Lucerne’s own fancy colours are subdued for the moment but it still glistens like a well-cut diamond. Its mountain faces (Pilatus, Titles, Rigi) reflect the feeble light that sometimes peeks through and its placid lake provides a grey, pearly setting. Lucerne is often called the City of Lights, thanks to a miracle of light that is said to have happened here. According to an old legend, an angel guided Lucerne’s first settlers with a light to the place where they should build a chapel in honour of St Nikolaus, patron saint of fishermen and sailors.
There is no fishing or sailing being done on the lake, thanks to almost zero-degree temperatures. Even time seems to be frozen as you come out of the Hauptbahnhof and catch your first glimpse of the Chapel Bridge to your left. It’s a scenario right out of a John Le Carre novel and you half expect to see Smiley or Jonathan Pine leaning against a lamp-post with a well-lit pipe, surveying the possibilities, but all you want right now is the comfort of a warm room.
The Hotel Montana, with an 80-year-old existence on the hillside and a superb view of the lake, is ready to embrace you within its cheerful folds. Run with clockwork efficiency and unexpected friendliness by the charming MrsBroniGubser, the hotel’s 67 rooms and 110 beds are dressed in a classic and refined style. A hearty meal relished in the Panorama restaurant, and you are ready to hit the sack and get your batteries recharged for the following day’s festivities. No ordinary festivities; this is a worldwide celebration to reopen the Chapel Bridge which was burnt down by a devastating fire last year.
To put these festivities into proper perspective it is necessary to delve a bit into Lucerne’s past. Lucerne was a small fishing village in the Middle Ages. Teased and called a ‘little wooden stork’s nest’, it developed into a blooming trade centre over the centuries. The location on the Gotthard transit pathway through the imperious Alps led to fruitful international relations in commerce and culture.
If you want to get really high, the wine and the food will transport you to unknown heights, but to get as high as 7000 feet, take a trip to Mount Pilatus. Close to the city, Mount Pilatus creates a rugged skyline and dominates the landscape. The ever-increasing flow of visitors to Mount Pilatus led to the construction in 1954 of a gondola cableway from Kriens, on the outskirts of Lucerne, to Frakmuntegg at 5000 feet. From there an aerial cable car, built in 1956, carries its passengers in a spectacular swing to the summit. Lake Lucerne lies spreadagled far below in a toyland of city houses and village farms, laced with rivers like silver threads.
Toyland, did I say? Lucerne keeps in store everything a human being could ask for: high culture for the connoisseur, relaxation for the weary, a hectic nightlife for the pleasure seeker. You leave this fairytale city with regret, laced with a longing to return. Even if it’s for the fondue which you promised yourself you would indulge in but forgot to.
How to get there: Lucerne lies on Europe’s most important north-south rail route and is also linked to the Swiss federal rail network in six directions. Direct trains connect Lucerne,with the international airports at Zurich and Geneva.
You can also travel to Lucerne by car using the extensive network of freeways and highways linking it to all major Swiss and other European cities.
‘Frankenstrasse 1 (next to railway station/western exit), 6002 Lucerne
‘Hotel and Lodging:
In the five star category there arethe Grand Hotel National, Haldenstrasse 4.
Tel (041-501111) Fax (041-515539); and the Palace, Haldenstrasse 10. Tel (041-502222) Fax (041-516976)
Four-star hotels include the Chateau Gutsch, Kanonenstrasse Tel (041-220272) Fax (041-220252); Monopol&Metropole, Pilatus-strasse 1 Tel (041-230866) Fax (041-236001); Montana, Adligenswilerstrasse 22. Tel (041-516565) , Fax (041-516676).