By Renée S. Gordon
“In Switzerland, on a high mountain, not far from Lucerne, there is a lake they call Pilate’s Pond, which the Devil has fixed upon as one of the chief residences of his evil spirits.”
Mount Pilatus is part of the sweeping panorama that can be seen from Lucerne. The highest peak of the mountain stands 7,000-ft. above sea level and has figured in Swiss legend and lore for centuries. In the earliest references it was known as “Fractus Mons” or “Broken Mountain,” and believed to house the lairs of dragons.
Pilatus is so called because of the legend that connects it to Pontius Pilate. The story states that Pilate was killed after the death of Christ, his body was thrown into the Tiber River and violent storms immediately erupted. The body was removed and the storms ceased. He was then tossed into the Rhone River where the weather took a turn for the worse. For a third time the body was moved, carried into the Alps and thrown into a small lake near Lucerne. Bad weather and flooding were then attributed to dark forces and the ghost of Pilate was said to haunt the area attempting to cleanse his hands. To protect the populace climbing the mountain was strictly forbidden.
In 1585 Lucerne’s parish priest and a contingent of citizens ascended the mountain and exorcised the supernatural forces. To maintain their banishment nine-years later the lake was drained and it was not until 1980 that the waters were allowed to flow again.
Today no trip to the area is undertaken without completing the Golden Round, a trip to the summit of Mount Pilatus that involves five modes of transport. Travelers take a boat from the port in Lucerne to Alpanachstad where they take the steepest cogwheel train in the world. The 30-minute ride achieves a gradient of 48 percent and travels through six tunnels carved into the mountain.
The Pilatus-Kulm Mountain Hotel and Hotel Bellevue are located atop the mountain and a night’s lodging makes this exciting journey even more fantastic. The Bellevue is a 28-room hotel with views of Lucerne Bay and the Alps. The Pilates-Kulm is a remodeled 27-room historic hotel built in 1890. The complex is situated on a plateau that provides access to several hiking trails, a panoramic viewing gallery several restaurants, including the elegant Queen Victoria decorated in 1890’s grand style, and a gift shop. Provisions are made for the disabled. www.pilatus.ch/en
The trip back to Lucerne is equally spectacular. It begins with an aerial cableway descent to Frakmuntegg at a 4,649-ft. elevation. Travelers paused here to visit the largest rope park in Central Switzerland, experience the world’s longest summer, 4500-ft., toboggan run and have an invigorating snack. Panorama Gondolas complete the descent to Kriens where a 15-minute bus ride returns you to the heart of Lucerne. Check the website because portions of the trip are seasonal.
The Seetal is a valley that has come to be known for its lakes, castles and natural landscapes. Two of the most representative of the more than 1,000 palaces in the country are Castle Heidegg on Lake Baldegg and the Water Castle Hallwyl on Lake Hallwyl.
Castle Heidegg is first mentioned in the 12th-century when it was the residence of knights and the Heidegg family who ruled the area and guarded the lake. In the 16th-century it was modernized. The chapel is oddly shaped because it follows the footprint of an earlier tower. The castle is renowned for its garden filled with roses that are a result of a visit by Konrad Adenauer who stated that what the garden needed was roses.
The castle houses a museum with exhibits on several floors that interpret the lives of those who inhabited it. A gift shop is on the lower level.
Hallwyl Castle was a moated toll castle built in 1200 as a residential tower and to monitor lake traffic. In the 1300s a dry most was added. The castle remained in the von Hallwyl family until they donated it in 1993.
The castle’s permanent exhibits contain eleven themes on three floors and relate 700-years of history. Acoustic guides are provided, for self-guided tours, in English. Highlights of the tour are a copy of a 1611 book of herbal remedies by Burkhard III. He was so ahead of his time that he recognized the value of cleanliness and allowed the poor to come to the castle and bathe. The third-floor gallery tells the story of both courtly and peasant life in the Medieval Era. On display are helmets and jousting lances of incredible length. www.schlosshallwyl.ch
The Jura and the three lakes region is comprised of the Cantons Jura and Neuchâtel, Solothurn and Biel. It is an ideal region to explore if you are seeking classic Switzerland with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, nine historic cheese factories, Swiss watchmaking companies, nature trails, museums, medieval towns and a solitary fixed traffic light in the largest part of the area. www.juratourisme.ch
Solothurn is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. It has more than 100-miles of trails and golf courses, sightseeing cruises on the river and a pedestrian Old Town filled with buildings that date from the early 1530s.
The Romans built the first city here around 300 AD but arrows have been found dating from BC. While touring the city you can follow in the footsteps of Casanova who romanced a Solothurn beauty around 1760 or Napoleon who also stopped here. www.solothurn-city.ch
Tours include several outstanding historic and architectural sites. The Baroque Jesuit Church, completed in 1689, is considered exemplary. There are 11 fountains, more than any other Swiss city.
The Clock Tower is the most unique site and the oldest structure in the city. Built around 1250 the astronomical clock was placed there in 1545. It has three mechanized figures, the king, a knight and Death. The clock’s three hands indicate the hour and the placement of the heavenly bodies. The clock strikes and the knight turns to the right and asks Death if his time is up. Death’s response is to turn the hourglass to indicate that time remains.
You can take the roadway but a scenic boat ride passes villages and vineyards and takes you to St. Peter’s Island, now a peninsula. The island was inhabited as early as the Bronze Age but the documented history begins in earnest with a group of monks who erected a Romanesque monastery in the 1100s. No more than five monks ever lived there at one time along with their female housekeepers. They were chased from the island in the 1490s. Guest rooms were added in 1530 and in 1765 French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau lodged there.
French Parliament banned Rousseau’s works and he moved to Môtiers, Switzerland. The citizens evicted him in 1765 and he moved to St. Peter’s Island. This year is his 300th birthday and more than 30 commemorative events have been planned in the area. www.biel-seeland.ch
The monastery is now the historic Monastery Hotel renowned for its luxury accommodations, hospitality and fine wines that are unique to the hotel. People make the trek to see the rooms in which Rousseau lived and worked and shared his accommodations with a maid from Paris. The two rooms are furnished as they would have been but the real surprise is the trapdoor that allowed him to escape unwanted company and admirers. The 13-room hotel was the recipient of the 2010 Historic Hotel of the Year Award. www.st-petersinsel.ch
Saint-Ursanne, is one of the most charming medieval towns in the entire country. It was named in honor of 7th-century St. Ursicinus. The 1728 stone bridge, replacing a wooden bridge from 1629, leads into the city through St. John’s Gate. Once inside tours include numerous historic structures. Highlights of a visit are the 14th-century cloister, the 1321 Collegiate Church and the 1296 St. Paul and 1522 St. Pierre Gates. This is a do not miss site. www.myswitzerland.com/en/st-ursanne-clos-du-doubs
Neuchâtel is first mentioned in a document dating from 1011 when the Burgundian king gifted his wife with the Novum Castle. Neuchâtel means “new castle,” after a castle built in the 900s. Archaeological excavations have proven the area was inhabited as early as 13,000 BC and a Gallo-Roman barge has also been uncovered. www.neuchateltourisme.ch/en/home
The Laténium Archeology Museum and Park is one of only a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites inscribed for its underwater cultural heritage. It was listed in 2011 because the museum features among its 3,000 objects the stilts of Neolithic pile dwellings on the site of the original village of Champréveyres. The website is not in English but you can see photographs of the site. www.latenium.ch
The historic center of the city is rich with medieval structures. If you only have time for the castle and one site that site must be the Collegial Church built around 1185. The church has both Gothic and Romanesque elements and the interior showcases the Monument of the Counts, a sculptural piece with 15 life-sized figures including female mourners.
An excellent choice for dinner is the Restaurant Petit Hotel de Chaumont that is reached by a panoramic funicular. Once at the summit visitors can climb a tower that provides a panoramic view of the Alps. www.petithotel.ch
La Maison du Prussien, a former 18th-century brewery, is an ideally situated hotel located in a gorge. It has been fully modernized and offers all the amenities including down comforters, breakfast and WIFI. You will be enchanted. www.hotel-prussien.ch/en
Switzerland is a year round destination that offers something for everyone. It has a huge number of unique sites and attractions and a full schedule of festivals. Swiss International Air Lines Ltd. flies nonstop from the United States and provides world-class service. www.swiss.com/web/EN
You can plan your trip, see photographs and make reservations at www.myswitzerland.com/en
I wish you smooth travels!