St Gallen was one of the first foreign cities I visited. 15 years old and not a care in the world. Also, more interested in shopping than nature and architecture. Naturally, I missed most of what this Swiss gem has to offer.

Now, decades later, it is time for another look. A grown-up look. I’m here for a convent. Not to move in, mind. Just a visit. See, there is the exceptionally beautiful St Gallen Cathedral and, what is possibly the world’s most beautiful library! Can hardly wait.

But there’s more! On the way from the railway station, I must have taken the most interesting route, because I stumble upon Red Square:

Pretty sure this colourful plaza wasn’t here last time I was in town. Even teenage me would have noticed sofas, chairs, tables – all covered in bright red carpet. The street is painted red, too. In the Bleichi business district, this outdoor lounge is designed by Pipilotti Rist (how delightful is that name!) and Carlos Martinez. It’s all about relaxing and being awed.

Further along, I walk through narrow cobbled streets – here’s Schmiedgasse, Blacksmith’s Alley:

Notice the covered balcony? There’s more where that comes from. Much more.

Enclosed covered wooden balconies. Medieval guild signs. Enclosed balconies AND guild signs…

Curious, crooked facades with devilish details –

– inclines

– random art

I pass several chocolate boutiques and Fondue Beizli, all so quintessentially Swiss. Rather pleased with myself for summoning enough willpower to just walk past the first one. And rather sad I didn’t have time for the second – think Appenzeller cheese fondue, and bread coming right out of the oven before my very eyes, as I step in for the briefest of looks.

Squares and fountains –

This fountain is in the Abbey grounds –

– where students hang out on temperate summer evenings like today.

And finally, the famed 8th century abbey,

with St Gallen Cathedral.

St Gallen Cathedral, UNESCO, Switzerland

In the unassuming white building next door, is the library. Here, you’ll find 1200 years of unceasing book collecting, one of the world’s most important stacks. It is possibly the most beautiful ancient library I’ve seen, though competition is fierce: Pannonhalma Archabbey near Györ, John Ryland’s Library in Manchester, The Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin – deliciously, gothically, gorgeous all. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed at the Abbey Library of St Gall (have a look here for pics.)

UNESCO has this to say:

The Convent of St Gall, a perfect example of a great Carolingian monastery, was, from the 8th century to its secularization in 1805, one of the most important in Europe. Its library is one of the richest and oldest in the world and contains precious manuscripts such as the earliest-known architectural plan drawn on parchment. From 1755 to 1768, the conventual area was rebuilt in Baroque style. The cathedral and the library are the main features of this remarkable architectural complex, reflecting 12 centuries of continuous activity.

St Gallen has a lot more to offer than I expected. Not that I did not expect it – just hadn’t thought much about it, since I was in town primarily to look at the abbey. Give yourself a night or two here. Then head out for a hike in the Appenzeller Alps, just next door. You’ll be glad you did.


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Abbey of St Gall is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are more heritage sites around the world.