Rapperswil is a picturesque lakeside town just a short train ride from Zurich. There are many reasons to take a day trip here, with a medieval town, castle, deer park and rose gardens (Rapperswil is known as the City of Roses). Then there are restaurants, lakeside walks and boat trips. But for me the highlight was the Holzbrucke, the historic wooden bridge across Lake Zurich. This is the longest wooden bridge in Switzerland, an ancient place of pilgrimage, and part of a nature reserve.
Jacobsweg, the Way of St James
The Holzbrucke crosses Lake Zurich at its narrowest point, between Rapperswil and Hurden. There has been a crossing here since ancient times, whether by bridge or ferry. The earliest known bridge was Roman, but there is evidence of an earlier, Neolithic, structure (wooden piles have been discovered dating back to around 1500 BCE). A “new” bridge was built in the 14th century, and lasted for 500 years. The current bridge was opened in 2001.
It was more than just a way across the lake. Close to the Rapperswil side of the water is a small chapel, the Heilig Hüsli. Built in 1551, this is a reminder of the historic importance of the Holzbrucke. It was part of the Jacobsweg, or Way of St James, which linked northern Europe to the Camino di Santiago, the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Today it forms a section of a long distance hiking trail, following the original path of the Jacobsweg.
The Rapperswil Nature Reserve
Even if you are not a pilgrim or a long distance walker you can still enjoy a stroll across the bridge. Although it doesn’t look particularly imposing as you approach, the extent of the Holzbrucke soon becomes apparent as it zigzags across the lake. This is the longest wooden bridge in Switzerland, 841m long. It must have been quite some feat to build such a long crossing thousands of years ago.
The whole of this part of the lake is a nature reserve, and an important breeding area for waterfowl. The water is peaceful, and offers panoramic views of the town. The whole place teems with birdlife: I spotted gulls, coots and crested grebes in specially created nesting areas on the small islands close to the bridge.
On the way back I passed a hiker with a big rucksack. Perhaps he was a long distance walker, I thought. Or even a modern day pilgrim bound for Santiago de Compostela.