03: Wattwil to Rapperswil

From Toggenburg to Zürich Lake

 

DIDIER HEUMANN, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS

 

We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live.

For this stage, here is the link:

https://fr.wikiloc.com/itineraires-randonnee/de-wattwil-a-rapperswil-par-la-via-jacobi-4-puis-par-la-via-jacobi-84-31794868

It is obviously not the case for all pilgrims to be comfortable with reading GPS and routes on a laptop, and there are still many places without an Internet connection. Therefore, you can find a book on Amazon that deals with this course. Click on the title of the book to open Amazon.

The Camino de Santiago. I. From Bodensee to Geneva on Via Jacobi 4

If you only want to consult lodging of the stage, go directly to the bottom of the page.

Today, the route, over hill and dale, gradually leaves Toggenburg and the canton of St Gallen to descend to Zürich Lake, in Rapperswil, both at the end of the lake and the canton of St Gallen. Tomorrow you’ll will leave to the canton of Schwyz on the other side of the lake.

“The Swiss milks his cow and lives happily,” said Victor Hugo. It’s true, Switzerland is a country of meadows, agricultural lands being better suited to being used as meadows than to being cultivated. The land is rarely rich and more than 75% of the agricultural area is made up of meadows and mountain pastures. So, here, the route most often winds its way through the middle of the cows, along beautiful farmhouses, most often of wood, under their protruding roofs, their tiny lattice windows and sometimes even painted or sculpted corbels. The farms are very often isolated, more rarely grouped together in small hamlets. You will cross this scenery in the first part of the stage until you reach Neuhaus in the plain. You will find local cheeses in the region, not only the classic Emmental, Appenzeller and Tilsit, but also stronger cheeses such as toggenburger, blues or the famous cheeses of the Alps (Alpkäse).

When the route arrives in Neuhaus, you enter a more populated area, where the villages almost touch each other until Rapperswil. The density is not so high, but the Rapperswil basin is quite populated, given the proximity to Zürich. A good solution is to leave the traditional via Jacobi 4 and descend to Zürich Lake, then follow the shore to Rapperswil. This bank, surprisingly, is absolutely calm, almost devoid of villages. Only the train passes by from time to time. When you reach Zürich Lake in Schmerikon, you have another option. You can decide not to go to Rapperswil and walk directly to Einsiedeln. But Rapperswil is of course worth a visit for its prestigious lakeside setting and old town. In a parallel stage, we will go directly from Schmerikon to Einsideln, bypassing Rapperswil. (stage4a).

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+539 meters/-749 meters) are quite pronounced, but the stage is very long. The exit from Wattwil to Heid is tough and slopes of more than 15%, even 25-30% are not uncommon. From there, Via Jacobi slopes down to Zürich Lake, along very acceptable ups and downs. If you take the lake variant in Neuhaus, the route flattens along the lake shore, after a small bump at the exit from Neuhaus, after crossing the motorway.

In this stage, the paved routes are significantly inferior to pathways:

  • Paved roads: 11.8 km
  • Dirt roads: 18.6 km

Sometimes, for reasons of logistics or housing possibilities, these stages mix routes operated on different days, having passed several times on Via Podiensis. From then on, the skies, the rain, or the seasons can vary. But, generally this is not the case, and in fact this does not change the description of the course.

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use.

For “real slopes”, reread the mileage manual on the home page.

 

 

We have divided the route into several sections, to facilitate visibility. For each section, the maps give the route, the slopes found on the route and the state of Via Jacobi.

Section 1: In the Laad valley high above Wattwil.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: just consider the profile, it is often more than 15%; nearly 400 meters of positive sloping over 4 kilometers.

 

Quickly, at a place called Enetbrugg, a pathway will climb toughly out of the city.

Along the way, you can see the large and former convent of the Capuchins, the Convent of Ste Marie des Anges, converted today into a “Farm of Hoper”. The first was founded in the 1980s in Brazil by a German Franciscan, Frei Hans Stapel. Thousands of young drug addicts have already been able to free themselves from the grip of narcotics and alcohol thanks to the rather unique experience of the “Fazendas da Esperança”.

The small pathway crosses an undergrowth, then emerges in a housing estate of new villas under the castle.
Then, it turns back into the undergrowth before joining the road that climbs to Unterlaad.
But for now, it does not follow the road, because there is the castle to see above. Then the course leaves the road and slopes up the coast above the neighborhoods of villas.
Iberg Castle, of which only the keep and a few walls remain, dates from the beginning of the XIIIth century. The climb is tough, more than 100 meters of elevation in just over 1 km. From up there, Wattwil wakes up at dawn.

The castle is closed, barricaded in the thick foliage. There is nothing to get excited about.

As there is nothing to visit and the castle is at the top of the hill, the pathway must slope downhill. It therefore descends a little to reach the road to Unterlaad, at a place called Schlosswis.
But, Via Jacobi does not stay long on the tarmac. A small lane climbs steeply through the undergrowth, where beeches, oaks and spruces line up.
Then, the space opens up again on the meadows, before finding and crossing the paved road above.
Then the pathway climbs back into the meadows for a new short turn.

You only have to turn around to see that the road bends in a zigzag and the shortcut points straight ahead. And toughly. In fact, you may have imagined when descending steeply to Wattwill the day before that you would have to climb just as much on the other side of the valley. This is the law of the Ways to Santiago.

Higher up, Via Jacobi then continues its yo-yo game with the road…

…to end on a flat place. Looking back, you’ll see Wattwil far below. You climbed 300 meters in just over 3 kilometers, sometimes with slopes greater than 20%. It’s steep, right?

Further afield, the paved road smoothens through Unterlaad, near the geraniums of the farms, most of which are tastefully covered with shingles. The farms are truly splendid in Eastern Switzerland, almost as opulent as in the canton of Bern.
Here, all the hamlets have the same ending: Unterlaad, Vorderlaad, Oberlaad. You walk in the valley where the little Laadbach stream flows. The road will cross these small hamlets, in fact isolated or grouped farms. Some residences are richer than others and bear inscriptions in Hochdeutsch script on the facades.
The road passes further near a restaurant where you can also sleep in straw, a very popular way of doing things in many places in German-speaking Switzerland.
It is also here that you run over one of the tributaries of the Laadbach, often invisible on the way. Then, the valley opens wide and the road continues to climb in the middle of isolated farms.
The end of the valley is just magnificent, in the smell of cattle that tickles your nostrils. On the horizon still stands the Säntis range.

Here, you will leave this incredible Toggenburg that you crossed for 2 days for the lake region to Rapperswil, at the end of Zürich Lake.

 

At the top, the slope is more pronounced and the horizon opens up largely. The roads here are only open to locals and the military. The yellow and black signs indicate the presence of military roads. You really have the feeling of crossing a pass, of changing country in a way.
Via Jacobi then arrives at Heid, 975 meters above sea level, with a welcome refreshment bar. Total happiness, right? You maybe suffered a lot beyond Wattwil, 613 meters above sea level.

Section 2: Downhill in the St Gallen meadows.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: : easier course, mostly downhill, with few excessive slopes.

 

Here is a very steep descent, with sometimes slopes well above 15% towards Hinterlaad. That there is a slope, just consider the concrete slabs that the locals have installed for the tractors and the soldiers for their tanks. Switzerland is a rich country, right?
At the bottom of the descent, Via Jacobi finds the Laadbach brook back.
The road heads to Hinterlaad, in the middle of the farms. The hamlets follow one another along the road, which then crosses Laad, no bigger than a pocket handkerchief, crosses the Laadbach brook twice.
Via Jacobi runs mainly on paved roads, descends to cross the Schwändibach brook, passes through a military zone, then arrives near a cross planted at a crossroads, not far from a military camp.
Later on, you’ll approach a crossroads. Your route takes the paved road to the right which climbs towards Oberricken/Walde.
It is a wide road that climbs steeply through meadows, under maples and spruces, towards the top of the hill.
At the top of the short climb, the road passes among Braunvieh cows to the rare farms of Oberricken. The people here are so proud of their part of the country that they also emblazoned their farms. Here you are still almost 2 hours walk to St Gallenkappel.
Beyond Oberricken the road descends through meadows to the village of Walde.
Shortly after, you can continue on the road, but it is better to take the small stony pathway that slopes down through the meadows towards the undergrowth.
It is a small wood where hardwoods and spruces coexist. Here, great generosity, there is even a place to make a fire. Swiss Germans have a serious sense of goodwill for walkers.
The passage through the woods is brief. At the exit, you’ll see the first farms, then the houses of Walde.
It is a pretty little village clinging to the mountain under the forest, with its church and its charming steeple. Here, the dairy is probably a more important establishment than the bakery.
And in the village, there is an antique dealer, or rather an unusual bric-a-brac. There is a small car with a slot to pay for purchases. It will soon be only in Switzerland that you will see this kind of trust given to buyers.

Section 3: Downhill to Betzikon.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: easier route, mostly downhill, with marked slopes near Rüeterswil.

 

Beyond Walde, the road descends, passing small streams, tributaries of the Ranzach stream. On the way, there are farms or isolated houses in the meadows. Crops are absent from the region.
Further down, near a small oratory, Via Jacobi leaves the axis for a smaller road that slopes uphill towards the farms of Höfli.
In the hamlet, there are a few farmhouses covered with shingles, like almost often in the region.
Behind the hamlet, Via Jacobi finds the dirt, and the pathway descends from the hill into the meadows.
During the descent, you’ll cross many isolated farms, some very old in their shingles burnt by the sun. The tar then comes back in force and the slope gets steeper as you get closer to Rüeterswil.

Soon the slender steeple of the Rüeterswil chapel rises up into the sky.

The chapel dates from the end of the XVIIth century and is dedicated to St Ursula. It is in the Baroque style, like most of the religious buildings in St Gallen, and well laid out despite its simplicity.

In Rüeterswil, Via Jacobi crosses the road which descends from Walde towards St Gallenkappel and continues below the village in the villas, on a steep sustained slope.
Along the road the vegetation is lush and the deciduous trees present in number. In the distance, you can already see Zürich Lake.
Further down, the road lands on a large plateau, which, according to the signs, must belong to the army.
The small road then crosses this area smooth as a whistle before heading towards the forest.
In the forest, Via Jacobi crosses an unusual camp, which looks like a rather natural playground.
At the exit of the wood, a wide dirt road smoothens gently through the meadows towards Betzikon.
Via Jacobi then arrives in Betzikon, a small village on RN8 road, a stone’s throw from St Gallenkappel.

Section 4: Through the Aabach River, the Neuhaus canyon.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: : ups and downs without great difficulty; the steepest slopes are when approaching Aabach River, at the entrance to Neuhaus.

 

But Via Jacobi does not like to follow the main roads. So, it makes a big detour near the undergrowth where the Ranzach brook flows, before returning to the meadows. Here, sheep and cows share the meadows.
The pathway runs through the place called Eichholz, where you can also sleep in the straw, in a gigantic farm on the hill.
From there, the route quickly reaches St Gallenkappel by road, where you can find accommodation and food. The XVIIIth century St Laurentius church has undergone major renovations in recent centuries.

The canton of St Gallen is rich in chapels. The XVIth century St Michel chapel has also undergone the same renovations as the church in recent centuries.

At the exit of St Gallenkappel, a small pathway starts behind the chapel, next to the church, in an area of new houses.
Further on, a paved road crosses a semi-industrial area near Gwatt and Gerendingen, before crossing the Goldingerbach brook.
A narrow lane then follows the stream and the undergrowth, before finding a little further, RN8 road, the main axis of the region.
Here, you’ll walk through an area with complicated geometry, because you have to cross the river. By sleight of hand, the Goldingerbach has now become the Aa, which flows in a deep gorge, one would say a real canyon. You could easily stay on RN8 road and cross to the other side of the river at Neuhaus. But, the planners of the track have another program for you.

At the start, Via Jacobi crosses the river on a first bridge…

… but at the end of the bridge, the route goes under it to take the very beautiful and old wooden bridge, dating back to the 1830s.
Then, you’ll slope down to an industrial area by the river.
Come on, we will say that it is not the trickle of water that flows here that made this river famous.
Further ahead, a dirt pathway climbs steeply, on the other side of the river, towards the small chapel of Neuhaus, planted at the edge of the road.

You then arrive in front of a direction sign which deserves an explanation, depending on the track you choose. Usually, Via Jacobi is indicated with the number 4 circled in blue to signify Jakobsweg towards Compostela. The uncircled number 4 indicates the track in the other direction. So here, everything is confused. In many maps, the main Via Jacobi passes through Rapperswil before reaching Einsiedeln. Not on the panel! Because here, it’s rather suggested taking the route via Schmerikon, then Einsiedeln, without going to Rapperswil. The other sign indicates the direction of Eschenbach, Rapperswil.

But here you are! The route via Eschenbach, Jona, then Rapperswil is not very interesting. It crosses many inhabited districts. The other route quickly joins Zürich Lake, and beyond Schmerikon, instead of continuing to Einsiedeln, you can reach Rapperswil, flattening along the lake. The two routes are fairly equivalent in terms of kilometers.

We therefore advise you to walk to Schmerikon, which we will do today. In Schmerikon, you may decide for Rapperswil or Einsiedeln.

Section 5: Before a nice walk along Zürich Lake.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: ups and downs without great difficulty; the descent to Schmerikon is quite tough, then after, the holidays begin.

 

On the Sieben/Einsiedeln route, the road first passes through the industrial area of Neuhaus, before crossing the plain on a grassy pathway, through meadows.
Shortly after, a road will run along the highway and cross it.
Soon, Via Jacobi leaves the road for a pathway that climbs through the meadows.
The pathway climbs amid cattle along isolated farms.
You’ll then arrive in Golberg village at the top of the hill.
In German-speaking Switzerland, piles of cut wood are lined up as if to go to war. Besides, the dwarves are watching them. Here, you are close to Zürich Lake, on the heights.
The route then descends, first on dirt, then on tarmac towards Schmerikon. Here, the slope is steep, sustained.
Schmerikon (3,700 inhabitants) is a big, peaceful borough at the end of Zürich Lake. When you know the animation at the other end of the lake, in Zürich, you say to yourself that here, it is better to live here.

Beyond Schmerikon, you can reach Einsiedeln via Etzel Pass. Up to the pass it is 23 kilometers with a positive elevation of 661 meters and a negative elevation of 120 meters. The track leaves the canton of St Gallen at the exit of Schmerikon for the canton of Schwyz and runs through Siebenen and Lachen. Beyond Etzel Pass, the route joins Via Jacobi 4 which comes from Rapperswil and descends to Einsiedeln. This stage is described later in stage 4a.

 

But Rapperswil is well worth a visit, as it is a remarkable city. Here you have to leave the variant of Via Jacobi 4 which heads to Einsiedeln and follow the hiking trail 84 towards Rapperswil.

 

The route leaves between the lake and the railway line.
You then leave for a flat ride of almost 10 kilometers to Rapperswil, almost exclusively by the lake.
The road soon heads to the small marina of Ziegelhof. We have to say that, at least, in this part of the lake, cruise ships are more often found moored at the port than strolling on the blue waters of the lake.

Section 6: Stroll along Zürich Lake.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: : a real vacation for the walker.

 

In the past, the lakes were above all a means of communication and transport. Today they have become a popular tourist destination. In this great space of freedom, cycling enthusiasts meet in their sport colorful uniforms. Only the cyclists, quite numerous on the axis, and sometimes a train disturb the tranquility of the place. The walkers are very limited portion. Walkers travel slower than cyclists.
After half an hour, the variant gets in Ober-Bollingen.

Rapperswil is announced more than two hours from here.

The scenario does not vary, except that, a little further, the dirt soon replaces the tar and the route deviates a little more from the lake.
Further afield, you’ll find the tar back and the lake a little further. If you know Zürich well you know that it is further away, after Rapperswil, on the northern shore of the lake, the famous Goldküste (Golden Coast), between Zollikon and Feldmeilen, where the sun shines more and where the prices of real estate is on the rise, where beautiful homes and wealthy people nestle. Here, nothing like that. There is only the gentle lapping of the waves, a rare fisherman who teases the fish, the calm, the relaxation, the meadows and the cyclists.
Via Jacobi 84 soon arrives at the peaceful little village of Bollingen.
Sometimes on the tarmac, sometimes on a dirt road, the variant runs slightly away from the lake, crosses small hamlets or rather isolated houses along the way.
Further on, the road crosses a level crossing, where accommodation is located.
There is a small station here, but the trains don’t have to stop often. There are only a few houses here.

Section 7: The route approaches Rapperswil.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: : a real vacation for the walker.

 

And the route continues along the railway line, sometimes on tarmac, sometimes on dirt.
It approaches Wurmsbach Church, hidden behind the fruit trees.
Here is a convent of Cistercian nuns, known as Mariazell, dating back to the origin of the XIIIth century. The convent experienced great misery, ransacked many times, especially during the Reformation. In 1843, a boarding school for girls was opened here, which still exists. There must be a good dozen sisters left here. The church and the buildings have been transformed and renovated several times. Here you are 4 km to Rapperswil.
A little further on, the dirt road crosses the Wurmsbach brook, still in the same setting, in peaceful nature, slightly disturbed by the murmurs of passing bicycles.
It then crosses a wilder area, a little marshy with reeds. But, there is also some corn here, because there is free water here.

You are now approaching the city by reaching the Jona River. Rapperswil-Jona was founded in 2007 by the merger of Rapperswil and Jona, with the Jona River now bisecting the town.

The variant will then run along the river. It is a beautiful walk, a very busy place during week-ends and holidays.
Further ahead, it arrives along tan alley of tall trees at a busy parking lot near the lake.
There is a large marina here and the variant continues along the river for a bit longer.
There, you’ll cross the Jona River, near the swimming pool. The river, which ends its course here, is dark but beautiful.
A small pathway runs here a little on the other side of the river, because of the presence of the swimming pool. It runs near the market gardeners to return to the other side of the pool.
Soon the tar returns as you approach the suburbs of Rapperswil.

Section 8: In Rapperswil, the jewel of Zürich Lake.

 

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: : a real vacation for the walker.

 

The paved road then runs near Busskirch, a former relay point on the Roman road that went from Zürich to Italy. Here, a church dated back to the Middle Ages, built on a Roman building. This one is much more recent.
Further afield, a dirt road wanders a little further between the countryside and the suburbs. In the distance, you can see Rapperswil Castle.
Even further, the variant heads to a marina. They are very numerous along the lake.
A few steps away is a real institution.
It is here that the Knie circus, the national circus, has its winter quarters. It’s a children’s paradise, a zoo full of mums and buggies, inside and out.
A dirt road runs along Knie Park. On your right, you’ll see the castle appear again.
Soon the walk arrives in a park still equipped with a marina, at the entrance to the city.
Here stands the extraordinary wooden bridge, by which the road to Compostela leaves the city.
You then pass under the road and the railway line. On the other side appears the magnificent bay of Rapperswil, from the Capuchin monastery on the left to the station on the right.
The foundation of the city by the lords of Rapperswil dates back to the beginning of the XIIIth century. It was a key passage for pilgrims coming from Germany and reaching Einsiedeln. Today Rapperswil-Jona has 8,000 inhabitants. Rapperswil is the city of roses, which bloom in public gardens. The old town, of medieval origin, but amended over time, at the foot of the harbor is considered a property of national importance.

It is between the station, the harbor and the streets of the old town up to the castle that the heart of Rapperswil beats. The houses are often baroque, painted and charming. It is a city where it is good to live and walk. Tourists are very numerous here.

Pretty places follow one another while heading to the castle. The castle is from the XIIIth century and has changed little over time, except for the clock tower and the body of the more recent buildings. Many fortifications still remain.

Lodging on Via Jacobi 

 
Laad
Guestroom (straw), dinner, breakfast Famille Stark 071 988 78 75
Walde
Guestroom, dinner, breakfast Pilgerhaus Jeanne d’Arc 055 284 23 85/079 448 27 73
Hotel, dinner, breakfast Gasthaus Zum Kreuz 055 284 19 19/079 871 97 58
St Gallenkappel
Guestroom (straw), breakfast Bauernhof Urs Tschümperlin 055 284 12 44/079 308 63 52
Guestroom, breakfast M. Schwitter, Holzgasse 9 055 284 12 14
Hotel, dinner, breakfast Gasthaus Rössli, Rickenstrasse 35 055 284 14 44/079 716 40 69
Hotel, dinner, breakfast Landgasthof Krone, Rickenstrasse 60 055 284 14 50
Neuhaus
Hotel, dinner, breakfast Gasthaus Ochsen 055 282 35 86
Schmerikon
Guestroom, breakfast B&B Joseph&Agatha Boos, Kreuzgasse 26 055 282 22 76/079 623 24 00
Guestroom, dinner, breakfast Einrad Dossenbach, Goldbergweg 4 076 370 88 789
Hotel***, dinner, breakfast Hotel Seehof 055 282 16 33
Hotel****, dinner, breakfast Strandhotel 055 282 56 00
Bollingen
Guestroom, breakfast B&B Oase, Staffeln 14 055 212 65 45
Wurmsbach
Guestroom, cuisine Cloître de Wurmsbach 055 225 49 00
Guestroom (straw), breakfast Homas & Judith Gügler 055 212 37 44
Rapperswil/Jona
Gîte, cuisine Pilgerherberge, Seestrasse 5 079 886 73 37
Yuth hostel, dinner, breakfast Jugendherberge, Hessenhoferweg 10 055 210 99 27
Guestroom, breakfast Iten Erika, Jonaportsrasse 23 055 212 23 05/079 227 38 23
Hotel, dinner, breakfast Gasthof Zum Zimmermann, St Gallerstrasse 105 055 225 37 37
Hotel, dinner, breakfast Gasthof Kreuz, St Gallerstrasse 30 055 225 53 53
Hotel, dinner, breakfast Gasthaus Krone Kemptraten, Rütistrasse 6 055 210 90 00
Hotel***, dinner, breakfast Jakob Hotel, Hauptplatz 11 055 220 00 50
Hotel***, breakfast Best Western Hotel Speer, Bahnofstrasse 5 055 220 89 00
Hotel****, breakfast Hotel Hirschen, Fischmarktplatz 7 055 220 61 80
There is no difficulty of finding accommodation on this stage. Book anyway for security.
 

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Next stage: Stage 4a: From Rapperswil to Einsiedeln
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