Carolina: Cruising Past 70: 4 Small Towns in Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein that Are Truly Off-the-Beaten-Path

Thursday, December 6, 2018

4 Small Towns in Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein that Are Truly Off-the-Beaten-Path

What makes a place off-the-beaten-path? Is it the small population, a less developed economy, little infrastructure or all of these combined, rendering it unattractive to the general tourist? Or, because of all these things, the relative inaccessibility makes it literally off-the-beaten-path? The most fitting description, I think, is that it is a place whose true worth is yet to be discovered by many. Such is the secret behind these three towns we visited from our base that is also off-the-beaten-path.

Oberstaufen, Germany

cemetery at Steilbus in Oberstaufen

the church in downtown Oberstaufen
We chose Oberstaufen because it is one of the resorts offered by Diamond Resorts International, one of our timeshares, midway between Innsbruck and Paris. A haven for hikers in summer and skiers in winter, Oberstaufen is only 2,595 feet in average elevation but it has the unique topography of undulating hills that create bowls of lush greenery punctuated by clusters of homes and a small and quaint downtown area for just over 7,000 residents.

We stayed in a Mondi-Holiday Hotel, a frequently awarded resort chain. Our chalet is a one-bedroom unit that felt very much like home so, unlike Innsbruck, I was motivated to shop at the local grocer and cook some hot meals. We also spent a lot of time at the Wellness Center for fitness routines, spa therapies (dry or infrared sauna, steam or dampfbath), and swims at heated pools and tubs. There are also table tennis, billiards, and bowling facilities. We loved the great Italian restaurant on site, too. From this lovely base, we discovered three other off-the-beaten-path towns in three day-trips.

St. Gallen, Switzerland

all red at the Red Square in St. Gallen
balconies in St. Gallen

It took us about two hours on the train to get to St. Gallen, Switzerland, close to the border. We had very low expectations. Basically, we just wanted to tick off Switzerland as another country we had visited together. On the way to the Old Town, a few blocks that were all carpeted red greeted us. It was called Red Square!

At the Old Town Center, the Tourist Information Center told us that there are 111 balconies that adorn the buildings around the city of over 75,000. We chanced upon six of them just around the Old Town. And then they told us the entire Abbey of St. Gallen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Abbey's Cathedral is gorgeous but it is the Abbey Library that will take your breath away. It put us back in pre-medieval times when books were treated like gold. The ceiling is one of a kind, not just painted, but a three-dimensional work of art. The shelves are of heavy wood and they open up to reveal more secrets behind. And the lovely old floor had to be protected by soft cloth booties we had to wear!  St. Gallen was from Ireland, a true cultural and spiritual leader in the 900s. He was credited with spreading his influence into the heathen Germany of the time.

the great Abbey Library of St. Gallen

sculptures at the Old Town Walk in Vaduz
Vaduz, Lichtenstein

The capital of Lichentenstein has just under 6,000 in population. In fact, the whole country has only 35,000 people! It is the 6th smallest country in the world. Vaduz has a lively tourist industry, however, despite being one of the very few capital cities in the world without an airport or railway station. We reached it by boarding a train to Feldkirch, Austria and then getting on Bus 11 to Vaduz totaling two and a half hours travel time.

The Old Town Square is a pedestrian area walkable in just a couple of hours, from the Cathedral on one end to the Government Building, the gorgeous Parliament edifice, and the Rathaus (City Hall) at the other end. The whole walk is strewn with interesting sculptures that will capture your fancy, including giant ladies’ strappy shoes. The ruler of the country, a young prince, lives up in the castle on the hill that looks over the entire city. Just outside the tourist area, we found an excellent restaurant patronized by Lichtensteiners. We found out that their cuisine is a great mix of German and French.

Uberlingen, Germany

windows of Hotel Ludwig

many views of Bodensee
On our return trip from Vaduz, we missed the bus going to Mondi-Holiday and got stranded at the bus station for an hour. That’s where we met Dieter and Inge. The following day we saw them again when we went to Steibus, a cluster of homes up the hill across from downtown. The windows of the Hotel Ludwig in town are quite artsy and unique. Just behind the hotel is a Wonmobile (RV) campground. Well, it turned out that the couple owned a unit at the building across from the park. They invited us in for drinks and pretzels. During the merriment that ensued, despite Bill’s broken German and Dieter’s broken English, and Inge’s and my inability to participate often, they invited us to their home in Uberlingen.

The next day was our last in Germany and we had planned on packing and going to the Wellness Center again. Instead, we accepted the invitation and took a two-hour train ride to where Dieter and Inge live.  Uberlingen is on the northern shore of Lake Constance or Bodensee (see headline photo). With a population of 22,000, it is the second largest, after Friedrichshafen, in the Bodensee district. The lake is huge and the city is a resort town that has attracted many retirees and tourists. A lot of preparations are being done for the 2020 Garden Show.

part of the Old Wall of Uberlingen

the basilica among the vineyards on Bodensee
Dieter and Inge treated us to brunch of German sausages, liverwurst, several kinds of cheese, and bread at their lovely maisonette overlooking the lake. Then they walked us through the City Garden up to the Gazebo where we had a great view of the city and the lake. We continued walking to see the oldest section of town, including parts of the Wall that protected the city when the Swedish invaded. It is a good thing that much of the city was spared during those wars. Then Dieter took one of his Jaguars and drove us up a hill to the beautiful Basilica among the vineyards. And that was not the end of it because he drove us up another hill to the Meersburg Castle. From both these vantage points there are even more beautiful views of Bodensee, the grand lake. 

There are many treasures one can find in places that are truly off-the-beaten-path. And sometimes those gems even include lovely people with whom language barriers cannot pose even the tiniest hindrance. 

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