October 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
The town of Lucerne in Switzerland is a postcard come to life. The vivid green of rolling hills is dappled with the white and silver roofs of houses, gleaming in the sun which is mostly covered by fluffy white clouds. The rich green of the landscape and crisp air gives way to Lake Lucerne, a vast blue-green expanse at the center of the city. Swans glide across the water’s surface, mimicking the clouds above.
Lucerne is unassuming and quiet but it boasts a rich history which is full of traditions and an abundance of attractions which show off its natural beauty. One of these attractions is climbing Mt. Pilatus, a snow white monolith that can be seen peeking over rooftops no matter where you are in Lucerne. The top of Pilatus can be reached the Pilatus Railway which is the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, or via air gondolas and aerial cable ways which suspend you so high above the fields that the once towering mountain looks like a speed bump. At the top of Mt. Pilatus, there was a man in traditional Swiss attire blowing a long horn called the Alphorn. Birds flit by your head before disappearing into the clouds which fill your vision. Within minutes, your entire field of sight will be white, as if there was no mountain and you were watching the world from above on a cloud.
“Lucerne is unique because of the landscape and variation of activities to do there,” said Hannah Wheeler of Australia. “In the day I spent there, we arrived by bus, took a funicular to reach the top of the mountain, took a train down, rode a boat, and walked on foot. Lucerne has bodies of water, mountains, a gorgeous city… it has it all! The giant walking bridge is also a very unique treasure that Lucerne has.”
This is the the Chapel Bridge which straddles the Ruess River. The bridge was constructed in 1333 making it Europe’s oldest covered bridge. The rickety wood bridge is covered in once vibrantly colored paintings displaying Swiss history.There is a brick water tower adjacent to the bridge, clocking in at over 140 feet. The tower has served as a prison, torture chamber, watchtower and treasury for the city in the past. The tower and the bridge have become the most photographed sights in the country. A popular tourist attraction, the bridge is the first sight you see when you enter the city and stands as a testament to the history behind this inconspicuous city.
One of Lucerne’s most popular attraction is the Lion Monument, which is a statue of lion that has been carved into the side of a stone wall. It is a monument dedicated to the Swiss guards that were killed during the French revolution. Around the outside of the monument you can see the outline of a pig, carved facing the opposite direction of the lion. This was either a message to the French, calling them pigs, or, it was revenge from the sculptor because he was never paid for his work, the story varies on who you ask. In a way, the lion perfectly represents the appeal of Switzerland, quiet yet powerful.
“The view was just phenomenal. The views were always phenomenal. It was the perfect place for me to put the brakes on a go-go-party-hard-drink-harder lifestyle and just sit on my balcony sipping hot tea looking at each and every house light that sprawled well into the horizon,” said Amy Clements. “I could see for miles and miles and miles and it really hit home about how beautiful Europe was, and how far I was from the atmosphere at home.”
But Lucerne isn’t just for the laidback. Adventures can be found if you look hard enough, the mountain tops urge you to conquer them and the lush highlands beg to be run on. Visitors can participate in one of Lucerne’s dozen hiking trails which get you up close and personal with the sights you can only see from above. You can also participate in popular local sports such as rugby and soccer and biking trails can be found all across the landscape. René Welti is a certified Swiss Hiking Guide who founded the Echo Trails, which leads scenic tours all over the countryside. His tours urge travelers to, “come along for a tour of incredibly beautiful alpine vistas, quaint villages and working farms, hear the story at historic places and enjoy the picturesque countryside.” Welti moved to Switzerland permanently in 2010 and has since become an expert on the best hiking and biking trails. During my own trip there, we had a group of children who lived up the street from our hotel knock on the door. None of them spoke English but we knew what they wanted when they threw their soccer ball at us. The children won and I was content with that as we said our goodbyes behind the backdrop of mountains, which looked lavender in the disappearing sunlight. It’s very easy to see how deeply in love Welti was with Switzerland and the sights it offered. In a way, his story isn’t a new one. It’s impossible for an American to not fall in love with the beauty of Lucerne, Welti said. He sees it everyday. There’s something that happens to travelers when they reach the peak of Mt. Pilatus or Mt. Figi, when they realize that their idea of a faraway fairytale land is perfectly encapsulated by this small European town.
“My best memory of Lucerne was tobogganing down Mount Riggi. It was incredibly fun. We boarded a rickety looking train which took us to the peak of the mountain. On the way up we saw a bunch of kids flying down the side of the mountain on toboggans. So we gathered a group of friends, hired toboggans and made our way down the hill,” Jonathan Franc said, describing how he created his own Swiss traditions.
The most interesting part of my personal trip was getting to see a cheese making demonstration. Though seemingly odd, it made sense. What is Swiss culture without Swiss cheese? Workers in traditional Swiss garb turn milk which is freshly gathered daily from mountain cattle into cheese while teaching the process and science behind it. This is just one of Lucerne’s glances into a past that has shaped modern life. Other cultural events include cattle drives where hundreds of cattle are wrangled down from the Alpine slopes by herdsmen as folk bands play. Popular museums such as the Swiss Museum of Transport, Lucerne Museum of Art, and the Glacier Garden provide peaks into the past. Lucerne is a perfect amalgamation of the old and new, seamlessly blending old world nostalgia with modern beauty and luxury.
“It was such a busy city, but then you could walk a little bit and be along the harbor or get on a boat to the mountain,” said Jill. “Also the distinction between old town and the newer areas was really interesting, though the culture stayed pretty much the same throughout.”
Lucerne’s city, if you could even call it that because it differs so much from the imagery associated with the concrete and grime of American cities, is lined with marketplaces, with local farmers and artisans selling produce and flowers. There’s not a single Superfresh or 7-11 to be found. Lucerne and Switzerland in general does not give into European stereotypes. Franc described the weather as, “sporadic. In the morning when we woke up it was overcast and snowing. By 10am it was raining. By lunch time there was not a cloud in the sky and it was clear blue.” The weather has a slight chill to it year round but it is perfect for exploring Lake Lucerne on one of its famous rowboats, where you can mill around the crystal clear water as swans and other shorebirds swim besides you, hoping you have some food you’d like to share.
“The views in itself are amazing. We also got to ride a boat around Lake Lucerne which was so beautiful. The water was so blue and the whole city surrounding all sides of the lake looked like a movie set, it was so perfect,” said Nicole Trylch who visited Lucerne this summer.
Lucerne is a gem, but certainly not a hidden one. The mountaintops that follows you wherever you go and the shimmering of Lake Lucerne even in the depths of winter are hard to escape. A relaxing slice of tranquility, Lucerne is abundant is culture and routes for exploration.
“The streets are made of cobblestone and most of the buildings have detailed murals painted on them. It is a photographer’s paradise,” said Jonathan Franc. “Out of all my travels around Europe, Lucerne is up there as one of the most beautiful cities.”