Advent (20)

Tour de suisse (de l’est) today!

Goodness, it must be colder than I thought – I had to scrape a lot of ice off my car this morning to be able to go anywhere, and quite a long round trip was planned for today and tomorrow… despite all the traffic news of delays and slow-moving traffic in the more western parts of the country, everything seemed quiet and calm. Driving alongside the lake at St. Gallen was impressive – the lake lying very deep, dark and cold below the road, nothing moving at all, and a fairly clear, if monochromatic, view across to Austria and Germany. There wasn’t even more snow than at home, although the altitude is a good 300m higher above sea level than we are. Although the wind picked up as I drove down the Rhine valley and I adjusted my speed due to the side winds, there still only seemed to be a thin, patchy layer of snow on the ground as well as the surrounding mountains. The Rhine valley is pretty narrow, with Austrian mountains along the east and the back of the Säntis range on the other side and the high mountains do loom over the valley somewhat. I’ve never actually counted the ruined forts that trickle all the way along, perched on rocky outcrops or small hills at regular intervals, but there must have been a lot of history going on – most of them date from around the 12th century and are very typical: a heavy stone tower with an entrance several metres above the ground, which is usually all that is left. Way back when, there would have been a wooden stairway up to the high entrance, easily destroyed if the fort was under siege, and up on the top of the stone tower there would be a one or two storied wooden building with openings/windows all the way round and a sloping roof, a great lookout if anyone was considering contesting any of the land boundaries! Within the stone walls, often several metres thick, was a safe place to store valuable food or other goods and it was probably a pretty grim prison if necessary, too…

The inside of the tower was separated into several wooden floors with a wooden stairway to the top, where the minor nobleman and his family would live, along with their servants and guard. This type of castle is far more traditional in eastern Switzerland than the type we know from Britain or other countries where a burgh was built on a piece of higher ground with battlements all around it, an inner tower/solar, keeps and gatehouses, access for horsemen and so on, and it was probably a lot less grand, too, even for the boss. Of course, because of the constant threats and shifts in power, these forts did burn down and change hands fairly often, so were rebuilt several times as a rule, always on the old stone base, but eventually, as Switzerland became a very united and intensely neutral federation, things calmed down and the forts fell into rack and ruin. One very nice one was  well-maintained and extended, and features some elegant rooms from the 18th century in particular, when the town that had grown around it became the capital of its canton (actually some distance from the Rhine valley to the north):

 The Rhine valley ends where several valleys come together, although the Rhine has come from further up one of them. At this point, things open up and there is more of a panorama feeling, with the mountains surrounding this junction in a more protective, rather than threatening way. This is true Heidiland, where the famous Johanna Spyri story really took place – Heidi’s aunt was working at the big spa in Bad Ragaz, still famous for being one of the most luxurious in the world, especially after a recent refurbishment.


Although it’s actually a village, there are posh hotels, many up-market shops, a very fancy golf course and some beautiful houses tucked in around the spa, with easy access to the local wine-growing area around Jenins, another historic spa at Bad Pfäfers and so on. Today, it was just as grey as everywhere else – except as I approached, the snow flurries started, with gritty snow snaking across the road surface and blowing all around.

After a brief errand, I had to drive onwards and upwards – literally, to a spot high above Lake Zurich, at about 1000m altitude. I didn’t even see the Walensee as I passed it, another lake which lies long and thin along the Linth valley, because the blizzard was so foggy and dense all the way. Thick snowflakes slowed any traffic down to half or less of the usual speed limit as it came down heavily. Fortunately, this is Switzerland, we all have winter tyres and with a little common sense, none of this is a problem! We allow a little more time and go wherever we need to, cosy up as long as the blizzard is on and hope that afterwards, it will look more like this…

 Maybe tomorrow!

6 thoughts on “Advent (20)

  1. You do have a wonderful way of making history come alive – I always imagine the lords of those ruined forts as robber barons demanding their toll from the merchants travelling up the Rhine, and vying with one another. They seem to have been a pretty bloodthirsty lot, even if some of them were princes of the church! And of course, there are the fairytale castles perched on their hills in Balzers and Vaduz, still inhabited and making very nice homes for their owners. Kathy, let me know when you’re coming to Bad Ragaz and if I’m there, we can go to the spa together.

  2. Goes back a long way, I think!! You are naturally also included in the invitation, since you will have to be Kathy’s guide! And we can make one big splash!

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