Kathy Whitehead recommends Lucerne, Switzerland
The thought of Switzerland immediately conjures up all those old clichés of a fairy tale, picture-perfect winter wonderland. It’s only when you visit that these clichés make sense.
My trip to Switzerland was part of a whistle-stop tour through Europe and sadly I was only able to spend a few days in this wonderful country. My base was in Lucerne and it was, simply, wow!
Built on the shores of Lake Lucerne and surrounded by the Swiss Alps, this city is probably most famous for its Kapellbrücke – or Chapel Bridge.
It straddles the Reuss River, which flows into the lake, and was originally built in 1333. Sadly, much of it was destroyed in a fire in 1993, but it has since been restored.
Along with the bridge is the tower, which over the years has been used as a prison, a torture chamber and, later, a municipal archive. It is the oldest wooden covered footbridge in Europe, as well as the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.
My favourite place
Switzerland is a cheese lover’s paradise and being one myself I felt like a kid in a candy store. I embarked on a day trip from Lucerne to Engelberg by train in the hope of finding a monastery (Kloster) known for its cheese. The 45-minute train ride took us through iridescent green valleys and past villages boasting typical Swiss chalets, climbing at an almost 40-degree angle until we hit the snow line.
The end of the line revealed the breathtakingly beautiful village of Engelberg that is perched on the slopes of the Urner Alps in central Switzerland.
I was there in early November – the start of winter – and snow had already fallen. At the height of the season, it offers what many people consider to be some of the best ski slopes in the country.
From the village is a cable car that runs to Mount Titlus, but with plans to visit Mount Pilatus the following day, I chose not to ascend this peak and to rather spend the day wandering around the village.
My meandering led me to an imposing assortment of buildings that date back to the 1300s and form the Benedictine Monastery.
Simple buildings along with the church are grouped around a courtyard and in one unobtrusive corner is a cosy haven. Stepping through glass doors one is welcomed by locals who will not only feed you sturdy fare to beat off the cold, but will also help you select an exotic assortment of cheese made by hand at the monastery.
In addition to this, you can watch the cheese-makers at work as they churn the cheese in great vats.
There is no cold quite like Alpine cold and despite having worn the prescribed layers of clothing, I froze. Eventually, I threw all sense of fashion caution to the wind and bought a heavy-duty Swiss Army beanie from a tourist shop at the top of Mount Pilatus. The shop assistant assured me that this woollen cap would solve all my hypothermic problems and I proceeded to cough up a small fortune for something I didn’t really think would help. How wrong I was! For the rest of my time in Switzerland my beanie and I were inseparable.
Switzerland is famous for a whole host of things, from chocolate to Swiss Army gadgets and these are all readily available at every turn. For chocolate-lovers, giant Toblerones are a must and then of course there are the famous Swiss Army knives. Stores offer huge selections of these timeless gems to suit everyone’s taste.
Where to stay I stayed at the gorgeous Renaissance Lucerne Hotel – a stylish boutique hotel complete with Juliet balconies. Situated in the town centre, it was within walking distance of most attractions – the railway station included. Rooms were small but comfortable and the staff friendly.