Rapperswil Castle sits at the top of a hill at the point of town and has been reconstructed several times since its initial foundation in the 12th century. // © 2018 Ben McBee
Feature image (above): Much of Rapperswil’s medieval charm survives and its downtown area is a protected historical landmark. // © 2018 Ben McBee
It was a warm summer day in Zurich, and the sun was shining down on Limmat River, imbuing it with a deep turquoise hue. My partner and I strolled along its banks, taking in the large white swans zipping to and fro and the Romanesque-style, dual-towered Grossmunster church on the opposite side. Our feet felt sore from several days of walking the cobblestone streets of Switzerland’s largest city, but we were relieved to know that we would soon be traveling by water.
Zurich is renowned for its efficient and easy-to-use public transportation system, which — thankfully for travelers eager to set sail on Lake Zurich — extends far beyond the city limits and includes boat travel. Fares are based on the number of zones crossed during a period of time, regardless of the mode of transportation.
At the Burkliplatz station, located where the Limmat flows into the lake, riders can transition seamlessly from tram to boat and choose from a variety of voyage options provided by Lake Zurich Navigation Company, a member of the Zurich Transport Network. There are several voyage lengths, from 90 minutes roundtrip to full-day outings, which last around 7.5 hours. The fare is flexible: With a boat ticket, commuters can ride the train back if so desired.
We opted for the trip to Rapperswil, the charming “town of roses” at Lake Zurich’s southeastern terminus. The first leg of the journey across the lake would take just over two hours. After purchasing our tickets from a self-service kiosk, we lined up on the dock and boarded the boat.
Each boat has first- and second-class seating sections, and food and beverages can be purchased from the kitchen. The hot temperatures outside had me craving a brew, so I returned to my seat with a bottle of local Zuri-Hell beer in hand.
We made intermittent stops at lakeside towns, dropping off passengers and picking up more, but my eyes were fixed on the gorgeous scenery. Pastel-colored houses and rowed vineyards dotted the hillsides. Off in the distance, the Alps were mostly covered by moody, dark clouds.
Although the beautiful landscape is incentive enough to travel by boat, Lake Zurich Navigation Company also offers a wide array of entertaining “Dream Cruises.” Some highlight food, such as the Cheese Fondue Cruise, while others, such as the German Hits Cruise, will have you dancing all night long. In addition, the company offers celebratory voyages for Easter and New Year’s Eve.
After waving goodbye to one last group of departures, the boat turned toward our final destination. As we neared the dock, we passed Ufenau, a monastery island that’s home to several medieval churches as well as an inn and a restaurant. Once renovation to the structures is completed in May 2018, boats will once again land on its forested banks.
At last, the castle on the hill above Rapperswil came into focus on the horizon. The town was abuzz with tourists, with some choosing to dine at its many street-side cafes and others electing to soak their feet in the refreshing lake. To quell our rumbling hunger, we ended up at a restaurant called Marco’s Pasta Bar that served a rich spaghetti alla carbonara and mouthwatering pesto rigatoni.
Just up the street, we came across Stadtpfarrkirche St. Johann, a Catholic church that overlooks the city. Its front doors were wide open, and a large gathering of extravagantly dressed guests were cheering for a newly married couple. We eagerly joined in.
Visitors will find the best perspective of the surrounding vista at Rapperswil Castle. To the south, we could see the wooden pedestrian bridge that extends to the far shore, the longest of its kind in Switzerland. On the northern side of the ridge, children squealed with joy at a public swimming area, and a herd of fallow deer grazed in a well-tended park nearby. The animals honor the legend of the city’s foundation, which tells a story of a duchess convincing her lord to call off his hunt. Out of gratitude, a doe purportedly then allowed the lady to touch its dappled coat, considered a sign of God that inspired the creation of the village.
The peninsula remains a holy place; the Capuchin Friary is still home to practicing brothers and nuns, but is open to visitors. Beside it resides the historic Rosengarten, one of four main garden plots throughout the town. From 1913 on, the local tourism bureau emphasized the rose blossom as its symbol — emblazoning the coat of arms with crimson blooms — and funded several beautification projects. Rapperswil is home to the first rose garden for the visually impaired, with Braille plaques marking each bed, and in 1999, the township was designated the international “Centre of Fragrant Roses.”
Before boarding the boat that would take us back to Zurich, we made sure to smell some of those famous roses along the way.