By Bruce Woelfel

It has taken us nine years but we finally get around to what for many tourists has long been one of Switzerland's must-see destinations, lovely Luzern on the Vierwaldstättesee.

For more than 100 years Luzern has been one of Switzerland's most popular tourist destinations. Visitors come to walk the narrow lanes of its old town, cruise the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Luzern), buy expensive watches in famed jewelry marts like Bucherer and set off on excursions to nearby peaks such as Pilatus, Rigi and Burgenstock, the summits of which can be reached by cable car or funicular. Queen Victoria spent a month in Luzern in 1868 (having by that time been on the job for more than 20 years she was entitled to four weeks vacation) and the composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, often retreated to his home across the lake in Weggis.

Through the 1980s, Luzern was particularly favored by Americans. No self-respecting package tour would dream of bypassing this beautifully situated town of 60,000. Then came the 90s. The Gulf War reduced American visitors to a trickle and the dollar fell significantly against the Swiss franc. Americans are returning, we are told, but not in prewar numbers.

It would be nice if this translated to lower hotel and restaurant prices but that doesn't seem to be the case. As you will soon see, Luzern's prices are very Zürich-like. A double room for under 200 Sfr. ($167) is a rare commodity. Due to the strength of the Swiss franc and the dollar's weakness, expect to pay a premium to visit this favored region. Keep in mind, however, that the lakeside strolls, the mountain walks and the glorious scenery all cost zero Sfr. ($0.00).

Recently, our man Bruce Woelfel spent several days in Luzern and his report follows.

Luzern Hotels

Hotel Montana

(Editor's Choice)

From its hillside site, the Montana offers expansive views across the city and lake to imposing snow-capped peaks.

It was built in 1910 following the completion of the Gotthard railroad tunnel which brought more tourists to the region. The funicular which was once used to carry guests to the hotel has now been replaced by an automatic elevator-like cable car.

Spacious guestrooms, most with lake views, are decorated in shades of rose and light pink, and have elegant marble baths. Number 405, for example, is a single with a balcony and view over the lake for 140 Sfr. ($117) low season and 190 Sfr. ($158) high season. Number 415 is a standard double with balcony but no lake view and costs 200-250 Sfr. ($167-$208). Number 410, a "superior" double with French doors that open onto a lakeside balcony, rents for 270-320 Sfr. ($225-$267).

The hotel's friendliness and fine service, together with the spectacular views, made our stay here the most enjoyable of a recent trip. The Montana offers Luzern's best combination of luxury, location and price.

Address: Hotel Montana Adigenswilerstrasse 11, CH-6002 Luzern
Phone: 041/516565
Fax: 041/516676
Location: Above lake, near town
Rooms: 16 singles, 44 doubles
Proprietors: Brioni & Heinz Gubser
Prices: Singles 140-195 Sfr. ($117-163), doubles 200-320 Sfr. ($167-$267)
Facilities: Restaurant and bar
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: Limited, no special facilities
Closed: Never
Parking: Free
Rating: Excellent 16/20 $

Hotel Schweizerhof

This palatial hotel is on the lake not far from the very center of town. its building dates to 1844 and ownership has been in the same family since 1861. Early guests include Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Richard Wagner, Napoleon III and Kaiser Wilhelm.

With lavish public rooms, marble columns and pilasters, crystal chandeliers, mirrored ceilings, huge paintings and overstuffed, flower-patterned furniture, the courtly Schweizerhof transports visitors to the age of grand hotels.

The well-preserved guestrooms are huge, with high ceilings and furnished in period style, and lots of white lace on curtains and bedspreads. Prices are commensurate with this luxury, though special rates are often available. Number 150, in white and rose, has a 14-foot ceiling and its own reception area. The bedroom highlights marble and glass chandeliers and its marble bathroom has, in addition to a huge tub, two sinks and a shower. Number 123 is on a corner with a view over the lake, and Number 16, in green, gold and white, has a lovely detailed plaster ceiling and a panoramic lake vista.

Traditional old-world luxury for those willing to pay the freight.

Address: Schweizerhof Luzern Schweizerhofquai 3, CH-6003 Luzern
Phone: 041/502211
Fax: 041/868157
Location: Downtown, facing lake
Rooms: 16 singles, 100 doubles
Proprietor: Victor Hauser
Prices: Singles 275-335 Sfr. ($229-$279), doubles 390-495 Sfr. ($325-$413)
Facilities: Three restaurants, bar
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: No special facilities
Closed: Never
Parking: Free
Rating: Above Average 15/20

Château Gütsch

The striking Gütsch sits, castle-like, on an extraordinary site atop its own forested hillside above the lake and the city. As a guest in this unique hostelry one feels entirely removed from the urban setting below.

In the 14th and 15th centuries a fire was lit on this spot to warn of approaching invaders. In 1590, an observation tower was built on the site and remained until the late 19th century. After a 1888 fire destroyed an earlier structure, the Gütsch was rebuilt in its present castle-like style and then extensively restored and modernized in late summer 1992.

Although the hotel can be reached via a rather indirect road, the most convenient access is via an elevator-style cable lift which is a short taxi ride from the rail station.

Guestrooms are large, well-appointed, and enjoy panoramic views. Number 32 is a double with French Provincial furniture, blue accents and flowered wallpaper. its marble bath is large and has two sinks with gold-plated plumbing for 400 Sfr. ($333). Number 45, a junior suite, has dark oak flooring, oriental carpets and, curtained off the bedroom, a huge Jacuzzi tub with gold fixtures. It rents for 450-650 Sfr. ($375-$542).

Address: Château Gütsch Kanonenstrasse, CH 6007 Luzern
Phone: 041/220272
Fax: 041/311031
Location: Above the town
Rooms: One single, 30 doubles
Proprietor: Ivo Scala
Prices: Singles 230-370 Sfr. ($192-$308), doubles 250-450 Sfr. ($208-$375)
Facilities: Restaurant, bar, large outdoor dining terrace
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: Not suitable
Closed: Never
Parking: Free
Rating: Above Average 14/20

Hotel Des Balances

This small, attractively furnished hotel is in a beautifully restored building in the heart of Luzern's shopping district. Des Balances was created from two ancient mansions which date to the early days of the Swiss confederation in 1332. Later embellished with a clock tower, the building became the city hall in 1367. Following a fire in 1833, the present structure was rebuilt on the ancient foundation and decorated in Holbein style by a director of the Luzern School of Arts and Crafts.

Many guest bathrooms have bathtubs and bidets. Number 401 is an above average size double with antique furniture, twin beds and both river and city views from its two windows. Number 402 is a quiet junior-suite with French double bed and a view of Luzern's rooftops.

Though a step down from the preceding luxury establishments, Des Balances is comfortable and charming.

Address: Hotel Des Balances Weinmarkt, CH-6000 Luzern
Phone: 041/511851
Fax: 041/516451
Location: Central
Rooms: Five singles, 55 doubles
Proprietor: Sandra Bungardt
Prices: Singles 175-235 Sfr. ($146-$196), doubles 233-385 Sfr. ($194-$321
Facilities: Two restaurants, piano bar, outdoor terrace facing the river.
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: One specially equipped room
Closed: Never
Parking: Valet service to nearby garage at 20 Sfr. per night
Rating: Above average 13/20

Hotel Monopol

The Monopol's strikingly handsome building, built in 1898, is in the very center of Luzern, across from the rail station.

Guestrooms are comfortable and well furnished in a modern style, but fall well short of the opulence of the Gütsch or Schweizerhof. Number 510, decorated in red and green, is a reasonably quiet single with bathtub, that rents for 140 Sfr. ($117). Number 506 is a double with tub and views of the city and lake for 265 Sfr. ($221).

Restaurant Arbalete offers a French menu with complete meals priced from 55 to 130 Sfr. ($46-$108).

The trade-off for the central location of this mostly business hotel is traffic and noise.

Address: Hotel Monopol Luzern, Pilatusstrasse 1, CH-6002 Luzern
Phone: 041/230866
Fax: 041/236001
Location: Central
Rooms: 40 singles, 65 doubles
Proprietor: Mr. Wallimann
Prices: Singles 130-200 Sfr. ($108-$167), doubles 240-360 Sfr. ($200-$300)
Facilities: Restaurant and bar
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: Limited access
Closed: Never
Parking: Garage, 20 Sfr. per night
Rating: Above average 13/20

Wilden Mann

This small, pleasant hotel is in the center of Luzern's Old Town shopping district, five minutes walk from the train station. The building was a staging post for travelers crossing the St. Gotthard pass over the Alps in 1517, centuries before the tunnel was built along this important trade route.

Everything is fresh and clean and there is a relaxed atmosphere in the small, comfortable lobby and dining room. The cozy lounge has a wood-burning fireplace. Guestrooms are larger than average, colorfully decorated and some are reserved for nonsmokers. Number 64 is a spacious single (or double) in blue and rose with lacquered French Provincial furniture, a double bed and a city view for 150-200 Sfr. ($125-$167). Number 62, a large corner double with a view of the city, is done in white with a deep blue carpet and silk wallpaper. It rents for 260-370 Sfr. ($217-$308).

Address: Hotel Wilden Mann Bahnhofstrasse 30, CH-6000 Luzern
Phone: 041/231666
Fax: 041/231629
Location: Central
Rooms: 11 singles, 32 doubles
Proprietor: Irene Roethlin
Prices: Singles 150-200 Sfr. ($125-$167), doubles 180-370 Sfr. ($150-$308), suites 290-420 Sfr. ($424-$350)
Facilities: Restaurant and bar
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: Some accessible rooms
Closed: Never
Parking: Public garage 50 meters away for 18 Sfr. per/night
Rating: Above Average 13/20

Hotel Hofgarten

The Hofgarten and the Hotel Rebstock (see below) are under the same management and both are housed in 12th century buildings near the main cathedral and the Lion Monument. Hofgarten is the more modern and convenient and, of the two, we prefer it.

There is a lovely wood sculpture in the front entry court and the lobby is bright and inviting. Many of the imaginatively furnished, ultramodern guest-rooms exhibit tasteful examples of modern paintings and sculpture. Management is cheerful and accommodating.

The delightfully furnished guest-rooms are all different and include some charming "garret" rooms with French-style double beds and sloping ceilings. Number 224 is a large sunny double with lounging area in bright red and black. Number 222 is a large room with kitchenette with three sunny windows facing a rear courtyard. Number 233 has a French-style double bed.

Address: Hofgarten Hotel Stadhofstrasse 14, 6006 Luzern
Phone: 041/528888
Fax: 041/528333
Location: Near Cathedral and Lion Monument
Rooms: 4 singles, 14 doubles
Proprietor: Claudia Moser
Prices: Singles 140-185 Sfr. ($117-$154), doubles 225-260 Sfr. ($188-$217)
Facilities: Restaurant and Bar
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: One specially designed room
Closed: Never
Parking: Own garage, 12 Sfr./night
Rating: Above Average 13/20

Hotel Des Alpes

This modest tourist hotel has a fine location directly on the lake, five minutes walk from the train station. The 200-year-old building has always been a hotel and was recently renovated in a contemporary, commercial style. The present owners, the Hilber family, have managed Des Alpes for 40 years.

Many of the simply furnished, plain rooms are equipped with showers rather than bathtubs and have balconies with lake views. Number 455 is an average-sized double in shades of tan, with French doors overlooking the lake. Number 460 is a quiet double, done in shades of deep red, yellow and beige with a balcony opening to a courtyard. Number 456 is a quiet double with balcony and city view.

The restaurant (see story page 6) is a sunny place with a friendly atmosphere and tables on a terrace facing the lake.

Address: Hotel Des Alpes Rathausquai 5, CH-6004 Luzern
Phone: 041/515825
Fax: 041/517451
Location: Facing the lake along a pedestrian walkway
Rooms: Five singles, 40 doubles
Proprietor: Rolf Hilber
Prices: Singles 85-135 Sfr. ($71-$113), doubles 145-225 Sfr. ($121-$188)
Facilities: Restaurant and Bar
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: Not suitable
Closed: Never
Parking: Free outdoor spaces 5 minutes walk
Rating: Average 12/20

Hotel Rebstock

This moderately-priced hotel near the Cathedral (loud, early morning bells) is interesting but a little quirky. Most of the smallish, oddly-shaped guestrooms are decorated with contemporary furnishings and in bright primary colors. There is no elevator, and some rooms are reached only after a series of ups and downs and many steps. Bathrooms have showers rather than bathtubs. There is an attractive, highly-regarded restaurant with streetside terrace. A strong point in the Rebstock's favor is its friendly, helpful staff.

Address: Hotel Rebstock St. Leodegar Strasse 3, CH-6006 Luzern
Phone: 041/513581
Fax: 041/513917
Location: Central
Rooms: Five singles, 28 doubles
Proprietor: Claudia Moser
Prices: Singles 130-150 Sfr. ($108-$125), doubles 210-250 Sfr. ($175-$208)
Facilities: Restaurant and bar with outdoor terrace
Credit Cards: All
Disabled: Not suitable
Closed: Never
Parking: Garage, 12 Sfr./night.
Rating: Average 12/20

Lower Priced Hotels

Goldener Stern Burgerstrasse 35, CH-6003 Luzern, phone 041/23 08 91, fax 041/23 08 92. Singles 95 Sfr. ($80), doubles 135 Sfr. ($113). Near the Franciscan church on the south bank of the Reuss river. Clean and plain. A Swiss bargain.

Hotel Derby, Falkengasse 4, CH-6004 Luzern, phone 041/51 26 62, fax 041/51 42 83. Singles 60-120 Sfr. ($50-$100), doubles 80-180 Sfr. ($67-$150). New two-star, 10 minutes from the rail station.

Zum Weissen Kreuz Furrengasse 19, CH-6004, phone 041/51, fax 40 40 041/51 40 60. Singles 89-107 Sfr. ($74-$89), doubles 139-174 Sfr. ($116-$145). Popular three-star hotel on the water.

Luzern Restaurants

Zunfthaus zu Pfistern

In the old town near the covered bridge on Kornmarkt, the entrance to this ornately decorated former guildhouse is one floor above street level. On our luncheon visit the lively Pfistern was crowded with locals. Despite the bustle, service was very good; waiters were especially friendly and patient - not always the case in such a popular restaurant.

The simple dishes we ordered - pork, ham and veal meatballs baked in a puff pastry with creamy mushroom sauce, and grilled chicken accompanied by crisp potato croquettes - were delicious. The "dessert of the day" was a luscious white meringue with chocolate, scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, powdered sugar and lots and lots of whipped cream. With tea, our lunch for two came to 65.60 Sfr. ($55) including tip.

Zunfthaus Zu Pfistern Kornmarkt 4, CH-6000 Luzern. Moderate. Reservations not necessary.

Montana

The restaurant in this hotel enjoys the same panoramic view of the lake as the guest rooms. The dining room is large and not too formal. We found no fault with dishes that included a richly flavored French onion soup, a light and delicate cream of pumpkin soup, homemade ravioli in a brown sauce with walnuts, mushrooms, finely cut zucchinis and carrots and tortellini covered with a creamy, mild sauce of cheese and tomato. The bill for two including glasses of Fendant wine came to 87.20 Sfr. ($73).

Restaurant, Hotel Montana Adigenswilerstrasse 22, CH-6002 Luzern. Moderate to expensive. Phone 041/516565.

Des Alpes

The rustic Des Alpes is an excellent spot for a pleasant lunch: quiet; friendly service; a sunny, relaxed atmosphere; large portions and reasonable prices. Floors are covered with oriental carpets and walls are festooned with the coats of arms of various Swiss families. The restaurant faces the pedestrian walk near the covered wooden Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). The dining room has a view over river and lake.

Des Alpes has been around since 1894, but current management took over in 1977.

On one occasion, the two-course "business lunch" special for 30 Sfr. ($25) included salad, scampi in beer batter with ratatouille and parsley buttered potatoes. From the dessert cart came a luscious German-style apple kuchen with vanilla sauce for an additional 7.50 Sfr. ($6). Another, more modest meal consisted of a large homemade sausage with spicy mustard sauce and a mixed green salad. The bill, including a glass of beer came to 19.90 Sfr. ($17) for one.

Restaurant, Hotel des Alpes Rathausquai 5, CH-6004 Luzern. Moderate. Phone 041/515825.

Walliser Kanne

This likable Swiss fondue house offers specialties favored by the tourist trade. Dimly lit and casual with dark wood beams, white stucco walls and bare wood tables, it offers a busy, youthful ambiance.

Specialties include spaghetti Bolognaise and a green salad for 13 Sfr. ($11) and pork schnitzel in Marsala sauce with angel hair pasta with tomato sauce and green salad for 19.50 Sfr. ($16). We chose "Walliser" fondue, a bubbling, strong pot of melted cheese flavored with kirsch and garlic. A second main dish, fresh trout, was preceded by "Walliser" soup with pieces of white asparagus and tomato in a delicate cream base. Including a glass of Fendant and a cup of coffee the bill for two came to 55.80 Sfr. ($46).

Walliser Kanne Speiserestaurant, Burgerstrasse 3, CH-6003 Luzern. Moderate.

Luzern Facts and Things To See

Population: 60,000
Altitude: 1,440 feet
Tourist information Frankenstrasse 1, CH-6002 Luzern, phone 041/517171.

• Old Town: A delightful area for a stroll, with a wealth old houses, squares and churches including the Collegiate Church, an important Renaissance building, and the Baroque Jesuit Church.

Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge): Medieval-style, covered, pedestrian bridge first built in 1333.

Mount Pilatus Two cable cars ride year round to the summit. From May to November the "steepest cogwheel railway in the world" makes its 18-minute long trip up 48% gradients on the south flank. Queen Victoria rode a mule up in 1868. Restaurant at top. Pilatus-Bahnen und Hotels, Inseliquai 8, CH-6002 Luzern. Phone 041/239363.

Swiss Museum of Transport A train and boat enthusiast, my personal highlight of this city was a visit to the Transportation Museum. This complex of modern buildings includes a Rail Transport section, Aeronautics section, Navigation section and "Cosmorama." My favorite Rail exhibits which included old trains of all descriptions - electric, steam gas and diesel - and a number of cable lifts, old and new.

Aeronautics had several outdoor exhibits including the first Swissair Lockheed six-passenger airliner, a faithful Douglas DC-3, and some relatively recent jetliners. Navigation included an amazing collection of ship models: sailing ships, container ships, ocean liners and some full-sized life boats. "Cosmorama" included the Mercury Space Capsule, some lunar rocks, and a space suit, as well as an 18-screen multimedia show depicting the history of space flight.

Swiss Transport Museum. Lidostrasse 5, CH-6006 Luzern (reached in 10 minutes by #2 bus from the train station). Phone 041/314444. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Richard Wagner Museum The composer lived here in his "Haus Tribschen" from 1866 to 1872 with Cosima von Bülow, daughter of Franz Liszt. His opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was composed here. Wagnerweg 27, CH-6005 Luzern. Phone 041/442370. Open daily except Monday 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Picasso Museum Many wonderful prints and drawings on three floors of a former private residence. Picasso Museum, Furrengasse 21, CH-6004 Luzern. Phone 041/513533. Admission 6 Sfr. Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Museum of Fine Art Robert-Sund-Strasse 1, CH-6002 Luzern. Phone 041/231024. Adult admission 7 Sfr. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Historical Museum Pfistergasse 24, CH-6000 Luzern. Phone 041/245424. Admission 5 Sfr. Open daily except Monday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Boat Trips: Various trips from 30 minutes to a full day are available on Lake Luzern. All boats include on-board restaurants which serve beverages, snacks and full meals. Although there is more service during summer, some trips go year round. There is even a "fondue ship" which operates between September 30 and April 8 at 7:15 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. The cost is 19-23 Sfr. ($16.50-$20) and includes the meal and the trip ticket. Vierwaldstättersee, Schiffahrtsgellschaft des Vierwaldstättersee Werftestrasse 5, CH-6002 Luzern, phone 041/404540.

September 1995