Switzerland provides an Alpine escape
Cynthia Elyce Rubin
The Norwegian American
The city of Lucerne or Luzern sits in the center of Switzerland, commanding spectacular views of both Lake Lucerne and the Reuss River. On the lake, historic steamers invite discovery of the seasonal landscape from the water, offering everything from short excursions to tours of the entire lake. On foot, exploration of the town is accomplished with ease.
Known for its museums and international Summer Music Festival that has attracted classical musicians and fans from around the globe since 1938, Lucerne is also visited for the maze of cobblestone streets in the well-preserved Old Town including the colorful frescoes of the facades of Renaissance buildings. The covered wooden footbridge, the famed Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), is the oldest bridge of its kind in Europe. It contains many interior paintings dating back to the 17th century that depict events in Lucerne’s history and the lives of its two patron saints, Maurice and Leger. Tradition and modernity stand side by side with ease. The futuristic Culture and Convention Center designed by French architect Jean Nouvel is an architectural sight to behold, as is the modern Swiss Museum of Transport with its installations of trains, cars, and planes and 3D theater with the largest screen in Switzerland.
The iconic stone relief Lion Monument (1820-1821), a tribute to the 600 Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris, is another must-see tourist attraction. Mark Twain praised the touching sculpture of the dying lion in A Tramp Abroad (1880) as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world…The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”
These city symbols, the beautiful lakeside setting surrounded by majestic mountains, and the nearby mountains of Rigi, Pilatus, and Stanserhorn have long made the Lucerne region a destination for sports enthusiasts in both winter and summer. As gateway to the Alps, Lucerne lies nestled among some of the more beautiful mountain areas in the region. Certainly Switzerland has long been high on any skier’s bucket list with its varied terrain and picturesque peaks. Some of the world’s great ski towns, St. Moritz, Gstaad, Crans-Montana, Grindelwald, and Saas-Fe to name just a few, are located in this country of winter wonderland.
And just in time for the 2018 winter season was a new one-of-a-kind exciting attraction of Swiss innovation. The world’s steepest funicular railway built and designed by the Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group, with track running along a 2,400-foot incline, travels from the central Swiss town of Schwyz to the alpine village of Stoos. This car-free village has a population of 100 and sits below Fronalpstock Mountain. At the railway’s opening, alphorn players gave concerts throughout the day, and local flag throwers whirled their fluttering flags through the air. The art of flag throwing, or Fahnenschwinger, one of Switzerland’s oldest national sports, usually accompanied by traditional alphorn blowing, is part of the customs displayed at folk festivals. Resting at the foot of the Fronalpstock on a sunny alpine plateau of the same name, now Stoos is reached by the steepest funicular railway in the world. The trip is an adventure in itself. Passengers remain comfortable going uphill and down in futuristic-looking cabins that adapt to the most extreme inclination. Individual vehicle parts are hinged in such a way that the floors remain horizontal at all times no matter how steep the incline. Unfortunately, there is not much time to enjoy the ride because it lasts only about three minutes.
Fronalpstock can be reached on foot or with one of the cable cars. From this imposing viewpoint, there is an impressive panoramic view of 10 lakes, down to Brunnen and over to the Rütli, Pilatus, Rigi, Säntis, the high Alps, and the central lowlands as far as the Jura mountain range. It ranks high on the list of mountain viewing anywhere in the world.
During the summer, visitors hike, walk, and climb amidst the alpine flora and fauna. The high alpine footpaths from the Klingenstock have fine panoramic vistas, as does the route over to the Fronalpstock, which takes several hours, or the newly marked Summit Circular Route. There are four marked walking trails of varying degrees of difficulty, and on the way hikers stop at alpine cheese makers to sample the local cheeses. In June the Stoosschwinget, a festival first held in 1921, is the beginning of a series of annual alpine Swiss wrestling events.
But winter is the charm with the region offering eight lifts providing easy access to some some 22 miles of slopes. Cross-country skiing enthusiasts enjoy the myriad trails surrounding Stoos. A downhill run is available for sledding and air boarding. And numerous trails encourage winter hiking and snowshoeing. In January, the ringing of bells announces a carnival that features a bathtub race. Teams of three in costumes dash down the trail in a bathtub. The Alpine Hut Festival announces the end of ski season in March. Every year it takes place at the alpine hut called Mauri’s Hütte located on the ski slopes on Mount Klingenstock. Guests usually reserve a bed for the night at Stoos, because after the party at Mauri’s Hütte, the action continues in the village with an après-ski party and live music. And so the seasonal cycle continues.
Cynthia Elyce Rubin, Ph.D., is a visual culture specialist, travel writer, and author of articles and books on decorative arts, folk art, and postcard history, who collects postcards, ephemera, and early photography. She is currently working on Enorme Amerika: Norske utvandreres postkort, humor og rariteter to be published by SpreDet Forlag in Oslo and is completing a manuscript on O.S. Leeland, Norwegian immigrant photographer who worked in South Dakota in the early 1900s. See www.cynthiaelycerubin.com.
This article originally appeared in the March 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.