On the shores of one such lake, in the very heart of the country, lies the historic city of lights, Lucerne. Beginning life as a humble fishing village, Lucerne evolved through use as a stopover on the Alpine trade route, as far back as the Middle Ages. It is now one of Switzerland’s premier tourist attractions.
Location, location, location
With its immediate peaks soaring to over 2000m and the surrounding mountains toppling away in folds of glory towards the Bernese Oberland, Lucerne’s view is unrivalled. In turn, the mountains are reflected in the ripples of Lake Lucerne which, like all Swiss lakes, has crystal-clear water, numbingly cold from the glacial run-off. The hardy Swiss, however, take this in their stride and there are a number of bathing jetties dotted around the shore for an early morning swim. Owing to the mountainous terrain, the lake bends and twists its way around peninsulas with fingers of water creeping into lush green valleys.
Bridges and towers
The city itself lies on the western edge of the lake on the Reuss River. Spanning the river are a number of bridges, including the city’s landmark Chapel Bridge, built in the 14th century but destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1993. Luckily, the adjoining 13th century water tower remained intact and, if this isn’t enough history for you, look no further than the nearby Spreuer Bridge, built in 1408 with 17th century paintings adorning the dark walls. Don’t miss a walk along the medieval city wall, the Museggmauer, with its elegant and famous towers which offer stunning views of the old town.
Quiet in the winter when the tourists flock to the ski slopes, Lucerne comes into its own in the summer and has plenty of hotels, pensions and hostels, as well as a number of campsites around the lake if you want a double dose of fresh air.
You are never far from a ski resort in Switzerland and Lucerne is no exception. The nearest resort is Engelberg, lying at the base of the snowy 3239m Mt Titlis, which can be reached by a revolving cable car. Despite its reputation as the main snowboarding resort in central Switzerland, skiers will not be disappointed with a variety of runs to suit all levels.
Worth a look
Reached by a steep cable car ride that sends your heart into your mouth, Mt Rigi is an alpine haven for walking. The incessant ringing of cow bells in the summer is muffled by deep, crisp and even snow in the winter.
The Jungfrau Region
Slightly further afield but no less accessible. Catch the ski train to Wengen or Grindelwald or head higher to the peaks of the Jungfrau and Eiger. The north face of the latter is legendary and claims the lives of many climbers, while the somewhat macabre entertainment of watching rescue operations can be enjoyed from the restaurant opposite.
– KATE ROBINSON
Additional information supplied by Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com). The fourth edition of Lonely Planet Switzerland is out now.