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Fairytale town on the four-pronged lake

Costa Rica

Lucerne is a fairytale town, set on its namesake lake, in the heart of Switzerland. It offers many summer excursions over water, into pretty villages where the spirit of William Tell is strong, and up mountains where you can see for ever.

City of cooling fountains

Lucerne is a pretty Swiss jumble of narrow cobbled streets, willowy
spires, frescoed houses, and cooling fountains. Its varied treasures
include that medieval glory the 600-year-old wooden Chapel Bridge, fully
restored after a bad fire in 1993. There’s a fine collection of Pablo’s
works at the Picasso Museum, and more splendid modern art at the
Rosengart Collection (£7: www.rosengart.ch).

World class concert hall

The waterside concert hall, the KKL, is world class. Top orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw, and New York and Vienna Philharmonics
perform each summer from around 11 August (0041 226 4400; tickets from £13, www.kkl-luzern.ch . Composer Richard Wagner’s favourite summer house is now a lakeside
museum. (Lucerne Tourist Office 041 227 17 17.

Take the fast lift

Take the paddle-steam boat (£18, one day) and meander,
stress-free, around the four-pronged lake’s edge (0041367 67 674
www.lakeluzern.ch). Maybe to Europe’s longest, and fastest, outside lift, the Hammetschwand, on the Bürgenstock peninsula. Or Fluellen, for the Tellsplatte, the spot
where apple-shooting William Tell leapt ashore to freedom.

A cut above.

Visit the home of the most useful thing you can keep in your pocket, the Swiss Army
Knife. Buy the latest versions (they feature a computer data stick and
altimeter) at a discount at the Victorinox factory outlet at Schwyz (3
miles from Brunnen - regular buses) and marvel at the pinnacle of Swiss
precision. And explore Swiss Knife Valley, where Switzerland was founded.

A railway runs up it

Pick any mountain in Switzerland, and there’s a railway running up it.
One of my favourites, 55 minutes by boat from Lucerne, is the Rigi
(www.rigi.ch). Early conquerors included Mark Twain (a hilarious account
in 'A Tramp Abroad'), and Queen Victoria, quite amused by her climb on
horseback in 1868. She reported 'a most successful day'. If they had
waited until 1871, they could have ridden Europe's first mountain
railway to the top. Pick it up at the quayside of the small lakeside
resort Vitznau (£22, go anywhere ticket). The 5400 feet climb
takes 40 minutes. Swiss mountain railways recall a perfect age of
trains, Milk crates sit on platforms of pretty little stations on this
mainly car free peak. Meadows shining with mountain primroses stretch
enticingly away. Stay at the hotel at the top, and they call you early
for sun rise over the glorious chaos of peaks.

On the way down alight at any halt. Posts garlanded with canary-yellow
boards signs fire off walking opportunities in all directions. You won’t
get lost, even in the Rigi’s spiders web of footpaths. Mix and match
downhill trail and train, to be in time for tea at the Park Hotel Vitznau.

Waterside gourmet

Lucerne has some of the nation’s best restaurants, fine dining spilling
onto waterside verandas on warm summer evenings. Most menus include the
staples, such as cheese fondues, veal in cream and mushroom sauce, air
dried beef, and rosti (grated and fried potatoes). Chefs add the produce
of the lake and create clever land/water variations.
The Rotes Gatter (0041 4182828) tempts with grilled freshwater crabs with feta cheese and
marinated herbs; pike-perch filets with artichoke hearts; and roast
rabbit stuffed with chanterelles and basil.
The Schlössli Utenberg (00 41 420 00 22), Bar Leon (00 41 1 210 29 51), Grottino (00 41 79 641 04 31) are all good bets. Or take to the lake for a sunset dinner on the
'Sushi Ship', just one of many aquatic dining options
(www.lakelucerne.ch ).

The most romantic table is 5700 feet up, atop nearby Stanserhorn, where
you cozily rotate once every 43 minutes in the revolving restaurant
Rondorama. On Friday evenings they turn down the lights, and serve
candle-light dinner Sensational views to the Eiger
and Jungfrau (www.stanserhorn.ch)
Ascent by vintage mountain railway.

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