Swiss Mediterranean Style, that’s the motto of Lugano. A little piece of paradise just over the Italian border. The contrast between the two countries could not have been any clearer. Clean, tree lined boulevards hug Lake Lugano with distant mountains as the backdrop. After the hustle and bustle of Italy, normality was appealing. Clear of any unwanted gypsies and neat as a pin, Lugano was a true oasis after 11 days in Italy.
Lugano is a small community on a beautiful lake of the same name. Surrounded by the Alps in each direction, the flat bare ski runs await the first snowfall. It’s a town full of boutiques where well heeled tourist can stroll in the afternoon sun browsing. As part of the canton of Ticino, it’s the wealthy Italian part of Switzerland and cost of living is high. In fact during our very short staff, we easily blew our budget on a simple meal but I guess that’s the price you pay to live in a mountain paradise.
Our trip through Switzerland continued north from Lugano to Luzern. The railway was engineering feat in 1882, including the 15km tunnel that allows the train to climb 1100 meters through the Swiss Alps.
The two and half hour journey took us not only through the Gotthard tunnel but alongside deep valleys and high mountain peaks. Small villages dotted the railway line, as we spent more time looking out the window into the Alps then we did reading. Luzern turned on a picture perfect day for our arrival. The sun shone brightly down on the lake and the Alps we had just travelled through, over and around in the distance. We strained our eyes to see the snow cap ridges of the Alps and were rewarded with a glimpse of Engelberg-Titlis (home of the eternal snow in Central Switzerland).
Luzern is Switzerland, at least that’s what the local tourism bureau what you to believe. We are here to tell you, that if you’re looking for the Alps, clear blue lakes, Swiss cows, cheese and chocolate then Luzern is Switzerland.
The medieval town on the edge of Lake Luzern is pure Switzerland, and whilst costly like Lugano, it’s worth visiting even for a few days. The Switzerland you imagine is here for your exploration.
On our previous trip we took the world’s steepest cogwheel railway up to the summit of Mt Pilatus. This time we had no plans for any mountain expeditions.
“What about Titlis? We can play in the snow?”
“You have to go up in that cable car that rotates 360 at over 3400m”
So Titlis got ruled out. Then we turned out thoughts to Jungfraujoch, several hours away. Reviews on TripAdvisor were mostly positive but the concern being the weather and distance we would have to travel to spend maybe an hour or two at the summit in the snow.
And at this stage we were truly exhausted by other tourists, and we can expect a number of them down at Jungfraujoch. To reach the summit, you travel to Europe’s highest railway station (3,454m) and as we unexpectedly now staying in a hotel with many other tourists we ruled Jungfraujoch out as well.
We decided to get Gelato late Friday and as we waited patiently, we made the mistake of queuing behind a bus load of tourists. In Switzerland, as in Germany, the flavours are listed in German which even if you don’t speak a word you could simply point out. Or pull out your guidebook and at least add a ‘danke’ on the end of your order. This lady decided she wanted Cookies and Cream. The Swiss girl then scooped a cup of Cookie gelato. But this was clearly wrong as the gelato wanted was Stracciatella as that’s called ‘cookies and cream’ where she comes from.
As we sat by Lake Luzern, eating gelato, we checked the forecast for Saturday and the weather looked perfect for a day in the mountain air. What to do then?
“We could take the gondola halfway up Pilatus and have a picnic then hike back down?”
“Sounds like a plan. We can go to market in the morning, grab some fresh fruit, breads and produce then head over”
With the plan set, we hit the sack!
Waking early Saturday, the weather outside was crystal clear and visibility was clear for miles. It seemed such a waste to be here in Switzerland and not tackle another mountain.
“Rigi….let’s go up Rigi!”
Rigi Kulm was only a short ferry ride around the Lake then you can take the train to the summit (1800m).
“We could easily be at the summit by lunch. Let’s grab some fresh produce at the market, jump on the ferry and take in the sun from 2km in the sky!”
It was decided.
The first mountain railway in Europe and only the second in the world when it was constructed, Rigi Kulm was an easy day out to take full advantage of being here in Switzerland. Mark Twain was one of the earliest recorded visitors to Rigi before the railway and now you can hike his trail. The trip on the now electrified railway to the summit took around 35 minutes, and views of Mt Pilatus and the Northern Swiss Alps. For the first time in our trip we could see white snow cap peaks in every direction.
What a view.
To north we could see Zurich, beyond that the Black Forest and Germany. We spent about an hour at the summit, enjoying our picnic and taking in spectacular views. We then hiked down Rigi to about half way, down well trodden paths hugging the summit then along a ridge. At every vantage point, the view was breathtaking.
This is Switzerland.
This entry was originally published in 2012 on our Travelpod blog.