Soft sounds of tinkling cow bells on placid brown cows; crystal clear rivers to peer into and catch a fish; billowing sailboats dotting Lake Lucerne; cobblestone streets along fairytale architecture; the Blue Balls Festival featuring jazz, blues and punk music along the lake promenade; flower-strewn trails for climbing Mounts Pilatus and Rigi; the Lucerne Festival of classical and contemporary music and winsome chalets tucked into lush, green mountainsides. This — and so much more — is Lucerne, Switzerland, in the summer.
The Chapel Bridge built in 1333 and its triangular paintings in the bridge’s gables is a good place to start. The Swiss Transport Museum with steam and electric locomotives, one cutting through the Gotthard Pass, are marvelous examples of Swiss engineering. The Lion Monument, hewn out of natural rock to commemorate the heroic death of the Swiss mercenaries at the Tuilleries in 1792, is one of the world’s most famous monuments.
In spite of the marvelous shopping and art galleries (don’t miss the Rosengart Collection), Lucerne will lure you outside to its lakes and mountains. Travel by lake steamer and then cogwheel railway to Mount Pilatus, at 7,000 feet a breathtaking view. Hop on a gondola for the journey back down.
For a bit longer jaunt, take a boat from nearby Vitznau and an aerial cable car to the top of Mount Rigi, “Queen of the Mountains,” for a clear-day view as far as France and Germany. Board one of the cruises on Lake Lucerne, many with musical or culinary themes, for an excursion from one to six hours.
You can select from either classical elegance or artistically modern rooms in the magnificent Palace Hotel. Sophisticated, modern dining at the hotel’s Jasper is a summer treat when seated on the terrace overlooking Lake Lucerne.
Nearby and newly renovated Park Hotel Vitznau sits like a welcoming castle on the shoreline of Lake Lucerne. For art deco aficionados, try Hotel Montana with its numerous dining options, including fine dining at Scala Restaurant, dramatic vistas from Scala Terrace and a libation or two at the Hemingway Rum Lounge.
Boasting the “most exciting restaurants in Lucerne” is The Hotel. Yes, just The Hotel. But don’t let the name fool you. Inside is one surprise after another with the creativity and wow factor of French star architect Jean Nouvel on display at every turn. Located in the heart of the city, you’ll find guest rooms, dining rooms and bars — each with individual color compositions and names like Penthouse, Mekong, Casablanca and Blue. Very avant garde.
If you must choose only one spot to dine, it would have to be the Old Swiss House, with its cozy elegance and 16th-century décor. Visitors from around the world are drawn to this gem, featuring Swiss and French cuisine and stocked with one of the finest wine cellars in Europe. Other options are Wirtshaus Galliker, La Perla, Opus and Witshaus zum Rebstock.
The cherry on top of this Swiss chocolate sundae-like splendor is the arrival in August of Circus Knie (pronounced Kah-NEE), a family affair since 1803. The unique quality of its imaginative circus acts, the haunting beauty of their animals, dedication to animal care and the feeling of intimacy inside the big tent make this one of Europe’s major circus events.
The circus is coming, the circus is coming — and you won’t want to miss it. Or as E.E. Cummings famously put it, “Damn everything but the circus.”