Two of the most important attractions in St. Gallen are a textile museum and a church library. Not exciting? Well, trust us. The library is one of Switzerland's great indoor sights and the hand embroidery exhibition at the textile museum is spectacular in its own way.
Those planning a visit to the area around Lake Constance (the Bodensee) will find two or three days in St. Gallen a worthwhile addition to the travel itinerary.
The Altstadt, though not a well preserved museum of the Rothenberg/Gruyères genre, has considerable charm. There are some truly fascinating things to see and many interesting day-trips can be constructed using St. Gallen as a base.
Architecture in the old town is a mix of old and new but most notable are its many oriels - bay windows, usually with some intricate design. Each year a local bank gives an award for the best one and as a result oriels are being restored all over town. There are more than 80. The main attractions, however, are the Library and Cathedral of the Abbey, which dates to 720. The church is similar in style to - and matches the grandeur of - the great Baroque cathedrals of southern Germany. (Be sure to find the bell just inside the fence that divides the chancel from the main part of the church. It is very old and the one the Irish monk Gallus, who founded the Abbey, is said to have used to summon his colleagues.)
The Abbey's dazzling rococo Library (Stiftsbibliothek) rates three stars - "worth a journey" - in the Michelin Green Guide for Switzerland. its treasures have remained essentially intact over the centuries.
St. Gallen has always been known for the quality of its textiles. In the middle ages, linen from St. Gall was much valued and it was the first Swiss town to have trade agencies abroad. Early in the 18th century, cotton began to replace linen and the weavers of St. Gallen sold more than their share. Turkish hand embroiderers were hired to teach their craft to the women of Eastern Switzerland. By 1790 there were about 40,000 home embroiderers working for the wealthy merchants of St. Gallen. The invention of hand embroidery machines in the second half of the 19th century further quickened the pace and by century's end it is estimated some 100,000 embroidery machines were in operation. Aside from agriculture, virtually all industry in the region centered on the textile trades. The work was hard and frugality a way of life. Marriages among farm families took place very early in the morning so as not to interrupt the work day. Brides were married in black because the dress could then be worn on other occasions. Not surprisingly, in 1913, Switzerland's leading exporter was the embroidery industry, ahead of watches.
Though the depression ended the embroidery boom, a condition that lasted until the end of the Second World War, the production of fabric and textiles in and around St. Gallen is again in high gear. Many of France's leading couture houses come to St. Gallen for their fabrics. If it wished, St. Gallen could lay claim to being the brassiere capital of Europe; 65% of the total Swiss production of embroidery is in ladies lingerie. But men have not been forgotten, those Lacoste crocodiles on your polo shirts were probably stitched in St. Gallen. Most Swiss embroidery machines are now computer controlled and the industry in Switzerland is unquestionably the world's most modern.
Though the winning Super Bowl quarterback always seems to pick Disneyland over St. Gallen's Textile Museum, you should give embroidery a chance. Seriously, the exhibition of hand embroidered lace on the museum's upper floor is not to be missed.
As to day-trips, the town is within an hour's drive or train ride from Zürich, Appenzell, the Säntis, Stein and its cheese-making demonstrations, Liechtenstein, Constance, Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls, the quaint village of Stein am Rhein, the car ferry at Romanshorn and from there to the German side of the lake, Bregenz in Austria and, of course, the towns along the Swiss shore of the Bodensee.
A city founded by an Irishman would not be expected to be a center for haute cuisine and St. Gallen is not, but good meals at decent prices can be had in the town's numerous "first floor" (second floor to us) restaurants.
St. Gallen's hotels are convenient and comfortable but keep in mind the town is not a resort and depends on business as well as vacation travelers for its visitor revenue. Thus, with a couple of exceptions, hotels are of the no nonsense variety. Most rooms, for example, do not have separate sitting areas.
St. Gallen Hotels
There should be no argument about which is the number one hotel in St. Gallen. It is the elegant, modern Einstein, in a former embroidery factory on the edge of the old town.
Guestrooms are identical in furnishings and fixtures, but offer such five-star amenities as bathrooms with huge, thick towels on heated racks.
The small, fifth floor restaurant/breakfast area, once the building's attic, is made especially cozy by several strategically placed lamps and a network of exposed beams. Most tables are banquettes nestled under the slanting ceiling. Skylights let in plenty of light, even on a bleak winter morning, and one giant half-circle window under the Doric peak provides a wonderful breakfast view of the rooftops of St. Gallen's old town.
Though we lost our notes on meals eaten there, our recollection of the Einstein's restaurant is one of very good food, rather formally served, in a most inviting setting.
Parking everywhere in St. Gallen's altstadt is a problem. There is some street parking or the hotel will take care of your car for about 15 Sfr. per day.
Prices below are rack rates but there are times during the year when the Einstein is willing to deal. For example, if you're looking for a hotel over the Christmas holidays, the Einstein has attractive packages. Between December 17 and January 3, a double room including buffet breakfast is 170 Sfr. ($121), a terrific holiday price for a hotel of this caliber. Address inquiries to Bettina Stöffel, sales manager.
• Address: Hotel Einstein Berneggstrasse 2, CH-9001 St. Gallen
* Phone: 071/20 00 33
* Fax: 071/23 54 74
* Location: Central, near the abbey
* Rooms: 65 total, including 49 doubles and 13 singles. Some nonsmoking rooms
* Proprietor: Michel M. Resnik
* Prices: Singles 195 to 250 Sfr. ($138-$177), doubles 280 to 340 Sfr. ($199-$241), breakfast not included. Buffet 19 Sfr. ($13)
* Facilities: Restaurant, bar with nightly piano music
* Credit Cards: All
* Disabled: Limited
* Closed: Never
* Parking: Some free spaces around hotel, otherwise public garage (15 Sfr./$11 per day)
* Other: 500 meters from rail station
* Hotel Rating: Above Average 15/20
Hotel Im Portner und Pförtnerhof
St. Gallen's most atmospheric hotel. We give especially high marks to the annex Pförtnerhof across the street from Im Portner. Here you'll find an engaging mix of modern art, furniture (note the trendy Italian leather chairs) and light fixtures in a very old building. The focus is on the art throughout. Even the tiniest bedroom has several interesting pieces and there is a different artist for each room. All the pictures are from the nearby Erker Gallery, where the works of some of the world's best known contemporary artists are displayed. Over the years, most of them have stayed at Im Portner/Pförtnerhof.
The house's best room is Number 12 (280 Sfr./$199), in a corner tower with five windows and a wood grill work ceiling. In this room hang pictures by the Russian artist, Serge Poliakoff.
We have one small quibble and it applies to several other hotels we have seen in the last year: wall-mounted TV sets on swinging arms just below ceiling level are no doubt easily viewed but are too reminiscent of a hospital room. TV sets are best tucked away in a piece of furniture or simply set on a dresser or small table.
• Address: Hotel Im Portner und Pförtnerhof, Bankgasse 12, CH-9000 St. Gallen
* Phone: 071/22 97 44
* Fax: 071/22 98 56
* Location: Center of old town
* Rooms: 24 total, 14 doubles, 10 singles
* Proprietor: Olga & Hans Ulrich Egli
* Prices: Singles 150 to 160 Sfr. ($106-$113), doubles 200 to 250 Sfr. ($142-$177), breakfast included
* Facilities: French restaurant, grill room, bar
* Credit Cards: All
* Disabled: Not suitable
* Closed: July
* Parking: Five spaces for hotel guests or public garage for 15 Sfr. ($11) per day
* Other: 500 meters from rail station
* Hotel Rating: Above Average 14/20
Modern, but somewhat dull hotel on the other side of the city park. Guestrooms are nicely furnished, clean and functional and the welcome is exceptionally friendly.
• Address: Hotel Ekkehard, Rorschacherstrasse 50 CH-9000 St. Gallen
* Phone: 071/22 47 14
* Fax: 071/22 47 74
* Location: 10 minute walk through park to city center
* Rooms: 29 total, 19 doubles, 10 singles
* Proprietor: Ernst Leander
* Prices: Singles 135 to 150 Sfr. ($96-$106), doubles 196 to 220 Sfr. ($139-$156), breakfast included
* Facilities: Restaurant
* Credit Cards: All
* Disabled: One room, #410
* Closed: December 24-30
* Parking: Purchase on-street permit from hotel for 4 Sfr. ($2.85)
* Other: Three kilometers from train station
* Hotel Rating: Average 11/20
Just inside the front door of the Rössligump is a picture of the neon sign at Joe's Stone Crabs, for decades a hugely popular Miami Beach restaurant. The hotel's young owner once worked there and the picture is the visitor's first clue that the Rössligump is different. After all, there are hundreds of Hotels Rössli in Switzerland but only one Rössligump (horse jump). The fact that it is not your orthodox Swiss hotel, and that it offers double rooms for substantially less than $100, are just two of the reasons we were intrigued by this friendly little inn. Another is that owner, Rene Jungreithmeier, a beer connoisseur, stocks more than 20 varieties of the stuff, including one of our favorites, the Czech beer Budvar, on draught. When we were there he was touting a new offering, Qullfrisch, from an old Appenzell brewery.
Guestrooms are rather plain but comfortable and exceptionally clean. Ask for Number 301, a corner double with exposed beams, a slanting ceiling with skylights and a small kitchen.
The hotel's lively stube is a gathering place for the young and hip of the neighborhood and the restaurant is a cheery place that puts a visitor immediately at ease. The day we were there, four women, none under 65, passed the afternoon playing cards.
The welcome at Rössligump is exceptionally friendly. The place is a little mod and the staff is young but we think you'll be captivated by the enthusiasm and friendliness.
• Address: Hotel Rössligump, Zürcherstrasse 62, CH-9000 St. Gallen
* Phone: 071/28 32 33
* Location: Five minutes by public transport from the center
* Rooms: 20 total including 6 small suites, 1 cottage
* Proprietor: Ren Jungreithmeier
* Prices: Singles 55 to 90 Sfr. ($39-$64), doubles 90 to 150 Sfr. ($64-$106), including breakfast
* Facilities: Gemütlich restaurant, no elevator
* Credit Cards: No
* Disabled: Not suitable
* Closed: Never
* Parking: Some spaces for guests plus on-street
* Hotel Rating: Average 8/20
Hotel zur Linde
This country hotel in the village of Teufen, in the hills 8 kilometers above St. Gallen, caters to families. The atmosphere is homey and you'll get a bit more for your money than in St. Gallen. The Linde's best features are its inviting restaurant and pretty garden and grounds.
• Address: Hotel zur Linde CH-9053 Teufen
* Phone: 071/33 28 22
* Fax: 071/33 41 20
* Location: In Teufen, eight km from St. Gallen
* Rooms: 14 total, 8 doubles, 6 singles, including breakfast
* Proprietor: Hans Jakob & Julian Lanker-Popp
* Prices: Singles 85 Sfr. ($60), doubles 150 to 170 Sfr. ($106-$121), including breakfast
* Facilities: Garden restaurant, kids play area
* Credit Cards: All
* Disabled: Not suitable
* Closed: Three weeks in July
* Parking: Ample
* Other: Caters to families
* Hotel Rating: Average 10/20
St. Gallen Restaurants
Our best St. Gallen meal was dinner at the Einstein. The restaurant, which is on the hotel's top floor, is quite romantic at sunset. And, with candlelight flickering off the angled ceilings and polished old timbers, it's also a lovely place later in the evening. Unfortunately, we misplaced our notes on the meal so cannot report in detail on our experience other than to say the food was traditional, tasty and rather formally presented.
• Hotel Einstein Berneggstrasse 2, phone 071/20 00 33, fax 071/23 54 74. Major cards. Moderate to Expensive.
* Rating: Above Average 13/15
You'll get generous portions of simple, hearty food in the center of the old town at Restaurant Anker, one of St. Gallen's several "first floor" restaurants. The small, low-ceilinged room, one flight up from the street, has no more than eight plain wooden tables.
A daily special of Hungarian goulash (chunks of beef in very rich reduction sauce), spätzle and sautéed carrots was just fair. More to our liking, however, was a juicy St. Gallen bratwurst, with onion sauce and rösti.
We were also served terrific rolls, called Brüli. With a hard crust and chewy, spongy interior they challenge San Francisco's famous sourdough bread.
• Restaurant Anker, Schmiedgasse 20, phone 071/22 36 03. Closed Sundays. Inexpensive.
* Rating: Average 8/20
Restaurant Schössli is another "first floor" restaurant though its cuisine has higher aspirations and prices than the Ankers.
Arriving without a reservation, we were first offered wine and cheese from a spread arranged on a table in the entry. But, anxious for dinner, we asked to be seated right away.
We were put in a room with red tile floors, salmon colored table cloths, candles, live plants and three ornate chandeliers, probably of Venetian glass.
The meal began with a small "gift of the house" course of crescent shaped puff pastries with a ham stuffing.
Gurken Salat "Thailander Art " (8.50 Sfr./$6) consisted of cucumbers marinated in white vinegar and slices of red pepper. Too pickly for our taste.
One main course of Perlhunbrusten (guinea fowl, 32 Sfr./$23) served on a bed of small lentil beans, diced zucchini, carrots, broccoli and something called "yellow carrot," was delicious. The portion of the bird served was the breast, sliced, and one leg. Guinea fowl white meat is darker and moister than chicken breast.
Schweinfilet (pork steak, 29 Sfr./$21) came stuffed with pine nuts, dried apricot, a kind of seed (possibly pumpkin) and accompanied by spinach, carrots, cauliflower and slivers of zucchini. Scalloped potatoes, covered with cheese then breaded and broiled, were not fully cooked.
Half a liter of Dôle (red) from Valais cost 18 Sfr. ($13)
From a cart, we chose small portions of various cheeses for dessert.
It was a fairly satisfying dining experience but, at 100 Sfr. ($71) for two, sans beverages, somewhat overpriced. The offer of wine and cheese at entry is an upmarket embellishment we've noticed lately in other European restaurants, but the Schössli's practice of serving butter in individual, prepackaged, plastic tubs can only be described as tacky.
Though it does not influence our evaluation, some might like to know that our waitress spoke no English. The person who seated us did, however.
• Restaurant Schössli am Spisetor Zeughausgasse 17, phone 071/22 12 56. Closed Saturdays and Sundays. Major cards. Moderate to Expensive.
* Rating: Average 11/20
For a beer, snack or a very simple meal in the center of town try the Marktplatz. It is a comfortable sort of place - though not rustic - where locals come to idle over coffee or a beer. For 1/3 of a liter of Gallusbräu we paid 3.30 sfr./$2.35. We saw customers reading the restaurant's newspapers, writing letters and one man even had his checkbook out and appeared to be paying bills.
• Restaurant Marktplatz Neugasse 2, phone 071/22 36 41. Inexpensive.
St. Gallen Info
Altitude: 2,211 feet
Approximate Distances From
* Berlin 876 km 546 miles
* Geneva 368 km 229 miles
* Interlaken 257 km 160 miles
* Lugano 240 km 150 miles
* Milan 377 km 235 miles
* Munich 264 km 164 miles
* St Moritz 171 km 107 miles
* Vienna 814 km 507 miles
* Zürich 90 km 56 miles
* Bahnhofplatz 1a,
* CH-9001 St Gallen, Switzerland
* Telephone: 071/22 62 62
* Fax: 071/23 43 04
612 - The Celtic missionary Gall builds his hermitage in the Steinach Valley. In 720, the Abbey is founded on the spot where Gall died.
9th/10th Century - The Golden Age. St Gallen becomes a center of western learning and culture. its famous manuscripts - many preserved to this day in the Abbey Library - are created in the St Gallen scriptorium.
926 - Invasion of the Magyars. Construction of the first wall around the abbey principality.
14th & 15th Century - Linen industry and linen trade flourish.
1551 - Construction of the abbey library.
1803 - St Gallen becomes the capital of the newly founded canton of the same name.
End 19th Century - Textile industry at its zenith.
St. Gallen Notes
• St Gallen's most famous export item is St Gall Sausage. Exactly 66, 234 of them were consumed at the All-Swiss Wrestling Festival in 1980. Laid end to end, this would correspond to a sausage measuring 13 km or 8.1 mi long.
• The continent's first soccer club was FC St. Gallen founded in 1879.
• Switzerland's first indoor swimming pool opened in St. Gallen in 1913.
• Switzerland's first radiology institute opened in St Gallen in 1897.
In St. Gallen Don't Miss...
• The Textile Museum Vadianstrasse 2, open Mon-Fri 1000-1200 and 1400-1700, open Saturdays April 1-October 31.
• The Abbey's Cathedral and Library. Cathedral open weekdays 0900-1800, Sundays 1215-1730. Library open mornings and afternoons. Closed on Sundays and Mondays during winter and all of November.
• The Remarkable Oriels: House of the Pelican, Schmiedgasse 15; House of Strength, Schmiedgasse 21; Camel Oriel, Spisergasse 22; House of the Deep Cellar, Hinterlauben 10; House of the Swan, Kugelgasse 10; House of the Ball, Kugelgasse 8
Embroidery and Fabric Shops
• Boutique Bambola, Brühlgasse 35, phone 071/23 70 23
• Saphir Stickereien, Bleichenstrasse 9, phone 071/23 62 63, fax 071/23 11 46