Switzerland: It's More than Cheese and Chocolate

On to Lucerne

Getting to Lucerne on the train from Montreux was a snap. The only hard part was deciding whether to take the regular train, a three-hour ride, or the famed Golden Pass Panorama train that takes five hours and travels through some of the most scenic vistas in central Switzerland. We decided to take the shorter train because of time restraints. But everyone we spoke to about the Golden Pass trip confirms that it's all it's cracked up to be.

Lucerne, the largest city in central Switzerland, dates back to the 11th century, although monks had built the St. Leodegar monastery as far back as the eighth century.

Two of this medieval city's most important landmarks, the Water Tower and the Chapel Bridge, were both built in 1300 and still remain Lucerne's signature attractions. Millions of tourists visit these symbols of the city every year.

Today German-speaking Lucerne is a modern and beautiful home to 60,000 residents. The city, on the banks of lovely Lake Lucerne, has many upscale restaurants and hotels to choose from. We stayed at the chic, art deco style Hotel Montana. It has great lake views, stylish rooms, a jazz bar, a fabulous restaurant with an innovative chef, and the shortest funicular in the world (it goes from the street to the hillside lobby in 60 seconds).

But there's a wide range of hotels available in the city -- from five-stars to youth hostels -- because in addition to its sophisticated vibe, Lucerne is a gateway to the Alps.

Things to do in Lucerne

Lucerne is a great walking city. From the modern city center to the charming and historic old town, Lucerne is a mecca for music lovers, museum goers and shoppers that begs to be explored.

It may be a big tourist attraction, but you really should not miss the famed sculpture of the "Lion of Lucerne," created in 1821 to honor the 500 Swiss guards who died protecting the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution. After seeing the sculpture, Mark Twain wrote, "The Lion of Lucerne" is the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."

Lucerne has a number of great museums. Two that really stood out for us: The Swiss Transport Museum. With more than 3,000 items showing the history of transportation, this museum is considered the best of its kind in Europe, offering multimedia and hands-on exhibits.

The other museum that thrilled us: The Rosengart Museum, a gift to Lucerne from Picasso's friend, the art dealer, Siegfried Rosengart. It's a small museum that showcases an amazing private collection, including 50 Picassos and works by other artists, such as Cezanne, Renoir and Matisse, among other modern masters. Almost as delightful were the rare, intimate photos of Picasso and his family at home. We loved it. Our Swiss Pass got us in for free.

One other museum that caught our eye was the Glacier Garden Museum, a short walk from the famed "Lion of Lucerne." An open park museum, it offers fossils, a glacier pothole and artifacts from the town's history, going all the way back to the ice age.

Going up the Mountains

Lucerne is the perfect point of departure for day-trippers like us to head for the hills, the Alps that is.

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