Ren�e S. Gordon
Ren�e S. Gordon
It has been stated that
Switzerland is an island surrounded by land and to some extent that
is true. The 15,940 sq. mile country, 216-miles wide and 137-miles
in length, is situated in the shadow of the Alps in the midst of
Austria, France, Germany, Italy and
Liechtenstein and yet stands out as a totally unique destination.
Most noted for its scenic beauty and extensive, year round, outdoor
activities, Switzerland has many more one-of-a-kind offerings that
will take your breath away.
of human habitation has been found in Swiss caves dating from
approximately 150,000 years ago. Around 4,000 BC area inhabitants
began to build lake dwellings and information on these historically
significant Neolithic homes can be obtained in eleven museums
900-years, beginning in 500 BC the region was settled by Celts, the
most prominent tribe being the Helvetians who gave their name to the
country. The Romans, commanded by Julius Caesar, took control in 58
BC and ruled until 400 AD. Roman influence is still visible in
numerous cities and several Roman ruins have been preserved. The
country was referred to as Helvetia until the Swiss Revolution of
1798 when Schweiz, the vernacular name, came into common use.
Switzerland is comprised of cantons, comparable to our states, and
its cities, towns and villages, more than any other European nation,
are accessible via a variety of extremely reliable modes of public
transportation. Over 9,000 trains depart daily, city buses are
regularly scheduled and ferries, motorized boats and paddlewheelers
ply the waters of the country’s more than 6800 lakes.
For hikers and cyclists there are more than 37,000-miles of
All the methods of transportation are integrated into The Swiss
Travel System to facilitate travel for international visitors.
Several types of passes are offered for varying lengths of time, all
at significant savings. Passes may also include mountain railways
and museum admission. Prices vary and complete information is
To put it simply, Switzerland overwhelms
with its sheer physical beauty and one of the best areas to take in
the sweeping panoramic vistas of high mountains and deep lakes is
the Lake Lucerne Region. Known as the “Gateway to Switzerland,” it
has much to recommend it as a destination, a starting point for a
grand tour of the entire country or as a base from which to explore
the surrounding sites.
|Sightseeing on Lake Lucerne
It is widely believed that Lucerne was named by the Celts who
settled in a “lozzeria” or marshland on the shore of Lake Lucerne.
Location was everything and the city was founded in 1178 near the
Alps’ Mounts Pilatus and Rigi. Thirty-two years later the St.
Gotthard Pass, the north-south route used to carry goods over the
Alps, was opened.
Merchandise was brought by wagon and then loaded on boats to
complete the 24-mile journey to Lucerne by boat for further
transport. A road was opened in 1830 and in 1980 the 3rd
longest tunnel in the world was opened over the 1,309 -mile high
pass. The drive is considered one of the most scenic in the world.
Lucerne is a walkable city but no visit is complete without a ride
on one of 5 original steamboats on the lake. The boats, both
historic and new, constitute the largest fleet on any lake in
of the city generally begin at the wooden Chapel Bridge, once part
of the city’s fortifications. The 656-ft. long bridge was completed
in 1333 and named after the chapel because it was originally
constructed to lead directly into St. Peter’s Chapel. In the 1600s
triangular paintings were added to panels on the covered bridge.
There are two cycles, one honoring Leodegar and Maurice, the patron
saints of the city, and the second relating Lucerne’s history. It is
the oldest road bridge on the continent.
adjacent, octagonal, stone Water Tower was also once part of the
protective wall. It has functioned as a prison, torture chamber,
archive and treasury. The 112-ft. tall Gothic tower is the most
photographed monument in Switzerland.
Spreuer Bridge was completed in 1408. The 67 paintings on this
bridge feature the “Danse Macabre,” mankind’s inevitable journey
toward the grave.
Medieval Lucerne is dated from the 1178 appointment of a priest at
St. Peter’s Chapel with the town’s fortifications being erected
around 1230. The pedestrian only Altstadt, Old Town, is reminiscent
of Lucerne’s past as a significant trading center during its
earliest days. Nine of the original ten towers remain as part of the
14th-century Musegg Wall, the original ramparts.
Three of the towers are open and one, the Zyt Tower, contains
the oldest clock in the city. It was built in 1535 and is set to
chime hourly, one minute before all the other clocks in Lucerne.
Historic guildhalls dot the streets, notable for their exterior
frescoes the most beautiful of which is that of the Baker’s Guild.
The guild dates from the 1400s and on the fa�ade
of the former hall you can still see the family crests of the first
|Panorama from Mt Rig
The Renaissance-style Hotel des Balances, between the Wine and Fish
Markets, was once the city hall. The tribunal was always held there
on Tuesday, market day, outdoors with the spectators separated from
the council by a red rope.
of the hotel is painted ornately and provides a wonderful photo op.
soldiers were renowned for their bravery and military skill from
ancient times and so it became common for other countries to hire
them as mercenaries. Their service was federally regulated and they
were paid in goods and commodities, including salt, hence the word
salary. In 1506 Pope Julius II installed 150 men as the Pontifical
Swiss Guard and they have now served that function for more than
500-years. Switzerland’s 1848 constitution declared mercenary
service for a foreign nation illegal with the exception of the
Vatican’s Papal Guard.
“Dying Lion of Lucerne” monument memorializes the Swiss soldiers who
gave their lives on August 10, 1792 protecting Louis XVI and Marie
Antoinette at the Tuileries Palace. The lion, carved from sandstone,
has been speared and engraved on the rock are the names of the dead.
The sculpture is 20-ft. high and 33-ft. long.
Modern Lucerne’s premier attraction is the lakeside Culture and
Convention Centre or KKL. Architect Jean Nouvel designed the center
to appear to float on the lake. It is the site of the Lucerne Music
Festival. Tours are available.
Three thousand objects are on view at the Swiss Museum of Transport,
Switzerland’s most visited museum. The museum interprets all modes
of transportation including space travel. The complex also houses a
theater with the country’s largest screen and a planetarium.
|Panorama of Lucerne
Lucerne has an international reputation as a city of festivals with
its most famous being the classical music Lucerne Festival. It dates
from 1938 when Arturo Toscanini established the festival.
The 18th annual Lucerne Blues Festival kicks off in
November with international performers including Irma Thomas and
Sista Monica. You can sign
up for the newsletter and obtain schedules and ticket prices at
Christmas Market is on display in Lucerne from November 23rd
until December 23rd. More than 50 stalls feature arts,
crafts and culinary delights against a magical alpine backdrop.
Six days and nights in February are reserved for the celebration of
Carnival. The party is continuous and takes place throughout the
center of town. The festivities begin on “Dirty Thursday” and
culminate the following Tuesday in a
Accommodations are plentiful and visitors have options in all price
ranges and locations. Two hotels that I found offered all the
amenities and personal attention are the Hotels Flora and De La Paix
The Ameron Hotel Flora is a few steps from the train station,
one-block from the entrance to Old Town and two-blocks from the
lake. It offers all of the standard services and free WIFI and
charming Hotel De La Paix is located in the heart of a shopping
district and a short walk from Old Town sites. This historic hotel
offers great service, breakfast, free WIFI and a restaurant
recognized for its cuisine.
Swiss International Airlines flies nonstop from the United States to
Zurich daily. You can leave in the morning and begin your Swiss
adventure by that afternoon.
Switzerland, on a
high mountain, not far from Lucerne, there is a lake they call
Pilate's Pond, which the Devil has fixed upon as one of the chief
residences of his evil spirits.”
Pilatus is part of the sweeping panorama that can be seen from
Lucerne. The highest peak of the mountain stands 7,000-ft. above sea
level and has figured in Swiss legend and lore for centuries. In the
earliest references it was known as “Fractus Mons” or “Broken
Mountain,” and believed to house the lairs of dragons.
|View from Mt. Pilate
is so called because of the legend that connects it to Pontius
Pilate. The story states that Pilate was killed after the death of
Christ, his body was thrown into the Tiber River and violent storms
immediately erupted. The body was removed and the storms ceased. He
was then tossed into the Rhone River where the weather took a turn
for the worse. For a third time the body was moved, carried into the
Alps and thrown into a small lake near Lucerne. Bad weather and
flooding were then attributed to dark forces and the ghost of Pilate
was said to haunt the area attempting to cleanse his hands. To
protect the populace climbing the mountain was strictly forbidden.
Lucerne’s parish priest and a contingent of citizens ascended the
mountain and exorcised the supernatural forces. To maintain their
banishment nine-years later the lake was drained and it was not
until 1980 that the waters were allowed to flow again.
trip to the area is undertaken without completing the Golden Round,
a trip to the summit of Mount Pilatus that involves five modes of
take a boat from the port in Lucerne to Alpanachstad where they take
the steepest cogwheel train in the world. The 30-minute ride
achieves a gradient of 48% and travels through six tunnels carved
into the mountain.
Pilatus-Kulm Mountain Hotel and Hotel Bellevue are located atop the
mountain and a night’s lodging makes this exciting journey even more
fantastic. The Bellevue is a 28-room hotel with views of Lucerne Bay
and the Alps. The Pilates-Kulm is a remodeled 27-room historic hotel
built in 1890. The complex is situated on a plateau that provides
access to several hiking trails, a panoramic viewing gallery several
restaurants, including the elegant Queen Victoria decorated in
1890’s grand style, and a gift shop. Provisions are made for the
back to Lucerne is equally spectacular. It begins with an aerial
cableway descent to Frakmuntegg at a 4,649-ft. elevation. Travelers
paused here to visit the largest rope park in Central Switzerland,
experience the world’s longest summer, 4500-ft., toboggan run and
have an invigorating snack. Panorama Gondolas complete the descent
to Kriens where a 15-minute bus ride returns you to the heart of
Lucerne. Check the website because portions of the trip are
Seetal is a valley that has come to be known for its lakes, castles
and natural landscapes.
Two of the most representative of the more than 1,000 palaces in the
country are Castle Heidegg on Lake Baldegg and the Water Castle
Hallwyl on Lake Hallwyl.
Heidegg is first mentioned in the 12th-century when it
was the residence of knights and the Heidegg family who ruled the
area and guarded the lake. In the 16th-century it was
modernized. The chapel is oddly shaped because it follows the
footprint of an earlier tower. The castle is renowned for its garden
filled with roses that are a result of a visit by Konrad Adenauer
who stated that what the garden needed was roses.
castle houses a museum with exhibits on several floors that
interpret the lives of those who inhabited it. A gift shop is on the
Castle was a moated toll castle built in 1200 as a residential tower
and to monitor lake traffic. In the 1300s a dry most was added. The
castle remained in the von Hallwyl family until they donated it in
castle’s permanent exhibits contain eleven themes on three floors
and relate 700-years of history. Acoustic guides are provided, for
self-guided tours, in English. Highlights of the tour are a copy of
a 1611 book of herbal remedies by Burkhard III. He was so ahead of
his time that he recognized the value of cleanliness and allowed the
poor to come to the castle and bathe. The 3rd-floor
gallery tells the story of both courtly and peasant life in the
Medieval Era. On display are helmets and jousting lances of
Jura and the three lakes region is comprised of the Cantons Jura and
Solothurn and Biel.
It is an ideal region to explore if you are seeking classic
Switzerland with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 9 historic cheese
factories, Swiss watchmaking companies, nature trails, museums,
medieval towns and a solitary fixed traffic light in the largest
part of the area.
Solothurn is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. It has more than
100-miles of trails and golf courses, sightseeing cruises on the
river and a pedestrian Old Town filled with buildings that date from
the early 1530s. The Romans built the first city here around 300 AD
but arrows have been found dating from BC. While touring the city
you can follow in the footsteps of Casanova who romanced a Solothurn
beauty around 1760 or Napoleon who also stopped here.
include several outstanding historic and architectural sites. The
Baroque Jesuit Church, completed in 1689, is considered exemplary.
There are 11 fountains, more than any other Swiss city.
Clock Tower is the most unique site and the oldest structure in the
city. Built around 1250 the astronomical clock was placed there in
1545. It has three mechanized figures, the king, a knight and Death.
The clock’s three hands indicate the hour and the placement of the
heavenly bodies. The clock strikes and the knight turns to the right
and asks Death if his time is up. Death’s response is to turn the
hourglass to indicate that time remains.
take the roadway but a scenic boat ride passes villages and
vineyards and takes you to St. Peter’s Island, now a peninsula. The
island was inhabited as early as the Bronze Age but the documented
history begins in earnest with a group of monks who erected a
Romanesque monastery in the 1100s. No more than 5 monks ever lived
there at one time along with their female housekeepers. They were
chased from the island in the 1490s. Guest rooms were added in 1530
and in 1765 French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau lodged there.
French Parliament banned Rousseau’s works and he moved to
Switzerland. The citizens evicted him in 1765 and he moved to St.
Peter’s Island. This year is his 300th birthday and more
than 30 commemorative events have been planned in the area.
monastery is now the historic Monastery Hotel renowned for its
luxury accommodations, hospitality and fine wines that are unique to
the hotel. People make the trek to see the rooms in which Rousseau
lived and worked and shared his accommodations with a maid from
Paris. The two rooms are furnished as they would have been but the
real surprise is the trapdoor that allowed him to escape unwanted
company and admirers. The 13-room hotel was the recipient of the
2010 Historic Hotel of the Year Award.
Saint-Ursanne is one of the most
charming medieval towns in the entire country. It was named in honor
of 7th-century St.
The 1728 stone bridge, replacing a wooden bridge from 1629, leads
into the city through St. John’s Gate. Once inside tours include
numerous historic structures. Highlights of a visit are the 14th-century
cloister, the 1321 Collegiate Church and the 1296 St. Paul and 1522
St. Pierre Gates. This is a do not miss site.
Neuch�tel is first mentioned in a document dating from 1011 when the
Burgundian king gifted his wife with the Novum Castle. Neuch�tel
means “new castle,” after a castle built in the 900s. Archaeological
excavations have proven the area was inhabited as early as 13,000 BC
and a Gallo-Roman barge has also been uncovered.
Lat�nium Archeology Museum and Park is one of only a few UNESCO
World Heritage Sites inscribed for its underwater cultural heritage.
It was listed in 2011 because the museum features among its 3,000
objects the stilts of Neolithic pile dwellings on the site of the
original village of
The website is not in English but you can see photographs of the
historic center of the city is rich with medieval structures. If you
only have time for the castle and one site that site must be the
Collegial Church built around 1185. The church has both Gothic and
Romanesque elements and the interior showcases the Monument of the
Counts, a sculptural piece with 15 life-sized figures including
An excellent choice for dinner is the Restaurant Petit Hotel de
Chaumont that is reached by a panoramic funicular. Once at the
summit visitors can climb a tower that provides a panoramic view of
the Alps. www.petithotel.ch
Maison du Prussien, a former 18th-century brewery, is an
ideally situated hotel located in a gorge. It has been fully
modernized and offers all the amenities including down comforters,
breakfast and WIFI. You will be enchanted. www.hotel-prussien.ch/en
Switzerland is a year round destination that offers something for
everyone. It has a huge number of unique sites and attractions and a
full schedule of festivals.
Swiss International Air Lines Ltd. flies nonstop from the United
States and provides world-class service.
You can plan your trip, see photographs and make reservations at