Kartause Ittingen
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A short distance south of Stein-am-Rhein and well worth a visit is Kartause Ittingen, a former Charterhouse (Carthusian monastery) out in the countryside near Warth, some 6km south over a ridge from Stein-am-Rhein. From 1461 until 1868, the old buildings were home to a community of between twelve and fifteen Carthusian monks; recently restored after decades of neglect, the complex today houses the Ittinger Museum (Mon–Fri 2–5pm, Sat & Sun 11am–5pm; Fr.5), which sheds light on the life of the Carthusian order. The monks lived a life of extreme austerity, taking all meals except Sunday lunch alone in their cell, having each day divided into strict periods of work, rest and prayer (including a three-hour service every night from 11.30pm, and never more than four-and-a-half hours’ sleep at a stretch), and remaining committed by oath to silence at all times. The restored rooms of the monastery begin directly opposite the museum entrance with the stunning Rococo church, its long nave divided into four and flanked by extraordinarily intricate choir stalls, carved around 1700. The dramatic high altar depicts St Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order. There’s no organ, since the Carthusian Mass is sung according to its medieval foundations, without accompaniment. Beside the church is the Little Cloister, prelude to a series of decorated and partly furnished rooms once used by the monks, including the Refectory (room 4), with seventeenth-century portraits ringing the walls. The Great Cloister, off which are the fifteen monks’ cells, leads around an internal garden with summerhouse. More rooms upstairs, some with original decoration, include a tiny prison with barred window, and an unusual upper-level gallery in the church, looking the length of the nave.

Some rooms in the museum are also given over to the cantonal Kunstmuseum (same times and ticket), which houses a collection of twentieth-century Swiss art; highlights include a penetrating self-portrait by Helen Dahm and the playful Yellow Submarine-like canvases of Josef Wittlich. The ticket desk sells a short English guide on the whole museum complex for a few francs.

Unless you have a car, it’s difficult to reach Kartause Ittingen. Hourly buses run from Stein-am-Rhein to Warth, leaving you fifteen minutes’ walk away. Transport from the modern town of Frauenfeld, 4km south of the monastery and connected to St Gallen and Winterthur by train – is slightly more convenient; two buses a day (10am & 2pm) depart from Frauenfeld station for the Kartause itself, and there are also hourly buses to Warth. You’d do just as well renting bikes from Frauenfeld station (daily 5.30am–8.30pm) and cycling. The tourist office in Frauenfeld station (Mon–Fri 9am–noon & 2–6pm, Sat 9am–noon; 052/721 31 28, www.stadt-frauenfeld.ch) can help with maps and information.

Part of the complex of old buildings at Ittingen, which are arrayed around a peaceful large internal courtyard area, has been renovated as a modern conference-style hotel (052/748 44 11, fax 747 26 57, kartause@bluewin.ch, www.kartause.ch; c) – all exposed brick and bright, functional comforts. The Herberge section adjacent has spotless, spartan shared-bath rooms (b). The on-site restaurant, Zur Mühle, has quality modern cuisine and is not drastically expensive (menus Fr.20–25), but the open farmland all around is prime picnic territory – it’s worth dropping into the little shop to nose around in all kinds of choice home-made goodies, including fresh-baked bread, fragrant eaux-de-vie and cider distilled on site, home-grown vegetables and, most appealing of all, the lip-smacking Klosterbräu beer, brewed from hand-picked hops grown just outside the monastery walls and sold by the bottle.

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