Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis and Manos Angelakis
A quite modern, very ancient city.
Whether you call it Lucerne in French or Luzerne in German, it is a very old Swiss city with many of the buildings still in use dating back to the 14th or 15th century. These buildings and the iconic Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), which was built in 1333 and links the Old Town to the Reuss River's right bank, are lovingly restored and maintained to keep the city’s character alive.
The famous wood-covered Kapellbrücke was built to link the two parts of the city separated by the Reuss River which flows into Lake Lucerne. There are actually two ancient timber covered bridges in this city; the Chapel Bridge and the Spreuer Bridge, so named for the chaff from cereals (Spreu) which could only be dumped into the river at that location. Both bridges have painted panels added in the 17th century when Lucerne was still practicing Catholicism before the Reformation took hold. In the Chapel Bridge are the surviving panels (many of the originals were destroyed in a fire) depicting scenes of local history including the lives of patron saints; while the Spreuer features 67 paintings of Dance Macabre, a warning of what awaits a sinner.
One of the most interesting pastimes when visiting the city would be a walk around the Aldstadt (German for Old Town) which is known for its stunning and well preserved medieval architecture, open-air museum quality murals, luxury shops and restaurants, churches, waterfront walkways, and more – all with a backdrop of beautiful snow-capped mountains. The winding warren-like streets and alleyways are never far from views of the water, the mountains, or spectacular paintings decorating building facades some as ancient as the buildings themselves. Every turn reveals a new delight.
In Lucerne we stayed at the Wilden Mann (Wild Man), an iconic old hotel. While it is only rated as a 4-star property, it has a long and interesting 500+ year history. It started as a tavern and that original space is where one of the current dining rooms is located. Its rafters are still attractively decorated with the coat of arms of prominent city families and the trade guilds. Later the building became an inn. It was not until the 19th century that the Wilden Mann was transformed into a “respected address”. It currently consists of seven lovingly cared for interconnected buildings that add to the character of the hotel by requiring patrons to transit up and down steps and curiously connecting hallways to access their rooms. The public spaces are decorated with classic furniture and portraits of distinguished city figures. The individually decorated rooms and suites feature antiques, warm colors, brocaded fabrics and amazing views of the old city’s rooftops.
The hotel is very centrally located, very close to the famous wood-covered Kapellbrücke.
The Wilden Mann is a figure of legend dating back to medieval times. Being the guardian of the city’s blue and white coat of arms, the bearded giant is omnipresent in Lucerne and, as you stroll through the city, you will come across him again and again in murals as well as sculptures.
The Burgerstube, is one of the two restaurants in the hotel. The Burgerstube is the space the tavern occupied and it features interesting dishes and drinks. We had lunch there. Very tasty was the wild garlic cream soup and the Lucerne “Fritschi” pie, a puff pastry full of vegetables including delicious locally sourced mushrooms and/or meats depending on your preference.
The breakfast room on the first floor offers breakfast American style, with a selection of breads and pastries, fruit juices, yoghurts, cheeses, charcuterie, eggs cooked in many ways, plus sausages and bacon and very good coffee. Some of the walls of the breakfast room are decorated with frescoes inspired by the murals with which many of the city buildings are decorated.
For supper we went to a restaurant, across the river from our hotel called Da Ernesto. It features classic Italian cuisine with nice antipasti, carpaccios and the usual assortment of veal and chicken, fish and seafood and pasta dishes. Of course I opted for some pasta, so a tagliatelle plate with basilico verdure and sautéed baby artichokes was my dish. Instead of wine or beer I had a bottle of cider (see article about cider) and I thought that it cut nicely the olive oil that dominated my supper.
Barbara also had pasta, but in her case it was spaghetti topped with grilled giant prawns in a very light cherry tomato sauce.
We finished with Tiramisu della Casa and espresso and we felt it was a very good dinner. Switzerland is an expensive country so the prices of this restaurant are on the high side when compared to an equivalent New York City Italian establishment. But I’m not complaining; the food was very good, the staff was friendly and attentive, the location was excellent, close to our hotel and many of the “must see” city sites.
For Barbara the highlight of our visit to Lucerne was the visit to Mt. Rigi.
Across from the main train station is Pier 1 where you catch the sleek modern ferryboat to the town of Vitznau for the cogwheel tram that takes you up Mt. Rigi. After days of chilling rain and low-lying clouds the day dawned exceptionally clear with blue skies and puffy white clouds hanging off the highest of the peaks of the Alps, just exposing the snow covered tips. Although there had been little snow this season, happily the night before it had snowed leaving a deep blanket of pristine white covering the countryside as far as the eye could see. The mighty fir trees hanging on to the steep sides of the mountain were dripping with the weight of the snow creating a visual wonderland.
The air was crisp but the sun was warm when we exited the 45% steep ride up the mountain. The hotel at the top had already closed for the skiing season had passed so we enjoyed the view along with the other tourist of all ages and shared stories about traveling. We met a young couple from South Korea on their honeymoon and an elderly couple from England that had taken a detour to Lucerne on their way to welcome their 1st grandchild. There were several people from the United States and lots from Asia. The cogwheel train that we rode up the mountain was very new but we had a chance to see pictures of the original displayed during lunch.
Afterwards we took a harrowing horse-drawn carriage ride along a narrow ridge covered with fresh snow and icicles dripping from low hanging branches. We wondered at the people who chose to live on these steep mountainsides with no visible sign of access into their homes. The horses returned us safely to the tram to Vitznau where we caught the ferryboat back to Lucerne cherishing memories of a magical, unforgettable day.
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