Ladies of the lake

Eric Kendall, 22 February, 2018
Inntravel's Swiss expert Eric Kendall tells us why there's more to Switzerland than (quite) a few impressive mountains...

Everyone knows that Switzerland is covered in mountains. Less well known is that it has literally thousands of lakes, with more than 100 of them over 30 hectares in area. That’s the size of 30 rugby pitches, or in other words, a lot of water. Though an obvious barrier to the famous Swiss train system, the solution is simple: you simply switch to a boat. But not just any old tub, nein danke! Historic paddle steamers, s’il vous plaît. Fleets of them ply the waters of the largest lakes, turning a journey into a pleasure cruise. If you time it right and are going far enough, you can be served a meal while enjoying a constantly evolving view, or at the very least, a glass of local wine as you stroll on deck enjoying a cooling summer breeze. But for anyone with the merest interest in historic machinery, the best bit lies below decks: the massive steam-driven paddle pistons are on display in the centre of the ship, serenely powering the huge paddles which thrash through the water on each side of the hull, visible through inspection port holes. You don’t have to be a signed up member of the James Watt appreciation society to get a bit of a thrill from seeing this early form of mechanical propulsion in action - it’s simply mesmerising.

Switzerland’s largest paddle steamer fleet is on Lake Lucerne, the fifth biggest lake in the country at over 100 square kilometres. If you can tear yourself away from the very walkable city of Lucerne itself, you can do no better than a lake excursion, either going round in circles for the fun of it, or to reach your next destination.

Surrounded as it is by mountains in every direction, the views from the lake are of course exceptional. But for the best view of the waters, it’s back onto a train - the steepest cog railway in the world - to the summit of nearby Pilatus, a proper spiky 2118m mountain. It’s the most significant prominence around here between the plains to the north and the Alps of the Bernese Oberland to the south. From the top, the extraordinary multi-fingered shape of Lake Lucerne - locally called the Vierwaldstättersee - can be viewed like a map, and on a clear day you might even work out the location of the Rütli meadow on the shores to the east, where the Swiss Confederation was founded. Once you’ve had your fill, you can descend the north side of the mountain in a shiny new cable car and then gondola, to return to the centre of Lucerne by bus. You’ve just had a great day out, while knocking off the country’s most celebrated forms of transport, all in one go, and all on one ticket.

Around Lake Lucerne

Our flexible, hotel-to-hotel walking holiday around Lake Lucerne includes a number of thrilling boat, cable car and railway journeys, offering far-reaching views over the lake's vivid blue waters.

More about our self-guided walking holidays in Switzerland >
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