The thunderous sound of Europe’s largest waterfall tumbling over a wide expanse of cliffs impeded any attempt at conversation. With our boat wobbling in the churning water, we got as close to the falls as our experienced tour guide dared go while still maintaining a safe distance. The mist all around cooled our faces and seemed to soothe our spirits on this hot summer morning.
Europe’s Largest Waterfall
Added to Switzerland’s State Inventory for Countryside and Natural Monuments of National Importance in 1983, the Rhine Falls is Europe’s largest waterfall in terms of width (150 m. / 492 ft.) and flow rate (600,000 liters/second in summer / more than 158 gallons/second). The immense water pressure is used to generate energy at the site.
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Rising in the middle of the cliffs is a massive rock, densely covered with evergreens, and crowned with a tall pole flying the Swiss flag. The reward for climbing a zigzagging staircase to a small platform at the top is a dazzling 360° panoramic view. The rock is illuminated every evening after sunset, except during the full moon and the day after.
The Ancient Laufen Castle
On a hill high above the Falls perches the ancient Laufen Castle, first mentioned in 858, and initially the seat of the Barons von Laufen. A Swiss heritage site since 1941, the castle was renovated and expanded in 2009 and 2010 when it was opened as a tourist attraction. Seven rooms, from elegant to rustic, along with a wine cellar, cater to small and large groups, events and celebrations. An elevator ascends to the middle of the viewing platform while stairs descend to the lowest platform.
The Rhine River
Turning away from the Falls, we headed south on the now calm Rhine River. The Rhine is over 1,232 km (766 mi) long from its source in the Swiss Alps in the western Canton of Graubünden. Flowing north it crosses Lake Constance before heading west. Reaching the northern Swiss city of Basel, the Rhine — now a mighty river — becomes one of the most important commercial waterways in Europe. It crosses six countries: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, where it flows into the North Sea at Rotterdam.
But after tumbling down the Falls here in Neuhausen, the Rhine is a tame kitten. Large mounds of white foam looking almost like snow floating down the river caught my attention. A pretty but unusual sight, I wanted to find out what it was exactly. As per the Coordination Office Rheinfall: “The foam is nothing but the protein of the Ranunculus fluitans (river water-crowfoot), a species of buttercup which is set free through the power station in Schaffhausen and the Falls. It’s harmless for swimmers and can be seen particularly in summer and warm periods.”
Dining with a View
It was time to turn around and return to our starting point at the docks of the Schloessli Woerth (‘small castle’ Woerth). This four-story building on a tiny island has a centuries-old history, dating back to the 12th century when it was a customs house. The current restaurant was added during a major renovation in the 1830s. One of its most famous guests was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who visited it on September 18, 1797, even recording in his diary that he went in to drink a glass of wine. We decided to follow in Goethe’s footsteps. Sitting by the panoramic glass windows, we savored a delicious trout accompanied by a bottle of the local Pinot Gris and admired once again the torrents crashing over the Rhine Falls.
How to get to the Rhine Falls:
Where to Stay:
Hotel Kronenhof – A 3-star hotel with two restaurants, a bar, a wine cellar, and wellness room. No A/C but rooms have ventilators. Centrally located in the old town, it can be noisy on weekend nights. Kirchhofplatz 7, Schaffhausen, +41 52 635 75 75;
www.kronenhof.charcona LIVING SCHAFFHAUSEN – This contemporary hotel opened in 2014 across from the railroad station, with 112 room and 18 apartments. Restaurant, summer terrace, fitness center. Bleichplatz 1, Schaffhausen, +41 52 631 00 00; www.schaffhausen.arcona.ch/en
Best Western Plus Hotel Bahnhof – Also across the street from the railroad station. Bahnhofstrasse 46, Schaffhausen, +41 52 630 35 35
Where to Eat:
Laufen Castle – Six rooms, from elegant to rustic, plus a wine cellar cater to any event or celebration. Lunch is usually served in the Castello room and on the large terrace, and dinner in the Bleuler Hall. Fresh, seasonal ingredients, exclusive creative dinners. Rheinfallstrasse, Dachsen, +41 52 659 67 67; www.schlosslaufen.ch/en
Schloessli Woerth – On a small island with a stunning view of the Rhine Falls. Light menu with emphasis on seasonal dishes.
Rheinfallquai 30, Neuhausen am Rheinfall, +41 52 672 24 94; www.schloessliwoerth.ch (German only). Google translation: www.translate.google.com
Gerberstube – Honoring Italian dining culture on two floors: a casual Osteria on the first floor serves hand-made pasta specialties. On the second floor, the Gerberstube Rawyler presents classic Italian dishes. Bachstrasse 8, Schaffhausen, +41 52 625 21 55; www.bindella.ch/de/gerberstube.html (German only).
What to See & Do:
Rhine Falls – Select one of four boat tours. Boats leave from the landing piers next to Schloessli Woerth. Rheinfallquai 30, Neuhausen am Rheinfall;
www.rhyfall-maendli.ch/en; Email: email@example.com
Laufen Castle – View the exhibition in eleven rooms in this 1,000+ years-old castle. Start out at their Visitor Center next to the parking lot then take the elevator down to a platform above the Rhine Falls. Only a ten-minute drive from Schaffhausen, it also has its own railroad station. Rheinfallstrasse, 8447 Dachsen, +41 52 659 67 67; www.schlosslaufen.ch/en/rhine-falls
Schaffhausen – The traffic-free Old Town is one of the prettiest in Switzerland with many oriel windows and lavishly painted façades. Many houses date back to the Gothic and Baroque eras. Also here is the High Gothic St. Johann church with its splendid acoustics.
Munot Fortress, Schaffhausen – The emblem of Schaffhausen surrounded by vineyards can be seen for miles. The ring-shaped fortress was built between 1564 and 1589. Munotstieg 17, Schaffhausen, +41 52 625 42 25; www.munot.ch(German only).