Eglisau, in Canton Zurich (German-speaking Switzerland), welcomes us with a series of tightly huddled historic dwellings facing the river. The Rhine here calmly makes its way between woods and vineyards. This is the best season to fully experience it in the context of the peaceful countryside.
At only two kilometers from the border with Germany, but still in Swiss territory, this oasis lies hidden on the bank of the river which already in Roman times played a central role in European commerce. To get there we cross the only bridge allowing access to the town. From atop it one can enjoy a spectacular view: On one side we find the impressive railway bridge built in the 1890s, towering over the river from its height of fifty meters. On the other side the charming village shows itself in all its splendour.
The foundation of Eglisau is undoubtedly linked to its strategic position on the Rhine. A historic source from 1249 suggests that the town was built around that time under the dominion of the House of the lords of Tengen, whose reign lasted for more than two centuries. The village was then yielded to Zurich and served as the seat of its bailiffs until the old Confederation dissolved.
We enter the small town by taking one of the two main streets: the Obergass or, parallel to it, but slightly lower, the Untergass. Strolling down these alleys one can glimpse interesting Baroque- and Renaissance-style façades. The two streets converge on the evangelical parish church. Its bell tower stands out with brilliant blue clock dials, as if to emphasize the water element. Just before reaching the church, the Untergass passes by Gasthof Hirschen, whose name refers to the motif of the municipality’s emblem: the stag. A member of the Swiss Historic Hotels, this inn truly has a long history and tradition, dating back to the early 16th century. The Belle Epoque style hall is especially striking. The shady terrace out front overlooking the Rhine is the perfect place for us to sip an exquisite glass of white wine originating from one of the many vineyards on the hillside just above town. All these elements have entitled Eglisau to be the first Swiss-German municipality to join the association of “The most beautiful Villages in Switzerland” in 2016.
The ideal view to appreciate the village in its totality is from the opposite river bank, where the rowers’ clubhouse is. In summer these sportsmen become the protagonists of the races on the “Drachenboote”, the characteristic pirogues whose bows are adorned with dragon heads. From this privileged and secluded spot we can watch the river flow undisturbed, interrupted only by the mighty tolls of the bell tower, which remind us that it’s time for lunch. We decide to have our picnic here and seize the opportunity to refresh ourselves on this hot summer day by dipping our feet in the cool water. The activities in the environs to be enjoyed in summertime are countless. In fact, passing in front of us are swimmers, people in rafts and rowboats or on tourist ferries, the latter being an excellent means to explore the surrounding area. Numerous bike and hiking trails start here and fan out towards the monastery of Rheinau or the picturesque village of Kaiserstuhl. The excursion to the majestic Rhine Falls, one of Switzerland’s emblems, is an absolute must, as they are only fifteen minutes away by car.