Malaysian visits the 'smallest city in Switzerland' and came back with big, big memories

A view of the small lake from the castle. — Photos: DENNIS TAN

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The small Central European country of Switzerland has been a favourite among tourists since the 19th century. In 2019, it attracted some 12 million visitors, before Covid-19 struck.

Group tours itineraries invariably include Zurich, Lucerne and Interlaken. But those who tire of walking past crowds of people should venture into off-the-beaten treks to find gems that more authentically portray Swiss life and culture. One such place is Werdenberg, dubbed the “oldest timber-frame settlement”, and the “smallest city in Switzerland”.

The first of my dozen extensive trips to Switzerland was in 1976 when I took a 90-minute train ride from Zurich to Buchs, tucked away in the north-eastern corner of the country, to visit Martin who had been introduced to me by a friend in Singapore.

Martin’s friend, Andreas Eggenberger, was a retired professional photographer and he was the one who showed me one of his photographs of Werdenberg. I was intrigued by the place and quickly made my way there.

Martin’s apartment was conveniently located opposite Buchs Railway Station, at the crossroads of Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria.

The entrance to the village.The entrance to the village.

From there, it was a short and easy 1.5km walk along the shopping street to the end of town. I then crossed the road and was mesmerised by the view: A lake in the foreground, a row of medieval houses across the lake, a fairytale castle (with an onion dome) on the hilltop, and the majestic Austrian Alps in the background. All these formed a veritable paradisaic scene for a keen photographer.

At the entrance of the tiny village square, I was greeted by a small cluster of carefully-preserved, centuries-old houses that were either two or three storeys high, branching off along two lanes. The houses on the left lane lined the lake while those on the right lead up a slope to the castle. Strict planning controls have protected the facades and features of the buildings, making it possible to feel like one is “stepping back in time”.

One of the houses at Werdenberg.One of the houses at Werdenberg.

The left-corner three-storey building was particularly impressive with a huge wall painting of a medieval knight and an arched-door (typically found in the Canton of Graubunden). Next to that was a wooden house with exposed columns resting on stone blocks, festooned with window flower boxes and an old cart at the front. The other houses had their own unique colour and style, and were built with an eclectic mixture of arches, half-timber, shutter windows, wooden shingles and decorations.

Charmed by the beauty, I paused at each house for several moments before making my way up to the castle which was built around 1230 by Count Rudolf 1 of Montfort from the Middle Ages. The castle is open to visitors and has a large collection of old armoury, furniture, paintings, costumes, and crockery. Each storey is dedicated to a particular era – the period of the Lords, the Glaus Bailiffs and the Hilti Family.

From the windows, I admired the panoramic views of the houses dotted along Buchs, the lake below and the Alps.

After descending from the castle by a path skirting a vineyard, I marvelled at the houses by the lake. I walked around the small, placid lake shared with swans, ducks and strollers alike, before taking a slow stroll back to Martin’s. I remember reflecting on the truly enjoyable and unforgettable afternoon I had spent at Werdenberg, where time had almost stood still.From that first visit, you could say that I was truly smitten by the place and have not been able to resist the allure of Werdenberg since then. I have revisited it more than 10 times and have included it in my “free itineraries” that I created for friends. I must have photographed almost every house there and have composed pictures from every possible vista and angle. During my last visit in 2017, I was glad to see a group of schoolchildren from Germany admiring the village.

Word has certainly spread of its beauty, to the extent that the castle now hosts a few concerts every year, while a small shop and cafe at the right-corner has opened for business.

CAN USEPanoramic view of the Alps from the castle.CAN USEPanoramic view of the Alps from the castle.

Over the years, I have discovered more and more nearby gems like Sargans, Appenzell (with its unique architecture and pastoral life), Wildhaus, Chur (a medieval town square), Arosa, Davos, Klosters (Prince Charles’ favourite ski resort, reportedly), Mainefeld (of Heidi fame), St Gallen (with it world-famous Abbey Library) and Vaduz (the capital of neighbouring country, Liechtenstein).

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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