarus now appear in all their grandeur, a simple monumental tablet of black marble has been let into the face of the rock by the roadside, to the memory of the public-spirited citizen who conferred this great benefit on the surrounding country.
The monument, now replaced, stands alongside the main road next to Ziegelbrücke railway station, where all four routes come together and fittingly become “Konrad-Escher Strasse”.
Murray explains that Escher earned “the title, Von der Linth, the only title which a republic could properly confer, and which his descendants may be more proud than of that of count or baron.”
The Linth here is crossed by a bridge, called Ziegelbrucke, over which runs the road to Glarus (Route 72). Near it are a cotton manufactory and an establishment for the education of the poor of the canton Glarus.
The Fritz & Caspar Jenny spinning and weaving factory was established in 1833 and operated until 2001. Today it’s an industrial estate which still boasts a small weaving firm, with the company now making its fortune in real estate, renting out the many properties built over the years to house its 520 factory workers, including a huge conversion of the original spinning building into luxury apartments.
Directly on the river, the Armenerziehungsanstalt Linthkolonie opened in 1819 and later became the Evangelical Knabenheim Linthkolonie, which reminded me of a passage in my favourite book, Mark Twain’s “A Tramp Abroad”, in which he described the “Awful German Language”:
An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech – not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary – six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam – that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it – after which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb – merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out – the writer shovels in “haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein,” or words to that effect, and the monument is finished. I suppose that this closing hurrah is in the nature of the flourish to a man’s signature – not necessary, but pretty.
German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head – so as to reverse the construction – but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner… and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader is left in a very exhausted and ignorant state. ~ Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad
It is called the Linth colony, because it owes its origin to a colony of 40 poor persons, afterwards increased to 180, who were brought hither by charitable individuals from the over-peopled villages of the canton, and settled on this spot, which was the bed of the Linth previous to Escher’s improvements, in order to reclaim it by removing the stones and rubbish, and rendering it fit for cultivation.
Murray explains how “they were lodged, fed, and allowed a small sum of wages” until the time came when Escher’s work was completed and the valley was restored “to a state fit for cultivation.” At this point, “having saved themselves from starvation, in a season of scarcity, they were dismissed to seek their fortunes with some few savings to begin the world; and, what was of more importance, with industrious habits, which they had learned while settled here.”
To me, it all seemed like exploitative slave labour and I suddenly no longer viewed the canal as being the groundbreaking engineering feat I had previously viewed it as.
In the school which now replaces the colony children from 6 to 12 are taught, and teachers are also instructed.
By 1984, the “Educational Institution Linth Colony”, to give it its easier English translation, had been demolished and rebuilt as the modern Schule an der Linth on Koloniestrasse, a special boarding school for children and young people with learning and behavioral difficulties. You can see the school from the opposite side of the Linth as you pass under the steel railway bridge on the approach into the town.
From here, it’s just 4km to Weesen.
Wesen is a village of about 500 inhabitants, at the West extremity of the lake of Wallenstadt, and in the midst of scenery of great magnificence.
Seemingly a popular tourist town, this pretty lakeside town owes much to its location and is the perfect base from which to explore the area.
HOTEL/RESTAURANT AT WEESEN (70km / 74km):
Inn: L’Epée, well situated but not very good fare; had once the reputation of being dear. The following are the charges at present, – for the best bed-room, with two beds, 3 fr.; dinner 3 fr.; breakfast 2 fr.)
Dating from the 14th Century, the Parkhotel Schwert (L’Epée in French) still exists; now a reasonably priced 3 Star hotel and Swiss brasserie, with rooms from CHF 130 and main courses from CHF 20. [CLICK HERE FOR BEDS]
LAKE OF WALLENDSTADT
A steam-boat was established on this lake, between Wesen and Wallenstadt, in 1837. It made 3 voyages to and fro daily in summer, 2 in Autumn and 1 in Winter. The voyage takes up about 1 hour and 10 minutes; by the common boats it occupied between 2 and 3 hours.
The steamboat, which first sailed in the year Murray visited, disappeared in 1863, becoming obsolete in the face of competition from the railway, which was introduced in 1859, now reducing the 3 hours journey to just 13 minutes.
Fortunately, due to the high volume of tourists visiting the area, the Walenseeschiff company reintroduced lake cruises and passenger ferries in the 1940s and now operate six ships.
A diligence is provided at either end of the lake to carry on passengers as soon as landed
Today, I get perplexed about making train journeys that require more than one change, even though, in Switzerland, the connecting train often shares the same platform and, in the case of delays – which happen far more frequently than their reputation would suggest – the second train usually waits for the late arrival. With that in mind, I pitied the 1837 traveller from Zurich to Chur. A horse carriage would drop you off at the docks for the 08:00 ferry, where you would set sail for Rapperswil in 3 hours. From there, a diligence would carry you the 3 ½ hours to Weesen. If not exhausted enough, you’d then jump on the Walensee steamer, disembarking in Wallenstadt over an hour later and switching to another diligence for the final long run into Chur. The whole journey now taking an hour and 15 minutes without the need to change trains.
Murray explains that “previous to the construction of the Linth canal, the only outlet for the Lake of Wallendstadt was a small stream called the Magg, which encountered the Linth after a course of about 2 miles.” The debris that would be washed down this small stream often caused it to be dammed, with the lake flooding over, laying “the villages of Wallendstadt, at the one end, and Wesen, at the other, under water for many months during the spring.” Escher’s work saw the Linth diverted into the lake and a canal built to direct the Magg and drain Lake Wallenstadt down into Lake Zurich.
The Lake of Wallenstadt is about 12 miles long by 3 broad; its scenery is grand, but not first-rate; far inferior to that of the lake of Lucerne.
Oh, the miserable bugger. Accurate but miserable. I wonder how he described his wife: “Mrs Murray is about 5 foot 5 inches high by 2 broad; her beauty is grand, but not first-rate; far inferior to that of the author Jane Austen.”
It’s North shore consists of colossal cliffs of lime and sand-stone, regularly stratified, and so nearly precipitous that there is room for no road, and only for a few cottages at their base, while their steep surface, almost destitute of verdure, give to this lake a savage and arid character.
Indeed, because of its steepness, this side of the lake has barely changed so you get to witness exactly what Murray would have seen. A rarity given the modern annoyance of power cables and railway tracks.
The lake had once the reputation of being dangerous to navigate, on account of sudden tempests; but in this respect it does not differ from other mountain-lakes; and there can be little risk in intrusting oneself to experienced boatmen. The courier who has passed it 3 times a-week for many years remembers no instance of an accident.
I love these little reflections that Murray scatters throughout his Handbook. He basically asked a passing postman about the “sudden tempests” to which he got a reply “nah, Guvnor, it’s all fake news. Those Zurich weather men are pussies. Ain’t been an accident here since Pete the Fisherman fell overboard trying to reel in an oversized Pike Perch gone ten years ago Guv. Anyway can’t stop, I’ll lose my Amazon Prime bonus money if Frau Gantenbein doesn’t get her knitting pattern delivered in time.”
These snippets of opinions, written as facts, are no different to TV news crews today, heading to the streets of some Brexit backwater town to sum up what the locals think about the release of the latest immigration figures, reporting the entire community’s opinion based solely upon their interview with the most racist, toothless fuckwit they can find, or some old couple coming out of the supermarket shocked at how a plummeting pound has pushed up the price of Portuguese pomegranates.
The precipices along the North bank vary between 2000 and 3000 feet in height, and the stranger is usually surprised to learn that above them are situated populous villages and extensive pastures crowded with cattle.
Such a one is the village of Ammon, containing 3000 inhabitants, nearly 2500 feet above the lake, with a church, gardens and orchards.
Murray might have overestimated the population size of “Ammon” (Amden) by 1,200 (it’s barely changed since), however he does get the height right, together with the warning of how tough it is to reach:
It is approached by one narrow and steep path, which may be traced sloping upwards from Wesen along the face of the mountain.
Seemingly never ending, the 12% climb, snaking up the mountain side for a full 5km, is one of the toughest you can do in Switzerland, especially if you make the same mistake as me and go off road to follow the mountain bike route, which got so steep I even struggled to push.
Whenever I look up at these mountain hamlets, I always wonder what on Earth would make somebody want to live there, especially in days gone by when they didn’t have the advantage of mobile phone connections or a 4×4 to drive down to the nearest supermarket. But then, one look over the lake, and you are reminded of the benefits.
Another benefit is the steep descent back down to Weesen; so fast that I seemingly arrived before I’d even set off.
Several waterfalls precipitate themselves over this wall of rock, or descend, by gashes or rents in its sides, into the lake; but they dwindle into insignificance by the end of summer, and add no beauty to the scene.
The principal ones are Bayerbach, 1200 feet high (above which lies Ammon) and the Serenbach, 1200 feet high
Photo: Paebi Wikipedia
The cascading set of three waterfalls that make up the Seerenbachfälle gush down to the lake from Amden, the Beerenbach (or Seerenbachfall I) being the highest.
At 305m, the middle Seerenbachfall II was the highest waterfall in Switzerland until some observant geographer in 2009 looked up at the 417m Mürrenbachfall in Lauterbrunnen and proclaimed, “hang on a minute, this is 112m bigger, I better update Wikipedia!”
Photo: Ekem Wikipedia
A footpath leads up to the lower Seerenbachfall III and the adjacent Rinquellenfall, from the lakeside hamlet of Betlis, which is made accessible by a single track lake road from Weesen, passing through some dramatic tunnels carved into the rock.
The hamlet of St. Quentin is the only one on this side of the lake.
Photo: Petar Marjanovic Wikipedia
“St. Quentin” (Quinten) can either be accessed by a 2 hour hike along the rocky path from the waterfall at Betlis, or by taking the 10 minute ferry ride from Murg on the opposite shore. It’s a quaint little car-free wine village located on steep vineyards dotted with historic houses, two restaurants and small fruit and wine shops. Despite only having a population of 41, they boast their own rifle shooting range, together with a church (dating back to 1765), and even had a school until 1972.
The steep rock face above it creates such a unique micro-climate, not seen elsewhere north of the Alps, in which figs and kiwi fruit are grown amongst the vineyards.
The South side consists of more gradually sloping hills, covered with verdure and overtopped by the tall bare peaks of more distant mountains. On this side there are several villages, and a very rough and irregular road runs along it.
The “very rough and irregular road” only became a main car road in 1964, and was so infamous for the bottlenecks caused by the high volume of traffic and notorious traffic jams caused by the frequent serious traffic accidents, that it was known all around the country as “Qualensee” (Lake Pain). It wasn’t until the construction of the Kerenzertunnel, as recently as 1986, that paved the way for the A3 Autobahn to pass by, high above the lake.
There’s still evidence of the original path and the cycle route takes in the small villages and steep hills, assisted in parts by the odd tunnel which have been constructed recently.
Behind it rises the mountain Murtschenstock. It’s summit, 7270 feet high, and almost inaccessible, is traversed through and through by a cavern, which, though of large size, looks from the lake like the eye of a bodkin. The whole is best seen when abreast of the village of Mühlehorn; by those not aware of the fact, it might be mistaken for a patch of snow. This peak is the favourite resort of chamois.
Try as I might, I couldn’t spot “the eye of a bodkin” from Mühlehorn. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have a clue what the “the eye of a bodkin” would even look like. I presumed it would resemble “a patch of snow” or “a large size cavern”, however despite my best efforts, I had no joy in locating those neither.
Apparently, on deeper research, a bodkin is a long sewing needle with a large eye on the top and the rock window on the lower right hand edge of the Mürtschenstock is called Mürtschenloch or “Stoggloch”. According to legend, it was created by a dragon that lost communication with Air Traffic Control and crash landed into the mountain side.
To help those, like me, struggling to locate it, the beam of the sun shines through the cavern twice a year, illuminating the church steeple in Mühlehorn around 14:00 on the 8th November (and the 9th and 10th if you’re lucky) and after 14:30 on the 27th and 28th January.
There are numerous villages at the mouths of the streams and gullies. The principal of them is Murg, near which a large cotton factory has been recently built.
Photo: Michielverbeek Wikipedia
The rolling hills on the narrow lakeside road between Weesen and Murg, highlighted the difficulties they must have had in building a road in the first place. The village of Murg is known for its sweet chestnut trees, unusual for this part of the world. The old spinning mill was the main employer in the town from 1837 until its closure in 1996, a victim of globalisation and a strong Swiss Franc. Converted into a hotel and apartments in 2008, the building has been lovingly preserved.
HOTEL AT MURG (80km / 86km):
The 3 Star Lofthotel occupies the former “large cotton factory”, which opened the year of Murray’s visit and closed in 1996. Rooms from CHF 180. [CLICK HERE FOR BEDS]
The North East extremity of the lake is bounded by the seven picturesque peaks of the Sieben Kurfursten (7 Electors; some say Kuhfirsten).
Lost in the clouds during my visit, the seven peaks of the the Churfirsten mountain range, on the opposite side of the lake, mark the historical boundary of the bishopric of Chur and were nicknamed “Sieben Kurfürsten” after the seven Kurfürsten (prince-electors) of the Holy Roman Empire, the powerful judges who sat on the panel to decide who would become the next Pope on the popular 12th Century talent show “Vatican Idol”.
At their feet lies the village of Wallendstadt.
Wallenstadt is a scattered township of 800 inhabitants; nearly half a mile from the lake, of which it commands no view.
Now with a population of 5,500, “Wallenstadt” (Walenstadt) has changed significantly since Murray’s time. Even the pretty Evangelische Kirche in the centre of town only dates to 1906, although the Old Town still boasts the original Rathaus, restored St. Wolfgangskapelle and parts of the city walls.
I made a note to return for the annual Fasnacht carnival in January or February.
Started by the call, “Rölli Bölli, Suppächnölli, uusä mit dä Butzi, hojä, hojä, ho! Haudärä mit dä Tuurätee, haudärä mit dä Toorä, einä, einä Butzibuäb, einä, einä Höösi!” which I think is Swiss German for “I’m coming to get you”, the Rölli, a black masked troll in colourful fancy dress would run out of the Town Hall and chase the children of the village. It’s a custom continued to this day and sounded like the perfect way to scare the shit out of your children.
Given that “Murray’s Hand-Book For Travellers In Switzerland 1838” was the most influential travel guide of its day, the Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor of his time, I hazard to guess the feelings of the hoteliers and town council in Walenstadt when they learned of his now hilarious yet typically miserable summary for their town:
Wallenstadt is a dull place, and travellers had better avoid stopping here.
HOTELS/RESTAURANTS AT WALENSTADT (91km / 95km):
Inns: Rossli (Cheval);
I’ve still not been able to locate the Rossli.
Hirsch (Cerf, or Poste): not good.
The Hotel Hirschen was obviously so bad that it is now the Jade Palast Chinese restaurant.
A new Inn, called the Aigle d’Or, has been built at the side of the lake, close to the landing place of the steamer. It is far better situated than the others, and is probably as good as they are in other respects.
The Hotel Adler (Aigle d’Or in Napoleon’s time) was a hostel, where shipmen and diligence drivers stayed, changing its name in 1873 to Hotel Seehof. Now a beautiful 3 star lakeside hotel with a modern extension and restaurant. Rooms from CHF150. [CLICK HERE FOR BEDS]
The flats of the valley around and above it are marshy, and the neighbourhood was formerly very unhealthy, so long as the irregularities of the Linth obstructed the passage of the waters of the lake. The evil might be entirely cured were similar measures adopted to confine and regulate the course of the Scez, which still overflows the valley at times.
Having learned that the poor workers at the Linth Colony had been “dismissed to seek their fortunes with some few savings to begin the world”, I couldn’t help but wonder why their “industrious habits, which they had learned” whilst building Escher’s canal, couldn’t have been put to good use on the “Scez” (Seez) too. As it was the “evils” were “entirely cured” when the Seez was canalised many years later.
There is considerable beauty in the scenery of the valley of the Scez, between Wallenstadt and Sargans.
The Seeztal is indeed a beautiful valley and the cycle path takes in some gorgeous farmland, passing the church of Berschis, with the ancient St. Georgs-Kapelle spectacularly wedged on the hill above it. Interestingly, ‘Sant Jöüri’ is not even mentioned by Murray, despite dating back to the 11th Century.
Looking up at it, and the effort required to reach it, I realised why 7% of the locals stated they “belong to no church”, especially given that, after arriving there knackered the door is locked and you need a key. No doubt it was in the possession of St.Peter on his gigantic key ring, which I pictured to be on the end of one of those unnecessarily long key chains attached to his pair of ripped bleached denim jeans.
Receiving equally little coverage in Murray’s notes was the historical city of Sargans.
A town of 723 inhabitants, on an eminence surmounted by a castle, near the junction of the roads from St. Gall and Zurich to Coire.
Having now grown to a population of over 6,000, Sargans was built around the 13th Century castle by the Holy Roman Empire. It was taken over by the Swiss Confederacy after they captured and burnt the town in 1445 and is now home to the Sarganserland museum.
HOTELS/RESTAURANTS AT SARGANS (91km / 95km):
Inns: Kreutz (Croix Blanc)
The Gasthof Zum Kreutz is actually located 1km outside the town, at Heiligkreutz in Mels. It is now a hotel and restaurant so stuck in the 1830’s that it has absolutely no Internet presence.
The Zunfthaus zum Löwen in the old town square, up on the steep hill below the castle, is now a posh restaurant with a 3 course Swiss menu from CHF75. [CLICK HERE FOR MENU]
Typical of Murray, he dedicated more column space describing the geology of the region rather than the interesting history of the town itself or the spectacular surrounding mountains in the area now embarrassingly marketed as ‘Heidiland’; so named for it being the setting in the famous book by Johanna Spyri, whom, as a 10 year old child, would have been spending her summers here at the time Murray passed by. I’d love to think that their paths crossed somehow:
It stands upon the watershed, dividing the streams which feed the Rhine from those which fall into the lake of Wallenstadt
He then goes on to explain that the “deposits brought down by the Rhine” increasingly raised the height of the river in this area to the point that “it is not impossible, though scarcely probable” that the Rhine could “change its course” by taking “a shorter cut” [to Koblenz (Route 2)] “by the lakes of Wallenstadt and Zurich” instead of following its route via Konstanz and Schaffhausen.
It was calculated by Escher von der Linth, from actual measurements, that the waters of the Rhine need rise but 19½ feet to pass into the lake of Wallenstadt; and it is, indeed, recorded that the river, swollen by long rains in 1618, was only prevented taking the direction by the construction of dams along its banks.
Geologists argue, from the identity of the deposits of gravel in the valley of the Upper Rhine with those in the Vale of Scez, that the river actually did pass out this way at one time.
The remainder of this route of the valley of the Rhine by Ragatz to Coire, together with the excursion to Pfeffers, which no one who passes this way should omit, is described in Route 67.
I’ll save the description of this stretch then until Route 67, however for now, I was on familiar territory between “Ragatz” (Bad Ragaz) and “Coire” (Chur), having ridden the entire length of The Rhine three times, from its source above Andermatt, high in the Swiss Alps, to its mouth at The North Sea at the Hoek van Holland.
Living alongside the Rhine, I have a connection with the river that is hard to describe. The feeling I get when passing through adjacent forests or sunflower fields triggers familiar memories in my brain of having covered the exact same spot on those long Switzerland – Holland journeys, right down to picturing the specific position of leaves, potholes or puddles. The smell of the pine trees, noise of bird song, and even the sight of road signs, has memories come flooding back in the same way hearing a song for the first time in years instantly transports you back to times when the same notes provided the soundtrack to occasions and emotions in your life. Given that my memory for remembering names and words is…ummm, what’s the word?… ummm.. oh, you get the point, I can’t explain how I have such photographic memory of things and places that I hardly notice when first passing by.
It’s a straight run down the Rhine into Chur and I arrived just as the sun was going down, heading straight to one of Murray’s recommended hotels for a much needed bed.
ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS IN CHUR (135km / 139km):
Photo: Google Street View
Inns: Weisses Kreutz (White Cross), good and cheap, the best
The old Weisses Kreuz sign still stands on the side of the former hotel on Vazerolgasse in the pedestrianised Old Town, which backs on to the Hotel Freieck (below) and is now a hairdresser.
Post, or Freyeck, tolerable
Not to be mistaken with the Hotel Post around the corner, the 3 Star Ambiente Hotel Freieck on Reichsgasse in the Old Town offers modern rooms from CHF 125. Originally opened as a hotel in 1825, it was the first posting house in Chur, with the stables for the horses now being the Féderal bar. You can still see the various vaulted ceilings on the ground floor with historical works decorating the walls. Reviews (including my own various stays here) point to it being more “fabulous” than “tolerable” [CLICK HERE FOR BEDS].
Capricorn, outside the town, very civil people, and a moderate and good house
The wine of the Valteline is generally consumed in the Grisons, and may be had tolerably good here.
Sadly bicycles can’t be taken on board the lake steamer, so you’ll need to cycle all the way along the “Gold Coast” to Rapperswil, which of course, isn’t a bad thing as it offers some memorable views, especially from Cycle Route 66, which is slightly more hilly than the busy lakeside road which it runs parallel with.
The detour to the ruins at Uznaberg is worth giving a miss as hardly anything remains, and you have four options for the ride from Uznach to the lake at Walensee (detailed below). My personal choice being the National Velo Route 9 (which runs all the way to Chur) or the alternative cycle path next to the castle at Gryanu for those short on time.
The two possible detours at Weesen will add considerable time to your journey however, if you have time, are worthwhile. That said, the incredibly steep climb to Amdeen is one of the hardest climbs in Switzerland, rewarding the effort with great views if nothing of note in the village itself.
The hike to the waterfalls and car (and bicycle) free hamlet of Quinten is one of the highlights of the route but, if you’re pushed for time, can be replaced with a ferry journey across from Murg, or avoided altogether.
It’s a pretty straightforward ride down the cycle path along the Rhine to Chur and the entire route is possible by road bike, with connected train stations en route as back up.
0km ~ ZURICH
9km ~ KÜSNACHT (Hotel Sonne) → flat
18km ~ MEILEN 110
35km ~ SCHLOSS RAPPERSWIL 30
36km ~ HEILIG HUSLI (bridge)
48km ~ SCHMERIKON → flat
50km ~ GASTHAUS ZUR SONNE (UZNACH) 15
2km ~ RUIN UZNABERG 75
4km ~ GASTHAUS ZUR SONNE (UZNACH)
52km ~ UZNACH 20
54km ~ SCHLOSS GRYNAU
Possible Route 1 ~ Canal Towpath:
66km ~ ZIEGELBRÜCKE → flat
Possible Route 2 ~ Cycle Path next to Schloss Grynau:
68km ~ ZIEGELBRÜCKE → flat
Possible Route 3 ~ National Velo Route 9:
55km ~ USNACH → flat
69km ~ ZIEGELBRÜCKE → flat
Possible Route 4 ~ Main Car Road:
55km ~ USNACH → flat
59km ~ KALTBRUNN → flat
70km ~ ZIEGELBRÜCKE → flat
70km / 74km ~ WEESEN
Possible Excursion from Weesen:
5km ~ AMDEN 500
10km ~ WEESEN
Possible Excursion from Weesen:
4km cycle ~ BETLIS 100
1 hr 45 mins hike ~ QUINTEN
1 hr 45 mins hike ~ BETLIS
8km cycle ~ WEESEN 70
OR (from Weesen):
3 hours hike ~ QUINTEN
78km / 82km ~ MÜHLEHORN
82km / 86km ~ MURG → flat
Possible Excursion from Murg (if not already visited):
10 mins ferry (no bikes) ~ QUINTEN [timetable]
10 mins ferry (no bikes) ~ MURG [timetable]
91km / 95km ~ WALENSTADT → flat
106km / 110km ~ SARGANS (Restaurant Krone)
114km / 118km ~ BAD RAGAZ → flat
135km / 139km ~ CHUR