email
The Silk Route - World Travel: Pilatus, Switzerland
americas asia pacific africa middle east europe

Switzerland: Lake Lucerne

Pilatus Luzern Rigi Field of Rütli
Lake Lucerne from Pilatus


Lake Lucerne is one of the biggest lakes in Switzerland, surrounded by mountains and with Luzern on its north and Rütli meadow, the site of the foundation of Switzerland, in the south.

Pilatus

Pilatus
Pilatus from Rigi.
Pilatus
Cog railway from Alpnachstad to Pilatus, October 1990.

Pilatus is the main reason we come to Lake Lucerne! We've visited every way possible bar walking: cable car from Kriens, cog railway from Alpnachstad, a round trip with ascent by cable car, descent on the cog railway and boat across the lake to Lucerne. Sometimes it's been clear, sometimes we've ascended through cloud, sometimes it's hazy, but it's always been a good day out from Basel.

Pilatus
Cable car to Pilatus, October 1990.

Pilatus, 2118m, dominates the western side of the lake and has long been viewed with suspicion. Legend has it that the spirit of Pontius Pilate haunts a small lake near the summit and that anyone approaching this spot would cause terrible storms.

The cog railway up from Alpnachstad is the steepest in the world, with a maximum gradient of 48%.

Pilatus
October 1990

In October 1990 it didn't look too promising but we came through the clouds to glorious views of the Alps above a sea of cloud on Lake Lucerne, a really stunning sight.

Pilatus
Pilatus
Pilatus
Pilatus
July 1991
Pilatus

After that visit in 1990 we invariably had clearer conditions so the lake was visible, if a little hazy at times.

Pilatus
July 1991
Luzern is at the end of the arm of the lake in the left foreground.
Pilatus
July 1991
Pilatus
July 1991
Pilatus
August 1991
Pilatus
August 1991
Pilatus
August 1991
This is the only Alpine ibex we've seen in Switzerland.
Pilatus
August 1991
Pilatus
August 1991
Pilatus

 

Luzern

Lake Lucerne
Luzern and the Kappelbrücke, 1990.

 

 

Not a city we know very well but one we have brought visitors to several times, mostly when visiting Pilatus we drop into Luzern to see the medieval bridge, the "sleepy lion" and to have a beer on the lakeside!

Centuries ago Luzern was nothing more than a simple fishing village but this all changed with the opening of the Gotthard route in the thirteenth century which made the town an important staging point between Flanders and Italy. Profiting from the ensuing lucrative commercial exchange the town grew on the shores of the lake.

 

Luzern
1991

 

Covered bridges crossed the lake to access the town, the famous Kappelbrücke was built at the beginning of the fourteenth century. It is a beautiful bridge which we were fortunate to see before it was virtually destroyed by fire in 1993. Probably caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette, half of the bridge was on fire within ten minutes. Much of the roof and 86 of the 111 seventeenth century triangular paintings in its eaves were either partially burned or completely destroyed.1

Luzern
2008
Luzern
Luzern
Löwendenkmal

Of much later vintage is the Löwendenkmal the Lion Monument. This 10m long rock sculpture of a dying lion commemorates the Swiss soldiers who died defending Louis XVI during the French Revolution.

Luzern
Paintings in the restored Kappelbrücke, 2008.

 

Rigi

Rigi
Hotel Bellevue at Rigi Kaltbad.

Mount Rigi, 1797m, is located east of Luzern on the north side of Lake Lucerne in canton Schwyz, just across the border with canton Lucerne.

In April 1991 we spent a weekend at the Hotel Bellevue at Rigi Kaltbad - sadly the lovely hotel no longer exists.

The cable car at Weggis was "in revision" so we drove to Vitznau and took the rack railway to Rigi Kaltbad. it was snowing and foggy so no view to speak of that day!

Rigi
Andrew at snowy Rigi Kulm.
Rigi

 

Rigi

 

The following day, however, it was much clearer. We took the train up to Rigi Kulm - it was clear and sunny up to Staffel but Kulm was in cloud. We climbed up but could see nothing so beat a retreat to the Hotel Rigi Kulm for coffee then walked down to Kaltbad.

The weather continued to clear so after a quick lunch we walked all the way back up to Kulm! There were lots of paragliders at Staffelhöhe.

Rigi
Paragliders launch themselves off the mountain with Lake Lucerne below.
Rigi
Rigi Külm in the distance.

 

Rigi
Rigi
Early morning.
Rigi
Pilatus on the other side of Lake Lucerne.
Rigi

 

The next day it was glorious again so did some more walking on the mountain with fabulous views over the lake to Pilatus.

Rigi
Rigi
Rigi

 

Rigi

 

Rigi

 

Field of Rütli

Ruetli
August 1st 1991
The large canopy in the foreground stands on the Field of Rütli.
William Tell statue Altdorf
Statue of William Tell in Altdorf.

 

The southernmost arm of the lake, Urnersee, is edged with steep cliffs falling straight into the water.

Urnersee
March 1991
Looking south along Urnersee, the southernmost arm of Lake Lucerne.
Urnersee


Swiss NAtional Day
Swiss National Day celebrations in Muttenz.

 

 

On the west shore at the northern end is the Field of Rütli where, on the 1st August 1291, the three cantons of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden agreed a permanent alliance, in particular rejecting interference in judicial and administrative matters from any authority outside these three cantons. These and the fourth canton of Luzern make up the four forest cantons from which the lake derives its alternative name of Vierwaldstättersee.

It is said that the rebellion which led to the signing of the alliance was provoked by William Tell, an archer from Uri. Legend has it that Tell killed a tyrannical reeve with his crossbow leading to the citizens banding together in open revolt. A statue has been erected to commemorate the archer of Uri in Altdorf, a small town close to the southern end of Urnersee.

Every year the Swiss celebrate Swiss National Day on the 1st August with gatherings and fireworks. We were here in 1991 for the 700 year anniversary. There were big celebrations everywhere and we travelled to Rütli to see what was going on. There were official ceremonies at the field itself, under a big canopy way down on the shore of the lake.

In Muttenz, where we were living at the time, there was a huge outdoor communal feast, with food, beer and wine and entertainment in the form of Alphorns, yodellers, school gymnastics and fireworks - all satisfyingly Swiss.

Urnersee
March 1991
The Field of Rütli, centre right foreground, on the Urnersee.

 

References

  1. Kappelbrücke fire