By Rachel How
Lake Lucerne is beautiful, the surrounding high mountains making it all the more picturesque. Having visited the area briefly in the past, I thought I knew what to expect, but I was surprised at the variety of the landscapes through which we walked. Each route was different, sometimes through farmland, sometimes in the high mountains. By the end of the week we felt that we had had the 'complete Swiss experience'. The variety is a result of using the efficient network of steamers, trains and cable cars to extend your range. This combination of walks and thrilling journeys on public transport makes the itinerary accessible to most by cutting out the steepest ascents, and flexible, too, allowing you to tailor each day to suit you. Not only can you use the boats, trains and cable cars to shorten the walking, but you can also lengthen it, if you so wish.
The starting point of the walk is Lucerne, and the 4-star Romantik Hotel Wilden Mann, whose elegance and handsome décor is completely in harmony with this historic city. With a reasonably prompt start in the morning, there is plenty of time to explore the ancient streets, stroll along part of the walls and walk across the city's most famous landmark, the covered bridge known as the Kapellbrücke. When we felt we'd got a good taste of the city, we headed to the station to catch the train westwards. 30 minutes later, the train pulled into Sarnen, and from there we climbed gradually uphill to Flüeli-Ranft. Boasting views over pretty Sarnensee lake, this is a lovely pilgrimage village – Brother Klaus, Switzerland’s national saint, lived here – and if you prefer to take an early train rather than explore Lucerne first, you can visit Brother Klaus’ house in the morning and then in the afternoon walk up the valley to the next village, returning via the old hermitage.
Our suitcases were waiting for us at the Paxmontana Guesthouse, having been transferred ahead of us. Like the rest of the bedrooms, ours was spacious and airy, and had a panoramic balcony. After dinner, we sat out on the terrace with a drink, marvelling at how peaceful it was.
The following morning, we headed off along the Bruderklausenweg. This forms part of the pilgrims' route to Santiago de Compostela, although admittedly we were following it in the opposite direction. It was a relatively gentle walk along a combination of paths and quiet country lanes through undulating farmland dotted with tiny hamlets. We saw farmers cutting the grass, some of them by hand with large scythes. We reached Stans after about five hours. We had some time to kill before the next train (they depart hourly), so we used our time constructively and hunted out a couple of bars to recommend to customers who find themselves in a similar situation!
The train journey to Engelberg turned out to be a rather unique experience – half-way along it becomes a cog railway and slows down to a crawl to cope with the steep gradient. In Engelberg, we stayed at what is undoubtedly the friendliest hotel on the circuit, the Hotel Edelweiss (the first of two Hotel Edelweisses we were to stay in). This is a great spot for a two-night stay, as there is so much to do – a revolving cable car whisks visitors to the summit of towering Mount Titlis (3,329 metres); inviting paths lead across the mountain's lower slopes (the route notes suggest a very scenic walk along a botanical path around the shores of a lake half-way up the mountain); and special runs enable you to hurtle down the mountainside in a summer toboggan (something we didn't try but which sounded quite fun!).
Our fourth day's walk started with a short train journey back towards Stans. We got off at Niederrickenbach, from where we took a cable car into the mountains. There are different walking options from here. We decided to take the most strenuous route which involved some reasonably steep ascents over the course of the next three hours. Suddenly, though, we emerged into the high mountains. Turning round, there were great views back the way we had come. We climbed a little further so as to have lunch at the Brisenhaus, a mountain hut run by the Swiss Alpine Club. It was already quite busy, with a mix of foreigners and locals of all ages sitting at the long tables. We ordered hunks of sausage, cheese and bread at the hatch and found a space to sit down. We stayed there basking in the sun for quite for some time (no one seemed in any rush to leave) before finally stirring ourselves for the gentle hour-long walk to Klewenalp. There were great views of Lake Lucerne, so as it was still so warm we sat on the grass and watched the paragliders for a while before taking the cable car to lakeside Beckenried and the Hotel Nidwaldnerhof, whose restaurant is popular with locals.
I enjoyed the walk to Rigi-Kaltbad because it was quite thrilling. It involved several legs on boats and trains, but everything is so well planned that you barely have to wait between connections. We alighted at the monastery at Rigi Klösterli and were amused to see a monk in a habit sprinting across the meadow to the chapel for prayers. From Rigi Klösterli, the path climbed steadily until we finally reached the summit of the Rigi an hour later. We had just enough time to admire the breathtaking 360-degree views before the heavens opened (perhaps punishment for giggling at a monk?) and we rushed to take shelter in a café where we enjoyed a beer while the rain poured down. As soon as the rain abated, we continued downhill to the lovely Hotel Edelweiss in Rigi Kaltbad which perches on the mountainside in an unrivalled location.
On our last day, rather than immediately taking the cable car to the elegant lakeside resort of Weggis and the Hotel Central am See, we walked along the spine of the Rigi. You could turn back at any point, but we chose to walk all the way along, our target a small guesthouse two hours away where we stopped for lunch before completing the other half of the figure-of-eight loop back to the cable car station. What amazed me was the constantly changing panorama. You would be forgiven for thinking that the views could begin to get monotonous after a week, but the lake has so many fingers that every viewpoint gives a different perspective, and of course the different weather conditions and changing light create interesting effects, too. It really would be impossible to tire of something so beautiful.
Note: Since Rachel visited the region, we have modified the walk to Rigi-Kaltbad. Rather than alighting at the monastery, you now take the train all the way to the summit of Mount Rigi and from here descend to the Hotel Edelweiss.