Since this is as good a year as any to splurge, we've chosen Lucerne as the first stop in our series of favorite destination updates.
Switzerland is expensive. But look on the bright side: If it weren't, it would be overrun with tourists. Imagine beautiful Lucerne with prices at eastern European levels: the place would be pillaged. Let's count our blessings and live with the fact that Switzerland is, for most of us, a bit of a splurge—keeping in mind, however, that lakeside strolls, mountain walks, and the glorious scenery all cost CHF 00.
Since this is as good a year as any to splurge, we've chosen Lucerne as the first stop in our 2006 series of favorite destination updates. We begin with sights, events, and activities:
• Old Town: Narrow lanes, old houses, and squares. Visit the Collegiate Church, an important Renaissance building, and the Baroque Jesuit Church
• Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge): Medieval-style, covered, pedestrian bridge from 1333
• Swiss Museum of Transport Rail transport, aeronautics, navigation, and "Cosmorama." Great collection of ship models: sailing ships, container ships, ocean liners, and full-sized life boats. "Cosmorama" includes Mercury Space Capsule, lunar rocks, and multimedia show on history of space flight. Lidostrasse 5, (reached in 10 minutes by #2 bus from the train station).
• Richard Wagner Museum Here, in Haus Tribschen, where Wagner lived from 1866 to 1872 with Cosima von Bülow, daughter of Franz Liszt, Wagner wrote Die Meistersinger. (Wagnerweg 27)
• Museum of Art (Kunstmuseum) Modern art in Jean Nouvel designed space on the top floor of Culture and Convention Center, Europaplatz 1
• Picasso Museum: Drawings, graphics, and ceramics, plus 200 photos capturing intimate moments of the artist's life (Furrengasse 21)
• Rosengart Collection Once a private, family collection, this important new museum features the works of Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso; also Matisse, Miró, Monet, Cézanne, and others. (Pilatusstrasse 10)
• Lucerne Music Festival Annually presents top-rank musicians and orchestras:
Ostern 2006, April 1-9
Sommer 2006, August 10-September 17
Piano 2006, November 21-26
• Culture and Convention Center Home to one of Europe's most celebrated classical music venues, renowned for its acoustics. (Europaplatz 1)
• Mount Pilatus Two cable cars ascend year-round to the summit. From May to November, the "steepest cogwheel railway in the world" makes its 18-minute trip up 48 percent gradients on the south flank. Queen Victoria rode a mule up in 1868.
This design marvel of glass, steel, and highly polished wood is an absolute stunner; a creation of famed Paris architect, Jean Nouvel, whose credits include Lucerne's lakeside Congress Center, Berlin's Galeries Lafayette, and the acclaimed Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.
All rooms feature giant, single-pane windows; pivoting matte stainless steel cabinets for storage and entertainment components; minimalist furnishings designed by Nouvel; Brazilian cherrywood table surfaces; deeply-polished floor planks; and, on the ceiling of each room, in muted colors, scenes from art house films. At night, wall sconces illuminate them to create an extraordinary exterior view for passersby.
The sleek Restaurant Bam Bou features Asian/French dishes.
Even if The Hotel is not in your future, check the Website.
Daily Rates: Rooms CHF 350-540, breakfast CHF 25
Romantik Hotel Wilden Mann
Cozy, old-world charmer in the center of Lucerne's shopping district, five minutes' walk from the train station. Blazing fireplace in the lounge. Atmospheric restaurant. Individually decorated rooms.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 165-210, doubles CHF 265-340
Art Deco Hotel Montana
One of the better places to appreciate Lucerne's splendid setting is from the balcony of a lakeview room at this hillside hotel. Built in 1910, the Montana has the high ceilings, wide hallways, and large windows that characterize hotels of that period.
The classic Louie-Bar, with splendid views, offers live jazz and blues and 80 Scottish malt whiskies.
A pleasant, lively hotel that one wishes were a little less expensive.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 210-260, doubles CHF 290-465
A palatial but sterile Grand Dame. Lots of marble columns, crystal chandeliers, and mirrored ceilings, but not enough charm. At this level, The Hotel is a better choice.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 260-500, doubles CHF 310-550, breakfast CHF 30.
Though its rates are still below other Lucerne hotels in its category, Cascada has lost some of its value appeal. It offers a clientèle of mostly business travelers bright, well-furnished guestrooms in a location convenient to the railway station.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 165-220, doubles CHF 245-290
Hotel Des Balances
Once touted in guidebooks as a moderately-priced haven for budget-minded American travelers, Des Balances has gone upscale. The least expensive double is now about $225 and doesn't include breakfast. You can do better.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 210-260, doubles CHF 280-395, breakfast CHF 27
The former town prison until 1998 has been converted to a hotel with a restaurant, gallery, and performing arts venue. Nearly all guestrooms are in former inmate cells and, though such necessary amenities as a private toilet and shower have been added, they remain in jail house configuration: one small, barred window high on the wall; the original reinforced door with only a peephole, and two basic cots. Löwengraben is not for everyone; most rooms, though immaculate, are small and basic. The least expensive "budget" category of rooms is not recommended.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 69-225, doubles CHF 80-222; breakfast included with some rooms, otherwise CHF 9
Contact: Hotel Löwengraben Löwengraben 18, CH-6004 Lucerne, tel. +41/041/417-1212, fax 417-1211
Near the Franciscan church on the south bank of the Reuss river. Clean and plain. A Swiss bargain. In the hotel's country-style restaurant, try the calves liver with Rösti for less than $20.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 85-100, doubles CHF 110-150
Lucerne is not renowned for its cuisine. In and around the old town are many restaurants whose principal clients are here-today-gone-tomorrow-forever tourists-not a formula that makes for great meals. Michelin, in fact, confers not a single star or even a red Karte (good food at moderate prices) on any restaurant. Still, the careful traveler can find good food.
Wilden Mann Burgerstube
The elegant old-world Burgerstube, with its carved wood wainscoting, decorated ceiling beams, mullioned windows, and hearty stick-to-the-ribs dishes with a few modern twists, is a dream-come-true for the traveler seeking a traditional Swiss dining experience. Main courses CHF 19-39. Highly recommended.
Hotel Wilden Mann Bahnhofstrasse 30, tel. +41/041/2101 666, fax 2101 629
The reward for the 15-minute walk from the center to this pleasant, woody restaurant is fresh, creative food and attentive, friendly service. Locals who know, say Maihöfli is one of the city's best, and our one experience here merited a big thumbs up. Main dishes CHF 21-38. Reservations recommended.
Maihöfli, Maihofstrasse 70, tel. +41/041/420 60 60
Hotel Rebstock Wirtshus
Lighter, innovative dishes attract an eclectic mix of local celebrities and business types to this bustling room with its dark wood ceiling supported by thick wood timbers. Moderate prices. Recommended.
Hotel Restaurant Rebstock St. Leodegar-Strasse 3, tel. +41/041/410 35 81
Zunfthaus zu Pfistern
In the old town near the covered bridge, the entrance to this ornately decorated former guild house is one floor above street level. Friendly service, simple Swiss dishes. Main courses CHF 18-36.
Zunfthaus Zu Pfistern Kornmarkt 4
The attraction here is the view of the Chapel Bridge, the lake, and the mountains, but there are better choices in town if a table is not available on the outdoor terrace.
Hotel des Alpes Restaurant Rathausquai 5, tel. +41/041/410 5825
Avoid this popular and inexpensive first-floor restaurant on a main pedestrian street. The heavy, overly-spiced Italian food isn't worth the calories. Slow, impersonal service and lots of cigarette smoke.
Restaurant Einhorn Hertensteinstrasse 23