A long weekend in Lucerne, Switzerland, a place of almost unimaginable beauty

 
Rod Gilchrist
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What better way to spend a day than a boat over the beautiful lake?

Where: Cradle of local hero William Tell, home of Wagner, Lucerne is a cobalt, lakeside idyll, ringed by mythical snow- capped mountains, a gorgeous Swiss City with a medieval Altstadt (Old Town), historic covered bridges, cobbled squares where perfectly conserved Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance houses, decorated with mosaics, jostle together inside towering city walls.

First made fashionable by Queen Victoria who brought her own ponies so she could ride to the top of the six thousand feet Mount Pilatus but was carried most of the way in a sedan chair. With Brexit turmoil affecting financial markets it’s worth taking a break from sight- seeing to check out the low income tax, just eight percent, in nearby canton of Zug.

What to see: Despite the cosmic landscape of alps, sparkling lake and flower bedecked meadows that once made it such a popular Grant Tour spa, it’s the haunting statue of a dying lion, carved into the rock face, most tourist head to first. It commemorates eight hundred Swiss mercenaries slaughtered defending King Louise XVI during the French Revolution.

The 14th century Kapellbrucke (chapel bridge) angled around the Reuss River is on all the postcards but more impressive is its sister bridge further down river. This has Dance of Death paintings, panels where grinning skeletons lurk behind Monarchs and Monks, a macabre warning that the Grim Reaper awaits us all no matter what our rank.

What to do: Jump aboard one of the stately paddle steamers to cruise past onion domed churches, traditional Hansel and Gretel wooden chalets, and bathing lidos to Alpnachstad. Here leap aboard the coggle wheel electric railway for a thrilling, ear popping, vertigo inducing train ride up an almost sheer cliff gradient of 48 degrees, to the top of Mount Pilatus with its spectacular panorama of seventy one peaks stretching fifty miles to the Eiger, which has claimed the lives of many climbers.

On the way back to earth by cable car stop off at the adventure park to race helter skelter down the dry toboggan run, a kind of snowless Cresta Run. If you are still feeling energetic take the steamer next day to Mount Roti to see the celestial view that so hypnotised Turner he painted it in all its moods. Leave the cable car below the snow line for a bracing 90 minute hike to the top.

And after that: Lucerne has a brilliant concert hall designed so the lake is actually channelled into the building. Blues, rock and classical music are staged all year round.

When to go: The Swiss love festivals. In early Spring an 18th century character called Fritschi and his wife, dressed in costume, and followed by masked musicians, dancers and acrobats, roam the old town throwing oranges to carousing onlookers. More highbrow tastes are served in the autumn, when fog rises like dry ice from the lake, with concerts in Wagner’s lakeside villa at Tribschen.

The food: Not a town to visit if you are dieting. Cheese fondues, Chogalipaschtetli (veal in cream and mushroom sauce), air dried beef, and rosti (grated and fried potatoes) are the staples. Clever chefs though add fish from the lake, perch-pike fillets with artichoke hearts. At night fall the buzzy waterside cafes offer inexpensive dishes and free cabaret from street entertainers.

Don’t miss: Book a table at the Rondorama restaurant, 5,600 feet up Mount Stanserhorn, which revolves one full turn every 40 minutes offering a 360 degree panorama while you dine. As the sun dips behind the peaks they turn to candle light creating a romantic atmosphere in this lair of the Gods.

Need to know: Travel with Swiss Air from London City Airport to Zurich and then it’s a one hour train ride to Lucerne. Hotel Schweizerhof is a majestic belle epoque lakeside palace once favoured by Churchill, Queen Elizabeth and is much in demand from celebrities: schweizerhof-luzern.ch.

For a more chilled experience try the Park Weggis, a thirty minute cruise away by steamer. This peaceful 19th century hotel is a fascinating mixture of styles, both classical and cutting edge boutique, set in a mature garden. It’s palm fringed lido is arranged to take full advantage of the Mediterranean like micro climate. For further details contact Switzerland Tourism at MySwitzerland.com or call 00800 100 200 30.

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