Sauntering in Switzerland

2023-10-27
/
/ New Delhi
Switzerland Tourism
Sauntering in Switzerland

Separated just by a thin ribbon of asphalt from the massive Lake Lucerne, which stretches to over 113 sqkm in area and is the fourth-largest lake in the country, that boasts of nearly 1500 lakes sprinkled across its territory of barely 41,285 sqkm (Photo: Luzern Tourismus-Beat Brechbühl)

Located almost in the heart of Switzerland, Lucerne is an ideal base to explore some of the Swiss landmarks, notably Mount Titlis and Mount Pilatus.
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By the third day, I had begun to look forward to it. In this seemingly timeless corner of the world, where silence was not just the rule, but ruled all day and all night, these occasional sounds had begun to feel welcome interruptions, if only because they also served as my perfect timekeepers.

The first sound came every morning and precisely at 06:59. Though, instinctively, I looked at my mobile for the time, but I need not ever have bothered. Afterall, I was in the place that prides itself as being the timekeeper to the world. And sure enough, even the public transport, like a ferry, respected that term, arriving every morning precisely at 06:59 at Weggis, a tiny town on the northern coast of Lake Lucerne or Luzern, as it is called in German, which was our home for a good 10 days recently.

As we were travelling to Switzerland in its peak travel season, late May-early June and most of our work was in Luzern city itself, I had initially been looking for a hotel in the main city. But as Dame Fortune would have it, all the hotels were either packed to the brim or priced way beyond our budget, which was anything but miserly. Hence, when I booked a hotel in Weggis, about 30 minutes’ drive from Luzern, I was not sure about how my group may react, since I was dragging them away from city centre.

But my fears were dispelled the moment we set foot in our hotel or might I say the moment we entered Weggis as everyone, including your correspondent, had the jaw-drop reaction to the immense beauty that the magical town exuded. Sitting just by the lake, offering perhaps the best views of the Swiss Alps, with many of the most famous peaks covered deep in snow, and a sense of unhindered serenity, Weggis had floored us even before we reached our abode, the Graziella.

Ultimately, the location turned out to be the biggest asset. Separated just by a thin ribbon of asphalt from the massive Lake Lucerne, which stretches to over 113 sqkm in area and is the fourth-largest lake in the country, that boasts of nearly 1500 lakes sprinkled across its territory of barely 41,285 sqkm.

Unlike most other hotels in Europe, the rooms at the Graziella were not only well-appointed, but also generously large, with enough space for a coffee table with two comfortable chairs and the best part was that each room comes with its good-sized own balcony, where even five persons could sit and watch the lake. The hotel also has a terrace open to all guests and which is another place that we as a group used frequently during our stay.

Luzern’s old wooden bridge is an unmissable landmark

Situated about 20 km to the east of Lucerne, Weggis and its sister resort town of Viznau are located at the foot of the Rigi peak, which is accessible by the Viznau-Rigi cog railway, that was the first-ever mountain railway in Europe. The region here is known for its mild climate and numerous southern plants such as palms, orchids and chestnut trees thrive in this region, earning the region the sobriquet of being the Lucerne Riviera. Weggis, with a population of about 4500, is an upscale holiday resort town that dates back to the 12th century. It lies on an important trade route between Switzerland and Italy, through the Gotthard Pass, about 80 km to the south of Weggis.

And sure enough, one look at leading upscale hotel brands that throng the towns, along with its tiny, yet very chic and trendy market of Weggis is enough to convince anyone about the gentry that opts to spend their vacations or own the few private residences that are sprinkled around the twin towns.

As it is located at the base of the Rigi, there are several paths for trekking and walking around the area, which is primarily agricultural. Of course, quiet as it is, all day and all night, Weggis town also offers itself as an ideal promenade for those who may not want to go climbing, even if Rigi is barely 1800 m high.

Another popular activity here is to simply hop on to the ferry that comes calling every hour or so, during the day, to go around exploring Lake Lucerne, with the option to disembark at any of the several stations the ferry stops at.

Lovely Lucerne

Sitting at the western fringe of the lake that bears its name, Lucerne is a very compact 14th century town. One of the most attractive things about Lucerne is its extremely well-preserved heritage and medieval architecture, especially its colourful Altstadt, the old town, that has kept the ambience of a 14th century town alive. One of the biggest attractions in this part of Lucerne is a covered bridge, called the Kapellbrücke or the Chapel Bridge, which was built in 1333. While walking on the bridge, keep visitors should keep their head turned upwards to be able to relish the beautiful paintings on the roof of the bridge.

One of the most popular spots in Lucerne is the long, lakeside promenade that stretches all the way along the length of the town. In summers, the lakeside turns into a large fete, with music concerts and games held there. For tourists, there is a lake cruise that starts from close to the Chapel Bridge. There are several kiosks all along the promenade that sell ice creams or crepes and other snacks as well as beverages.

Near the Chapel Bridge is also the main shopping district of Lucerne, which offers a variety of Swiss products, from watches and chocolates to garments and souvenirs. It also offers numerous dining options, with a variety of cuisines, including some with Swiss dishes like rosti or fondue.

Cliff walking at Mount Titlis

One of the biggest advantages of choosing Lucerne as a destination is its proximity to two of the biggest attractions of Switzerland that brings tourists from all over the world, Mount Titlis and Mount Pilatus, the former about 36 km south of Lucerne, while the latter is barely 12 km away. Of the two, Mount Titlis is of course by far more popular and not just with the Indian tourists, for whom, along with Matterhorn, Titlis is a must-do spot in Switzerland.

Standing at 3238 m, Titlis is covered in snow all year round and has a whole host of activities that visitors can undertake, depending upon their fitness, age and activity-level.

To get to Mount Titlis, one must first get to the base at Engelberg, which is easily accessible by autoroute A2 and is also well-served by trains from Lucerne. For those driving to Engelberg, just like we were, there is a huge parking lot conveniently situated, a few metres from the cable car station.

There are several levels of visits at Mount Titlis and hence one must be sure which ticket to purchase. First off, from the base everyone takes Titlis Xpress cable car that ferries people all the way to the Stand station. Enroute to Stand station, it halts at the Trübsee middle station where one can get off in order to explore the area around Trübsee.

As the cable car moves up the mountain side, the view below is typical postcard Swiss, with the Alpine cows munching on the lush grass and the bells around their necks tingling every time they move or lift their heads. Further away, a narrow stream of water, as clear as a recently-cleaned mirror, flows and neatly-laid and well-maintained houses are sprinkled all around. The image is pretty much what one may have seen in dozens of Hindi films.

Mount Titlis

The snowscape of Mount Titlis is specially popular with Indian tourists

For those not in rush and with moderate fitness, making a halt at Trübsee is highly recommended, after all, not only does it enable the visitor to make the most of the ride up the mountain, but also explore the rich nature all around.

An extensive network of hiking trails and lots of different routes await, offering anything from a leisurely stroll to a challenging hike.

One of the most attractive, even if moderately challenging activities here is the 4-lake hike, whose highlights include the imposing scenery, with Titlis at the centre. The four lakes themselves are diverse in appearance, while the Lake Trüb is glassy, Lake Engstlen is deep blue and Lake Tannen turquoise, with Lake Melch being one of the most picturesque lakes in Switzerland. The trail also offers stunning views of the distant Bernese Alps.

The Lake Trüb is a short descent from the Trübsee station of cable car and can also serve as a good, short exploration for those who may not have the seven hours needed to complete the 4-lake hike. At the Trübsee, one can either go boating, with row boats or paddle boats. Alternatively, there is a zipline from Trübsee Alpine Lodge to the play area by the lake. The zipline takes one flying across 500 m above the valley.

Back on the 4-lake hike, using cable cars all the time can reduce the time to two hours only, though it does take the hike out of the 4-lake hike! It is also possible to make it a two-day hike with a night spent in one of the many guesthouses lining the trail. This allows enough time not only to walk around, but also go fishing or boating in the lakes.

After a halt at Trübsee, one can head back to the cable car station and take the next available car to mount to the Stand station, which is the terminus of this cable car. From here, those who have the tickets to go to the top of Titlis can mount the Titlis Rotair cable car, touted to be the first cable in the world which rotates as it moves, giving the people inside a 360° view of the surroundings, during the ascent or descent. The Rotair comes to its own destination, the Summit Station, at 3020 m, barely 300 m below the summit of the Titlis Peak.

Stepping out of the cable car station, one is greeted by a sheet of bright white snow all around as the upper third of Titlis is permanently covered in snow. One can start seeing the snow cover even from the cable car itself, almost as soon as one leaves the Stand Station. As Mount Titlis is among the highest peaks around, the summit offers magnificent views of the Alps around, all the way down to the town of Engelberg, which is barely visible at the base of the mountain.

Titlis Rotair

Titlis Rotair on the way to Mount Titlis, Engelberg (Photo: Luzern Tourismus-Roger Grütter

There are numerous activities to be undertaken here, though most of the visitors seem content with making snow figurines or engaging in snowball battles. There is a glacier cave that is also worth a visit as few would have had experienced being inside the belly of a glacier, as while getting into the cave, the tourists descend 20 m below the surface of the glacier!

Beyond the glacier, one of the most popular activities at the summit is not meant for the weak-hearted, even though there is no danger involved. The Titlis Cliff Walk is a suspension bridge of barely 150 steps that traverses the abyss as it connects to the Ice Flyer glacier chair life station. Being the highest suspension bridge in Europe, at altitude of 3041 m, the cliff walk can be a hair-raising experience for those scared of heights. But it is certainly a walk worth doing as it offers unique views of the Alpine landscape all around and of course makes for great photographs.

There are several restaurants all along the journey and at the summit itself, there are three, the Titlis Panorama restaurant with table service, a self-service restaurant and an ice-cream bar. One can relish warm, hearty meals and enjoy hot chocolates or coffee to stay warm. There are adequate options for vegetarians, too.

Musings at Mount Pilatus

If white was the colour that dominated the terrain around Mount Titlis, it was bright green or rather different shades of green that the area around Pilatus was covered in.

 Luzern

Wherever you go in Luzern, food is never too far away and neither is the lake

Much lower than Titlis, standing at 2128 metres, the route to Pilatus, that is only about 12 km by road from Lucerne, was almost entirely drenched in green as meadow after meadow came up on both sides of the road, with very light traffic.

It was not just the topography or the landscape or even vegetation that was different here, it was also the crowd of tourists. While Titlis was almost packed with tourists and there was a sizeable queue for the cable car, Pilatus was relatively empty and quiet, which only went on to enhance its beauty even more and made the experience on the whole a more pleasant one, as the entire area seemed to be just for us, a handful of other tourists and what seemed to be mandatory in Switzerland, a few dozen cows belching away in the meadows.

Mount Pilatus

Mount Pilatus is another popular mountain destination near Luzern (Photo: Luzern Tourismus-Tamara Stalder)

There are several legends to go with Pilatus. According to one belief, a dragon rock supposedly fell from the sky in the year 1420, while another legend holds that the Roman governor Pontius Pilatus might have been buried in Lake Pilatus and another folktale says that a petrified man stands guard in front of a cave.

It is also possible to access Pilatus directly from Lucerne by a gondola lift and aerial cable car. While another route from  Alpnachstad brings with it, the world’s steepest rack-railroad.


Keep Out

Though the meadows may be by the dozen in Switzerland and may seem devoid of any humans, the Swiss farmers don’t take very kindly to people straying into their meadows any more than they like stray animals roaming around their fields. We learnt it the hard way when we stepped into an empty meadow to reach a particularly appealing spot for photographs. Barely had we reached the spot, when a farmer couple came out of their manor over a km away, shouting at us. Though they did not speak in English, their wildly flailing arms left us in no doubt what they wanted from us. And we meekly headed back to the road.

An Indian summer in Switzerland

 Luzern

Indian tourists waiting for their bus in Luzern

Blame it on the peak summer vacation in Indian schools, but every part of Lucerne and its surroundings, including Mount Titlis, was thronging with Indian tourists. In the city centre, which we visited almost every day of our 10- day sojourn due to business meetings, and irrespective of the hour of the day, hundreds of Indian tourists were seen strolling around, shopping, munching on snacks or simply sitting and chatting, while waiting for their bus or their guide. And in the parking spot near an Indian restaurant, buses seemed to be arriving every few minutes, disgorging hordes of hungry tourists who immediately went to Kanchi, an Indian restaurant favoured by tour groups, with the group leaders holding small boards up in the air displaying a variety of familiar names, Thomas Cook, Veena World or Kesari.

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