Tucked between Lake Constance and Appenzellerland, Switzerland's St Gallen blends cutting-edge innovation with history and nature. Just an hour from Zürich airport, with greenery on its doorstep, this dynamic destination is brimming with cosy cafés, cool cultural centres and a cathedral district so beautiful that it has been given the Unesco World Heritage stamp.
Known as a hub for start-up culture, the university city champions new ideas and hosts events that give changemakers a global platform, including START Summit - Europe's leading student-run conference for entrepreneurship and technology.
Eco-conscious family concept store Stadtlandkind is one of St Gallen's true start-up success stories. Co-founder Roberta Zingg, who launched the digital shop with her husband Tobias, explains why the city was a natural base for their business and gives us insider access to her hotspots…
Uncover St Gallen's highlights with Roberta Zingg
How would you describe the Stadtlandkind lifestyle?
Our Swiss online shop is for families and people who love a carefully curated selection of high-quality, fairly produced and sustainable products, including clothes, toys, gifts, home and design pieces.
Tell us more about the sustainable ethos…
At Stadtlandkind, we place particular emphasis on sustainability when selecting our suppliers and partners. In our concept store, you will find both small local brands with high sustainability standards and big brands that pay attention to sustainable production and fair employment conditions.
Why did you choose to base your brand in St Gallen?
Although we love to travel and discover the diversity of the world, St Gallen is our home port. It was clear to both Tobias and I that we would start our family and business here, surrounded by family and friends.
What do you love most about the city?
It has an urban flair, but also the typical charm of a small town. The short distances, the neighbourhoods and the proximity to the surrounding countryside form the basis for a very high quality of life. The people are authentic and creative. We also like the diversity.
Is it a place that embraces new ideas and small businesses? What fuels the start-up culture?
It absolutely is! Young, dynamic movements are bringing life back to the suburbs and centres, allowing more urban encounters and making city living more attractive again.
Family-friendly working and living areas are being created that feed into and inform each other, and offer unfamiliar new opportunities. We recently moved our office to such an area - the Lattich, at the old freight station. The start-up scene here is well connected and people support each other.
A Pocket Guide to St Gallen, Switzerland
Where should we get our culture fix?
Fashion enthusiasts will want to start with the Textilmuseum, where they'll learn all about Swiss textile history. Don't miss the Kunst Halle - one of the most important institutions for emerging art in Switzerland. As a place for experimentation and the production of contemporary art, it contributes to the international buzz of the Swiss art scene, placing an emphasis on questions about the current work of the younger generation of artists and socially relevant topics. Right next to it is the Museum im Lagerhaus, showcasing Swiss naive art and art brut, which I also highly recommend.
Is there somewhere you venture to find nature?
The Drei Weieren (Three Ponds) is our favourite recreational area in St Gallen. It is in the St Georgen quarter, south of the old town. The fantastic landscape lends itself to walking, jogging, yoga, meditation, cycling and, in summer, swimming. A hot-off-the-press tip is the newly opened sauna, which offers probably the most spectacular view of the ponds.
Roter Platz, by artist Pipilotti Rist and architect Carlos Martinez, looks very striking. Do people congregate here?
During the day, children use the unusual urban landscape for play, while employees of the surrounding stores and offices use the open outdoor living room for lunch or after-work drinks.
Is the Abbey district a destination you would recommend to design and architecture lovers?
The Abbey district of St Gallen is an absolute must-see. It is not without reason that the baroque cathedral and world-famous Abbey Library are Unesco World Heritage sites. The baroque hall of the Abbey Library surprises visitors with its rich rococo outfitting: the stock of books housed in the library - still a working library - stands at around 170,000. The impressive collection of original early medieval manuscripts makes this institution world-famous. More than 400 volumes are more than 1,000 years old.
Are there any creative workshops or classes that you would recommend?
Again, head to the Kunst Halle, which offers a programme of interesting workshops for adults and children.
Which cafés and restaurants should we make a beeline for?
For one of the best burgers you've ever had, try Stickerei, whose are homemade from locally farmed beef, with vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, too. Speaking of fresh and yummy fusion cuisine, be sure to visit restaurant Wilde Möhre at the Güterbahnhof, in the Lattich area. It has a super-fresh and colourful kitchen, speciality coffees, a great selection of drinks and a fantastic rooftop terrace, with occasional concerts.
And for a drink?
Is there a hotel you would suggest checking into?
In the middle of the monastery quarter, near the train station, the Hotel Dom is quiet and central at the same time. It makes the ideal starting point from which to explore St Gallen and the surrounding area. It also offers training or employment to about 55 people with a disability.
How do we get around? Do locals tend to use the Mühleggbahn?
The Mühleggbahn is a funicular railway that connects the old town of St Gallen with the Drei Weihern recreation area and the St Georgen district on the southern hill of St Gallen. So, yes, if you want to visit this part of St Gallen, I highly recommend the Mühleggbahn. Otherwise, you can reach everything by foot, or take the bus.
What would be a dream itinerary for a weekend in St Gallen?
Start in the St Gallen Abbey district and visit the baroque cathedral and, of course, the Abbey Library. After a fortifying coffee and croissant in restaurant Drahtseilbähnli, hop on the Müleggbahn to Drei Weihern. Depending on the time of year, you can spend the afternoon swimming or walking around the pond - just don't forget to enjoy a cinnamon cake at the Zimthüsli. For the more active, there is also a hike to restaurant Waldegg, which is home to a petting zoo, a gastronomic experience with a cheese dairy and bakery and outstanding panoramic views. For an aperitif, hike or take the train back to the city and enjoy a drink in Splügen, before grabbing a burger at Stickerei.
How would you sum up the destination in a sentence?
St Gallen is the bratwurst-loving cultural city with down-to-earth, good-natured people.
To discover more about St Gallen, visit myswitzerland.com.