A quick 40 minute train journey from Zurich had us in Lucerne.
Coming from Melbourne, Australia the efficient and on time train schedule is so enlightening. We come from a city that boasts being the most liveable in the world but running an efficient on schedule public transport system is obviously not part of the criteria. When a train runs on time in Melbourne, there’s a celebration!
Lucerne sits on the Reuss River, a compact city dotted with medieval architecture and surrounded by the Museggmauer (Musegg Wall), a 14-century rampart. The views are stunning everywhere you look. In the distance the snow capped mountains frame the old and modern bustling city creating a fairytale like atmosphere.
We chose to stay at the Hotel Des Balance, primarily for its position in the Old Town and it’s view of the famous Kapellbrucke bridge (Chapel Bridge) and Reuss River. The front of the hotel faces Weinmarkt square wher Passion Plays were held in the late Middle Ages.
We dedicated three full days to exploring the city. The Chapel Bridge, the most famous landmark in Lucerne is stunning but it’s the city side streets and stunningly preserved medieval architecture that had us in awe.
Every corner in the old town revealed a square with cobblestones, frescoed buildings and centuries old fountains. In fact fountains are in abundance here, 166 public fountains to be exact. All with fresh water flowing freely. The water from the old network is today still gathered at the foot of the Mount Pilatus and fed along the stream Krienbach into the city. The pressure network is largely supplied with prepared lake water, the quality of which is constantly checked. The water from the old fountain network is treated with ultraviolet rays in order to kill germs. In medieval times the square fountain would have been a place for social gatherings for locals. A place to fill their water trough and keep in touch with local gossip.
The city is still surrounded by the Museggmauerthe (Musseg Wall). Still vastly intact, the ramparts were built in the 14th century to protect the city. There are glimpses of the fortification with its Nine Towers everywhere you look.
A major monument the Lucernians are very proud of is the Löwendenkmal (The Lion Monument). This is Lucerne’s monument to soldier’ fallen. The stone sculpture dates from 1821.
The sculpture carved in rock of a dying lion is a symbol for over eight hundred Swiss mercenaries who died in service in 1792 during the French Revolution. They belonged to the Swiss regiment which served French king Louis XVI, and were defending the Tuileries in Paris where the French royal family were living during the revolution against revolutionaries. The royal family had long since fled, so the mercenaries were defending an empty palace. The inscription gives the names of the officers killed and the approximate numbers of soldiers.
The vast mass of the rock makes its a very imposing amd mournful place.
With a full day’s history lesson under our belt we decide to head out of town the next day. The immediate surroundings were there to explore.
Lucerne location in the middle of the country makes it a perfect base to explore so many towns in Switzerland. Day trips are a short train ride to places like the capital of Bern or a short boat ride on the River Reuss to smaller towns dotting the lake.
There are also several mountain peaks to explore, like Mount Tiltis, Pilatus and Rigi being the closest. Mount Rigi is accessed via a cogwheel railway so the kids voted Rigi as their mountain of choice.
Mount Rigi lies between Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug and Lake Lauerz. You can imagine the stunning views all around. To reach Rigi we had to take a boat, Cogwheel railway and Cable Car. The cogwheel railway leaving from Vitznau was Europe’s first mountain railway. One of the highlights of getting there!
There are so many ways to access the mountain from Lucerne. It was such a beautiful day we chose to take the boat to Vitznau. A 38km journey passing the stunning scenery Switzerland is renowned for.
Our next mode of transport was the Cogwheel railway to the top of Mount Rigi. Once we arrived at the Vitznau pier, it’s a 50 m walk to the Rigi Bahn valley station.
The short journey to the top of the summit was spectacular. You can see as far as the Jura mountains, the Black Forest and the Vosges. The carriages are beautifully restored dating back from 1871 and 1911. A steep slow incline allowed us to take the scenery and mountain air at a slow pace.
As we climbed the summit it was extraordinary to see the weather change before our very eyes. The sunshine was quickly masked by heavy clouds and a blistering wind. By the time we had disembarked at the top of the main summit at 1798 metres above sea level the restaurant had closed its access as the wind was blowing the table and chairs around like pieces of paper on the viewing platfrom. We ducked out long enough for some pics as a big gust of wind came through!
We didn’t embark on any of the many walking trails (we’ll leave that for another trip) as the wind was just too strong.
We spent an extremely short time at the top (30 mins to be exact) before we ran for the cogwheel platform to head back down.
We headed back down to the town of Weggis, this time via Cable Car. We spotted a Spa complex further down the mountain ( thermal baths at Rigi Kaltbad – damn!) that we did not know about and would have been a great spot for taking in the views while soaking away our tired feet from weeks of travelling.
Note to self – Weeks could be spent in the surrounding area enjoying the Mineral Baths at Rigi Kaltbad or taking in the surrounds on the many pictureqse hiking trails.
Weggis seemed like a bustling little resort town lying at the base of Rigi. This area is often termed as the Riviera of Switzzerland. We did spot quite a few hotels on the shores of the lake. It would definitely be a great alternative for a quieter spot to base yourself if visiting the area rather than Lucerne. In fact, I don’t think there would be a bad spot anywhere in Switzerland!
Back in Lucerne we spent we finally left the right side of the river (Old Town) and explored the left side. We ventured over the second wooden covered bridge that survived the centuries, the Spreuerbrücke. Not as popular and much less foot traffic than the Chapel Bridge but just as interesting. Built in 1406, the bridge’s rafters are filled with paintings of the Dance of Death, known in German as the Totentanz.
We also came across Switzerland’s first large church in the Baroque style, which stood out amongst the medieval architecture. We learnt it was the Jesuit Church built between 1666 and 1677.
We gave ourselves enough time for exploring this wonderful city but with enough left tto have us begging to come visit again. If it wasn’t for the cold winters I think we could live here!