Pretty as a picture, the enticing Swiss town of Lucerne is home to stunning alpine scenery, a sparkling lake, atmospheric medieval quarter and world-renowned music festivals
Only one hour from Zürich, this idyllic retreat is still relatively undiscovered – even though it is one of Switzerland’s most photographed attractions. Easily explored by foot, Lucerne is divided into old and new; the old being medieval and linked to the new via bridges dating back to the 13th century. The lake that makes its way through the town and is busy with steamboats and bathing huts, and the surrounding alpine landscapes are pure theatre. Lucerne is also musically inclined and hosts three annual music festivals, which attract leading international classical and contemporary artists.
What to do
Lucerne’s striking Kapellbrücke, Chapel Bridge, is the symbol of the city, crossing the Reuss River in the Old Town. Dating back to the 14th century, the medieval bridge is famed for its triangular painted roof panels that tell tales of Swiss history and mythology. Much of the original features were destroyed in a fire in 1993 but some still remain. Another bridge worth a walk is the darker and smaller Spreuerbrücke, built in 1408, its 17th-century paintings are all originals.
Admire the beauty of the Old Town with its atmospheric medieval houses, visit the Jesuitenkirche, Switzerland’s oldest baroque church, and cast a forlorn eye over the sad Löwendenkmal, Lion Monument, one of the city’s must-sees. Stroll along to Nolliturm, a fortified gate; it marks the southwest stretch of the town walls and from here you can walk along the battlements to the Museggstrasse.
Take a steamboat on Lake Lucerne (00 41 41 367 6767; www.lakelucerne.ch) or spend a morning winding up the surrounding mountain slopes through pretty Heidi landscapes on an old steam train. Venture further by funicular train to Stanserhorn, situated 1,900 metres above sea level, for great views of the town, lake and alpine ranges. A great location for lunch.
Lovers of modernist art will be thrilled with the Rosengart Collection (00 41 41 200 1660; www.rosengart.ch), the private collection of former Picasso model and muse Angela Rosengart, who has amassed over 200 works by 23 different artists including 50 by Picasso himself. A lakeside walk at sundown is the perfect end to your day.
Where to stay
Best views in town are from the Palace Luzern, which is grand yet homely. There’s a sumptuous bar complete with tinkling piano, and an excellent ESPA spa (you’ll need to pre-book appointments). If modernity is more your bag, try The Hotel. Designed by Jean Nouvel, the man responsible for the creation of the town’s convention centre, we are talking deluxe boutique, with hip rooms and chic backdrops. Easier on the purse is the Schlüssel, which is local and friendly; you will need to book ahead if you want to secure one of only 10 rooms available.
Where to eat and drink
Fish is the dish in Lucerne: you will find Forellen (trout), Egli (perch), Felechen (a white fish) and Hecht (pike), on the menu plucked fresh from the lake. Hotel restaurant Schiff (00 41 418 5252; www.hotel-schiff-luzern.ch) is a lovely spot right on the waterfront; the fish is fantastic but their home-made Würst and Chögalipaschtetli, a kind of giant vol-au-vent stuffed with veal and mushrooms, is hard to beat.
Opus (00 41 41 226 4141; www.restaurant-opus.ch) is a buzzing riverside winebar and restaurant serving Swiss and European food. Boasting over 700 wines, it’s a great place to stop for a pre-dinner glass or two. It doesn’t get more stylish than Bam Bou at The Hotel (see Where to stay), with superb Asian and French cuisine at a price.
If you want local cooking with a gourmet edge Wirtshaus Taube (00 41 210 0747; www.taube-luzern.ch) will get your mouth watering; try the vension and alpine macaroni. For a meltingly good Swiss chocolate fondue, visit Restaurant Fritsche (00 41 41 410 1615).
Time running out?
Sniff out the delicious local produce at one of the riverside stalls that line the banks of the Reuss on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. There is also a fish market on Fridays.
Visit the Culture and Convention Centre (00 41 41 226 7070; www.kkl-luzern.ch), a design gem - watch the way the water flows right up into the foyer. Take in a concert (the ‘Ostern’ festival comes to town in late March/early April), then sip champagne on its roof terrace.
Currency is the Swiss franc. Lucerne is one hour ahead of GMT. Zürich is a one-hour 45-minute flight from London and a one-hour train ride from Lucerne.
Swiss International Air Lines (0845 601 0956; www.swiss.com) flies daily from London City, Gatwick and Heathrow to Zürich. EasyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) has daily flights from London Luton to Zürich.
SBB: for train timetables visit the website (www.sbb.ch). While in Switzerland, call 0900 300 300 for up-to-date travel information
Lucerne Tourism: (near the railway station) Zentralstrasse 5 (00 41 41 227 17 17; www.luzern.org). Open daily – refer to the website for seasonal opening hours.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.