The Toggenburg district, a region of varied scenery lying south of Thurgau, is composed of the Upper Thur valley and its tributary valleys. Once an independent county, it is now part of the canton of St Gallen.
Wil to Buchs (driving tour)
The driving tour of Toggenburg is divided into two sections; Untertoggenburg and Obertoggenburg.
South of Wil the road passes through the pleasant area of Untertoggenburg. On the slopes of the hills are elegant farmhouses of Alemannic type and, in the villages, are 18th C. "manufacturers' houses" (Fabrikantenhäuser) dating from the period when the region's flourishing textile industry was established.
The chief town and trading center of Untertoggenburg is Flawil (610 m/ 2,002ft; pop. 9,000), a village situated above the river Glatt, with a flourishing spinning and weaving industry. Flawil still has a few richly painted houses (Hof "Gupfen", "Dorfschmiede" village smithy) and an interesting museum.
A little way to the east of Flawil lies Oberglatt which was, for centuries, the ecclesiastical center of the district. Every year in summer the "Musikzychus" (music cycle) takes place.
About 1.5km/1mi southeast of Flawil lies the charming old village of Burgau, with fine old houses (law court of 1639), and another 1.5km/1mi west is the Cistercian Convent of Magdenau, founded in 1244, which has 17th and 18th C. buildings.
Landegg - Castle Ruins
Not far southwest of the Magdenau convent in Burgau stands the parish church of St Verena and, to the west, the ruins of Landegg Castle.
Beyond Neu-St Johann the road runs through the Starkenbach defile into Obertoggenburg, a beautiful mountain region between the limestone massifs of Säntis and the Churfirsten which is a popular health and winter sports area.
Barely 5km/3mi from Unterwasser is Wildhaus (1,098 m/3,603ft), a widely scattered health and winter sports resort (indoor swimming pool; climbing school; holiday courses in hand-weaving; ice-ink, curling rink, cross-country skiing), magnificently situated on an open pass below the south side of the Wildhauser Schafberg (2,384 m/7,822ft).
From Chufirsten the road crosses the Wildhaus pass (1,098 m/3,602ft; climbing frames for children) and through the beautifully wooded Simmigorge into the Rhine valley.
By taking road 8 from St Gallen or road 16 from Kreuzlingen via Wil, we reach Lichtensteig (618 m/2,028ft; pop. 2,200), an old-world little town which is picturesquely situated on a rocky hill above the right bank of the Thur. It is the principal place in the Toggenburg region with some handsome old arcaded houses. In the Toggenburg Heimatmuseum can be seen a notable collection of rural crafts and popular art, including documentation of alpine husbandry as well as musical instruments and costumes. Also of interest is the church of St Gallus, a modern building (1966-72) by W. M. Förderer, and Freddy's Mechanical Music Museum in the Hans Zur Frohburg.
2km/1mi south of Lichtensteig on road 16 is Wattwil (617 m/2,024ft): pop. 9,000), a long straggling town which is the economic hub of Toggenburg, with a variety of industry (Textile College). The popular Swiss writer Ulrich Bräker (1735-98) worked here as a weaver.
Wattwil - Nunnery (Iberg Castle)
On the hillside to the right of the road exiting Wattwil can be seen the Franciscan nunnery of St Maria zu den Engeln (574 m/1,883ft: 17th C.) and, opposite it, to the south, Iberg Castle (13th C., restored).
The road to Buchs runs from Wattoril up the Thur valley, here wide and fertile, and in 5.5km/3mi reaches Ebnat-Kappel (633-650 m/2,077-2,133ft), actually two towns with a combined population of 5,500 inhabitants and a variety of industry. The twin towns attract summer visitors and winter sports enthusiasts. The Ackerhus has a notable exhibition concerning traditional Toggenburg customs.
Albert Edelmann Foundation (Local Museum)
Paintings by Albert Edelmann, musical instruments, and painted furniture from the 18th and 19th C are on display.
Beyond Ebnat-Kappel, the valley closes in. Ahead the Churfirsten (on right) and the Stockberg (on left) come into sight. At Krummenau (716 m/2,349ft) the valley briefly opens out again. At the far end of the village, on the right, is a large parking place near the chairlift (2,025 m/6,644ft) from Krümmenschwil (740 m/2,427ft) to Rietbach (1,120 m/3,675ft), from which there is a ski-lift to the Wolzenalp (1,456 m/4,777ft).
Sprung (natural rock bridge)
Beyond Krummenau, the Thur flows under the natural rock bridge known as the Sprung and through the Kesseltobel gorge, with the road running on the hillside high above it.
2.5km/2mi from Krummenau is Neu-St Johann (760 m/2,494ft), a village set amid meadows in a wider part of the valley (summer holiday accommodation, winter sports), with a fine 17th C. Baroque church belonging to a former Benedictine monastery.
Simmitobel (Gamser Berg)
From Wildhaus the road goes downhill on a moderate gradient over Alpine meadows flanked by mountains, then enters the forest and runs more steeply down through the wooded Simmi gorge to the Zolhaus inn (706 m/2,316ft). From here it winds its way down the slopes of the Gamser Berg, with extensive views (parking place in 200 m/656ft, on right) and magnificent vistas of the Rhine valley and the Liechtenstein Alps.
Neu-St Johann to Säntis
A reasonably good road (12km/7mi to the lower station of the cableway) branches off the main road to Nesslau in Neu-St Johann and climbs the slopes above the Luternbach valley, with a fine view of the Säntis. Reaching the top of the hill in 1.5km/1mi, it runs level past the Ennetbühl and then descends gradually to cross the Luternbach gorge.
Beyond the Luternbach gorge, a good road winds its way up to Rietbad (927 m/3,041ft), with a well-known spring of sulfurous water (drinking fountain 100 m/328ft beyond the Kurhotel), at the foot of the Stockberg (1,784 m/5,853ft; one hour; extensive views).
Seeben - Kräzeren pass
Just past the Rietbad the road follows a level course through the meadows of a high valley, passing in 1km/0.6mi the Kurhaus at Seeben. It then climbs over the meadows of the Alp Bernhalde (1,283 m/4,210ft) and continues through forest to the Kräzeren Pass (1,300 m/4,265ft). A short way downhill you arrive at the Schwägalp inn.
Schwägalp and Säntis
In Schwägalp you pass the road from Umäsch coming in on the left and then it is a drive of 1km/0.6mi up to the lower station (1,350 m/4,462ft) of the Säntis cableway which was opened in 1935 and which has been renewed several times, most recently in 1974. It takes seven minutes to reach the summit of the Säntis (upper station 2,433 m/8,116ft) from where there is a breathtaking panorama over the Vorarlberg, Bündner, Glarus and Uri alps, as well as across Lake Constance into Swabia. In good weather, the view even takes in the Vosges and the Jura.
Nesslau and Speer
From Neu-St Johann, road 16 leads through the adjoining village of Nesslau (762 m/2,400ft), frequented as a summer vacation and winter sports resort. Towering above it to the southwest is the Speer (1,954 m/6,411ft), which offers a rewarding climb (five hours).
Giessen Falls (Starkenstein Castle)
Higher up the valley from Nesslau is Germen, where road 16 runs through a narrow wooded pass, with the two Giessen Falls on the Thur (hydro-electric station). It then winds its way uphill to the little vacation spot of Stein (860 m/2,823ft) and continues up through the Starkenbach Pass (894 m/2,933ft; on the right the ruins of Starkenstein castle) into the Alpine high valley of Obertoggenburg, with innumerable farms and huts dotting its green meadow-covered slopes. To the right is the jagged ridge of the Churfirsten; to the left is a first glimpse of the Wildhauser Schafberg.
5km/3mi from Stein is Alt-St Johann (897 m/2,943ft), a popular health and winter sports resort, founded in the 12th C. as the monastery of St John.
At the end of the village of Alt-St Johann, on the right, is the lower station of a chairlift (1.5km/1mi, 15 minutes) to the Alp Sellamatt (1,390 m/4,561ft; Schlamatt mountain inn): panoramic views, near which are the Churfirsten hut (1,450 m/4,757ft) and the Iltiosalp (30-minute walk). Good walking and cross-country trekking.
Unterwasser (resort & dairy museum)
Road 16 leads to Unterwasser (927 m/3,041ft), a popular health resort (swimming pool) and winter sports resort in a beautiful sheltered setting between the Säntis chain and the Churfirsten, at the junction where the two streams combine to form the River Thur. In the Haus Rotenbrunnen in the village street is an alpine dairy museum, with exhibits illustrating milk processing and showing a kitchen and living-room.
From Unterwasser a narrow mountain road climbs steeply up (2km/1mi north) to the Kühboden Alp (1,050 m 3,445ft); from here it is an hour's walk to the charming little Gräppelensee (1,302 m/4,272ft).
A little road from Unterwasser runs 3.5km/2mi southeast to the Schwendi (1,165 m/3,822ft) from where there is a road 3.5km/2mi to Wildhaus.
A funicular 1.2km/1mi long goes up from Unterwasser in six minutes to the much-visited Iltiosalp (1,350 m/4,429ft), from where a magnificent view of the Säntis massif can be enjoyed. There is excellent skiing (ski-lift to Alp Stöfeli, 1,480 m/4,856ft).
Churfirsten (Lisighaus - Museum)
From the Iltiosalp a cabin cableway (3,450 m/11,319ft, eight minutes) runs up to Chäserrugg (2,250 m/7,382ft); Stöfeli mountain inn). Footpaths (extensive views) lead east to the Schwendi-Seen (30 minutes) and west to the Alp Sellamatt (30 minutes). The ascent of the Hinterrugg (2,309 m/7,575ft), the highest peak in the Churfirsten chain, takes 3.5 hours. The main road continues up from Unterwasser in a double hairpin bend and comes in 2.5km/2mi to the hamlet of Lisighaus (1,056 m/3,456ft: commune of Wildhaus), with the modest house in which the reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was born (museum opening times given).
Wildhaus - Oberdorf (Gamplüt)
From Wildhaus an 800 m/2,625ft long chairlift goes up to Oberdorf (1,270 m/4,167ft) from which another chairlift continues up to the Gamserrugg (1,771 m/5,811ft) on the Gamsalp. There is yet another chairlift from Wildhaus northwestwards to the Gamplüt (1,334 m/4,377ft).
Schönen - Bodensee
1.5km/1mi north of Wildhaus lies the little Schönen lake, with a swimming beach.
Gams (504 m/1,654ft) is a neat village with a church above it on higher ground. From here there is a road east to Hagg. Road 16 now turns south along the edge of the wide Rhine valley and comes to Grabs.
Grabs (Voralp Lake)
Grabs (482 m/1,581ft) is a large village surrounded by orchards. Here a steep and narrow mountain road (10km/6mi) turns off on the right and winds its way up the Grabser Berg to the Kurhaus Voralp, below the beautiful Voralp Lake (1,116 m/3,662ft).
Werdenberg Castle, Buchs
From Grabs the road runs along the densely populated valley to the straggling village of Buchs (450 m/1,476ft) to join the road from St Margrethen to Chur beneath Werdenberg castle.Chur is set picturesquely above a lake.The castle was built around 1230. It contains a museum with 17th and 18th century furniture as well as an 1860 pharmacist's shop.