Friday, May 15, 2015

Stein am Rhein, Switzerland: Medieval magic, colorful facades and oriels

Half timbered houses, frescoed facades and oriels make Stein am Rhein a picturesque treasure  (wikipedia)
STEIN AM RHEIN,SWITZERLAND All too often travelers become so wrapped up in checking cities, attractions and sights off their list that they fail to achieve their primary reason for traveling…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.” 

 “Hidden treasures” are the essence of travel and Stein am Rhein, Switzerland is one of those “treasures.”

Quaint narrow streets of Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
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, 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 the finest half-timbered houses in Switzerland
Stein am Rhein is famous for its bay windows and intricately painted buildings  (wikipedia)
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 storybook streets.  In some places, the layers of time have elevated the streets enough to even force strollers to duck beneath those bay windows to walk under them.

Aerial view of Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
Situated along the shores of the Rhine, just a short distance from the place where Lake Constance spills into the river on it 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.  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.

St. George's Abbey on the shores of the Rhine, Stein am Rhein, Switzerland  (wikipedia)
Abrosius, 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 3,000, Stein am Rhein is only twice the size it was during the 1800s.    

Hohenklingen Castle on a hill overlooking the village (
Adventurous travelers can walk up to the Castle of Hohenklingen, a 13th century fortress overlooking the city where they can see the Lake of Constance and the Alps when weather permits.

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.

Stein am Rhein is a great place for a stroll  (wikipedia)

With its Lilliputian size, Stein am Rhein is built on a human scale.  It is a charming place for walking and exploration.  Most people begin their strolls at the 16th century Town Hall, pausing frequently to admire the frescoes and oriels before stopping at a café along the way to simply 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 across the bridge which spans the Rhine.  Bike rentals are available at a kiosk at the railway station.  For 32 Swiss francs a day 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.
Rhine Falls near Stein am Rhein is the largest waterfall in Europe  (wikipedia)
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 can be likened to Niagara Falls 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 known throughout the world as one of the finest of its kind.  Featuring the work of artists such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Miro and Klee to name a few, the Reinhart Collection is displayed in a private residence rather than a museum.  Just 17-miles from Stein am Rhein, Winterthur is a convenient 40-minute train ride to the south with hourly service throughout the day.
Am Romerholz, home of the Oskar Reinhart art collection in Winterthur, near Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
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.