Along the shores of Lake Lucerne, ringed with snow-capped peaks, couples promenade arm-in-arm as the sun dips behind the mountains. Families, catching the last light, head home pushing strollers past docks decked with flower boxes spilling red geraniums. Seagulls swoop across colorful boatyards and swans skim across the cobalt lake, floating above the world of every cares.
As we walked along the waterfront esplanade we felt as if we’d stumbled upon a world lost in time. Lucerne will do that to you.
The medieval architecture, sunny plazas and splashing fountains are why many visitors love Lucerne.
One morning very early, before the dew had dried, my husband and I ventured off on a walk to the well-preserved old town. We meandered through quiet cobblestone lanes and tiny squares punctuated with brightly painted walls. After a frothy hot cappuccino we hiked up the steep hill to the 14th century stone rampart to take photos of the town spread below us and the glistening lake and mighty mountains in the distance.
Every visitor makes a pilgrimage to the oldest covered bridge in Europe and we followed the crowd to the wooden Chapel Bridge, built in 1333. The covered pedestrian bridge links the old town with the river’s right bank. We admired the remarkable 17th century paintings, hanging below the wooden roofs that depict the history and legends of Lucerne. Only 30 of the original 158 paintings survived and were restored after a devastating fire in 1993. The sides of the bridge are adorned with window boxes overflowing with pink and red geraniums. Then we lounged on a bench along the shore to nibble on a hazelnut chocolate bar (the best Swiss chocolate, of course) and watch children the friendly swans.
Take a Hike
Lucerne’s top outdoor attraction is nearby Mount Pilatus, the almost 7,000-foot tall peak that towers over the city. We hopped aboard a ferry for a 90-minute boat ride across the lake and then boarded the world’s steepest mountain railway that chugs up the mountain. On the summit we hiked along narrow trails and took in the dramatic views of lakes and mountains. Within half an hour I had worked up an amazing appetite so we sat down to a scrumptious meal at the Hotel Pilatus that opened in 1890 and is a heritage site today. After we were seated, in the marble pillared and chandeliered dining room, the waitress served carpaccio of thinly sliced wild deer, boar and sausage with quince jam accompanied by a fine Swiss Blauburgunder wine (known as Pinot Noir to most of us). A few minutes later she arrived with plates of wild venison in a red wine reduction, homemade spaetzle (Swiss noodles), piles of red cabbage and tiny potatoes. Usually we have a brown bag picnic lunch when we hike. In Switzerland it’s hard to pass up the tempting trailside inns and cafes that offer delicious meals or warm apple strudel with whipped cream. We descended from the mountaintop by cable car and a 15-minute bus ride to Lucerne’s central station.
A three minutes walk from the railway station; we discovered a beautiful private museum with a wonderful collection of Picasso, Klee, Chagall and Monet.
I have been a devotee of the Swiss-German painter Paul Klee since I studied modern art in college. When I learned that the Rosengart Collection in Lucerne showcases 125 of Paul Klee’s wonderful, whimsical watercolors, drawings and paintings, I was determined to see this wealth of work in one place. Paul Klee is in good company in this exquisite museum. Pablo Picasso is well represented with 32 oil paintings and more than 50 drawings largely from his later years. Other famous paintings include those by Miro, Matisse, Monet, Modigliani, Bonnard, Cezanne, Braque, Renoir and Chagall.
The multi-room galleries on the lower floor show Klee’s full evolution from his earliest black and white works to his last one in the Nazi years.
Meet a model for Picasso
A beautiful young woman in a red shawl is pictured laughing with Picasso on the gallery’s brochure and on a placard by the entrance. At the front desk I asked who she was. Angela Rosengart began her career as an art dealer at age 16, as an apprentice to her Swiss father, who was Picasso’s principal dealer in Switzerland. She and her father collected modern art, lived with it, and sold it for many generations. Now 79 years old, she has accumulated art for over 60 years. She wanted a home for her art and to share it with the public so she spent $10 million of her own money to build the museum to showcase her collection.
“She is often seen in the galleries and if you’re lucky you’ll meet her,” the young woman at the desk told me. And I did get lucky. A half hour later I met the elderly, elegant Frauline Rosengart. I had purchased several postcards of my favorite paintings. One of the postcards was a Picasso painting of Angela Rosengart. He made five portraits of Angela that are exhibited in the museum.
I pointed to the postcard of Picasso’s portrait of her and asked, “Frauline Rosengart, in this painting you seem to be annoyed or perturbed. What were you feeling as Picasso painted you?”
“I was 16 when Pablo painted this. Yes, I was irritable. I had been sitting still for several hours and I was really tired. He focused on my eyes. You know, with Picasso it’s all about the eyes,” Rosengart explained.
She and her father were frequent visitors to him in the South of France and he often came to their home in Lucerne. So did Paul Klee (she had six of his works in her bedroom as a child), Matisse, Braque and Chagall. “Among all the modern artists who visited your home, who was your favorite?” I wondered. “Oh Picasso by far. He was such a force and so much fun,” she emphatically responded.
“What paintings do you have in your home?” I asked. “None anymore. They are all here. You see, they are my children (she is unmarried) and I want to share them with the world,” she answered.
The museum displays many private photographs and artworks from their friendship, offering a rare insight into the personal life of Picasso.
The Rosengart Collection is a wonderful gem for all art lovers.
Open daily 10am-6pm;
Five Insider Tips
Chocolate Dreams Come True at Läderach boutique, a Swiss Family business selling hand-made confections. Taste Brazil, Madagascar or Ecuador cocoa beans on the tongue punctuated with a nuance of oranges, a touch of pepper, vanilla notes or a spicy bouquet of liquorish.
Treat yourself at one of the two Lucerne stores located in the main train station and at 1 Wegglsgrasse.
A Swiss Rail Pass is an all-in-one ticket offering you an easy way to move around Switzerland by train, bus and boat. The pass includes unlimited access on the network of the Swiss Travel System, discounts on mountain top excursions, free entrance to over 480 museums and exhibits, free travel for children. They are sold for 3,4,8 and 15 days. The Swiss Pass now fully covers a trip to Mount Pilatus.
For reasonably priced cheese fondue, raclette and rösti (crispy potato pancakes) go no further than the Restaurant Pfistern located at Corn Market 4, in the heart of the old town, on the banks of the Reuss River. Dine in the warm ambiance inside, or enjoy views of the Chapel Bridge at tables outside on the second floor terrace, or along the river.
You might not want to try this anywhere else in the world, but in Switzerland you can drink the water flowing from fountains – in the mountains and in cities. Unless there’s a sign that says not for drinking, the water is safe to drink. Its source is usually the Swiss Alps – the source of much of the expensive bottled water around the world – or some other pristine body of water, which Switzerland has plenty of. And the best thing: It’s free. You just need an empty bottle.
If your budget stretches to five-stars, pamper yourself with sensational service, and the best breakfast in town, at the historic Palace Luzern. Opened in 1906 it marked a new level of luxury in Swiss distinctive grand hotels.