Quite small but fine, St. Gallen nestles against the flank of the Appenzell hills. Its actually ideal geographic location means that it is often left behind on the way to Appenzell for skiing or hiking. But this is a big mistake, because St. Gallen is worth a visit!
The St. Gallen Abbey District
The greatest attraction for tourists from all over the world is the St. Gallen Abbey District with it impressive twin towered Cathedral, and of course the ancient library with its unique exhibits. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A visit to the Abbey Library, the oldest library in Switzerland, with its magnificent baroque hall and the numerous artistic medieval manuscripts and illustrations is indeed one of the highlights of a visit to St. Gallen. And the cathedral is one of the last monumental monastery buildings of the Baroque period. But the city of Saint Gallus, which according to legend was founded by the Irish monk Gallus in 612, has much more to offer.
The city of oriels
Strolling through the alleys of the old town, you will discover richly decorated oriels on the medieval half-timbered houses. They tell stories of foreign countries, exotic fruits and at the same time reflect the history of the city during its heyday.
The city’s former wealth is based on the production of fine linen fabrics, which have been produced in the region since the Middle Ages. At that time linen was called “white gold”. The Trade with the precious products was flourishing and led the St. Gallen tradesmen to foreign countries all over the world.
What the merchants had seen there and their wealth that they had acquired through the lively trade were then displayed to the public coquettishly by means of elaborately carved oriel decorations. It even happened that one poked out his tongue at the neighbour in such decoration, following the motto: “I have something that you don’t have”.
Textile production and processing found their heyday in the “golden years of embroidery”. In the second half of the 19th century, hand-embroidered and later machine-embroidered fabrics were exported all over the world and brought the St. Gallen Embroideries a worldwide reputation. This prosperous period of St. Gallen Embroidery lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. The economic crisis and the two world wars marked the beginning of the bitter decline of this delicate industry.
Only little is left of the former textile heyday. Today, only a few companies concentrate on exclusive niche products, textile flower ornaments for the Haute Couture, and innovative functional textiles for the medical and aerospace industries. But even today, St. Gallen Embroidery is appreciated by the high society. It adorns celebrities such as Pippa Middleton, Cameron Diaz and Michelle Obama.
The Textile Museum in St. Gallen offers an exciting insight into the textile history of this small town at the foot of the Alpstein Mountains, which has brought home the scent of the big, wide world over the centuries.
… and you can still smell it in the alleys of St. Gallen:
The St. Gallen Biber
I follow the scent and find myself standing in front of Confiserie Roggwiler in Multergasse.
It smells of exotic spices – cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and aniseed. Artfully decorated St. Gallen Biber, that’s the name of the gingerbread-like spice pastry, are on display in the confectionery’s Christmas shop window, while one lets his hands and heart be warmed by hot tea in the welcoming old-fashioned tearoom behind the window.
The St. Gallen Biber first appeared in the 15th century. The fabric tradesmen brought home exotic spices from their travels, from which the sweet speciality was baked. At that time the pastry was called Bimenzelten, then Biberzelten, from which the names Biber or Biberli became common today. To this day, the manufacturing of this fine pastry has been constantly perfected and refined with a delicate almond kernel.
Owner Martin Schnyder is the master of the Biber in the Confisserie Roggwiler. He lets me have a sneak peek into his bakery.
I feel privileged as Martin Schnyder invites me to assist him to get an impression of how elaborate the production of the spice pastry is. This is still real handmade work. In the end, I am a little proud of myself: My first homemade St. Gallen Biber is quite presentable. I save it for dessert!
The St. Gallen Bratwurst
But first, I’m longing for something more hearty. As soon as I’m standing on the alley outside again, the smell of Bratwurst is attracting me. As with the Biber, it was the spices from all over the world that laid the foundation for the triumph of the Bratwurst in St. Gallen.
Their Bratwurst is sacred to the people of St. Gallen. Sorry, dear vegetarians, listen out a minute. In my opinion, a visit to St. Gallen without having eaten a Bratwurst is not a proper visit to St. Gallen. Bratwurst is a must, it’s a cultural asset! The white Bratwurst comes in three different sizes: the St. Gallen Bratwurst, which is the smallest (approx. 110g), the Olma Bratwurst, which is the medium-sized Bratwurst (approx. 160g) and the St. Gallen Kinderfest-Bratwurst, which is the largest Bratwurst (approx. 220g).
Bratwurst with Bürli bread – what else!
Traditionally the St. Gallen Bratwurst is enjoyed with a St. Gallen Bürli bread – what else – and definitely WITHOUT mustard. Only those who want to make themselves completely disliked by the people of St. Gallen, or who want to come out as ignorant, slap mustard on their Bratwurst. But never mind! Tourists will not be disciplined for that.
St. Galler Beer
The matching drink for a St. Gallen Bratwurst is also produced in St. Gallen. More precisely, in the Schützengarten brewery, the oldest brewery in Switzerland. Also here the various spices were used at that time. You can find out for yourself which beer goes best with Bratwurst in the brewery with its attached beer bottle museum during a beer tasting with beer sommelier Pia Zweifel.
However, I am not to be questioned about this. I am a real philistine when it comes to beer. By the way, St. Gallen also has good wine to offer and, please forgive me this faux pas, I would personally prefer a glass of wine with Bratwurst. But water does too!
On the other hand, however, I am certainly happy with beer in fondue. Yes, indeed: in fondue! But more about that later.
The Christmas Star City
If you are lucky enough to come to St.Gallen during the Christmas season, you should definitely visit the Christmas market in the early evening under the 700 stars that illuminate the city and float through the alleys. St. Gallen is pretty festive and romantic at this time of year. The Christmas atmosphere in the city is contagious. Children’s eyes shine as they pull the string of the giant Jumping Jack that decorates the facade of the Zolli Bolli toy shop at this time of year. Many elderly people from St. Gallen sneak a secret tear away because they remember their own childhood, how they stood there and pulled the rope with determination. Suddenly it’s there again, the delightful tingling feeling from the childhood days, the joyful excitement – soon, it’ s Christmas.
Fondue with beer
Warm in the heart and cool outside from the winter wind, the cosy parlour of the legendary “Restaurant National”, also called ” Golden Leuen” or simply “Naz” at Schmiedgasse 30 is the place to enjoy a Fondue. The tables in the parlour are well filled and it smells of cheese.
Here, too, St. Gallen beer is served and it is not only filled into the glasses of the numerous guests, but along with bacon and mushrooms in the delicious Fondue. It tastes three times as good in convivial company – but I’m not exaggerating when I say that this fondue is the best I’ve ever had.
If you only pass St. Gallen on the way through, you really have missed something. St. Gallen is culinary and historically fantastic and you can hardly escape its small-town charm.
Don’t just drive through, St. Gallen is far too good for that! Stop, linger and embark on a voyage of discovery through the romantic alleys of the city.
Further tips for a city trip to St.Gallen:
I was staying at the Hotel Einstein. The location in the city centre is ideal for exploring the city and the breakfast buffet is unparalleled. My tip: book your room to the front, towards the city.
St. Gallen Biber is available at Confiserie Roggwiler, Multerergasse 17
St. Gallen bratwurst with Bürli bread is available at the Gemperli butcher’s shop on Schmiedgasse 34
In the evening you can enjoy a fondue in the restaurant Naz at Schmiedgasse 30. One should reserve a table here in advance. Tel: +41 71 222 02 62
I warmly recommend that you join a guided city tour. Otherwise many exciting details remain unnoticed.
You can find more information here: Guided City Tours
The north-eastern part of Switzerland at Lake Constance and around the city of St. Gallen offers a lot to see and experience at any time of year and in all Weather conditions. This is my home region. It is particularly close to my heart. Let yourself be infected by the beauty and diversity of my homeland. If you liked this past, please check our my other posts about Switzerland
Disclosure: I was invited to this research trip by St. Gallen-Bodensee Tourismus. My opinion remains unaffected.