Green Mountains, Beautiful Towns: Explore Central Switzerland
At first, it will sound like a faint wind or a low-rolling creek, but as you get closer you’ll recognize that the sound is actually coming from large metal bells that are attached to thick leather straps and worn around cows’ necks. These big beautiful bovines will be spread out, all over the hillside, and as you hike you’ll likely see a cluster on the trail and have to make your way up and around so as not to disturb their eating. The collective crescendo of sound that these cows create as you inch near is something I will always associate with Switzerland, along with the other two C’s of course—chocolate and cheese.
I began my solo trip to central Switzerland by arriving at the Zurich airport. I used a Swiss Travel Pass, which allows travelers easy access to trains and busses, as well as some boats and cable cars. In only two hours, I arrived in Engelberg, a lovely mountain town, with a population of around 4,000, known for its Benedictine monastery, Engelberg Abbey, founded in 1120. Not wasting any time, I dropped my bag at the gorgeous, well-designed, Hotel Bellevue-Terminus, conveniently located right across from the train station, and I headed to Brunni Cableways.
Mt. Brunni has activities year round for adventure-seekers or for travelers that just want to enjoy fresh mountain air, but the summer is especially spectacular. You’re encouraged to take off your shoes and socks and get closer to the earth by hiking on the Kitzeltrail “tickle path” around Lake Härzlisee, where you’ll step over wet logs, wade through mud, soak in cool water, feel soft pine cones massage your feet and really sense a tangible connection to your surroundings. Watching little French and German-speaking kids catch tadpoles and giggle around the path while their parents were lounging in the sunshine was sublime, and it made me miss my own littles. Of course, there are loads of other activities to keep you busy like hiking, biking, paragliding and geocaching. A highlight for me was climbing one of the four Via Ferrata routes on Mt. Brunni. I hiked up the trail, which led to the cable where I clipped in so that I could safely boulder my way up the rocks, step across a rope bridge and ascend a ladder to reach the top. Lunch at Brunnihütte SAC, while soaking in the sunshine on the patio, was fantastic and finishing the day with sunset yoga, where I could hear those wonderful wandering cows in the distance, was a perfect end.
Engelberg has another, more popular, mountain excursion that was really fantastic as well on Mt. Titlis. I began the adventure with a cable car ride up to Lake Truebsee at 6,000 feet. It was here that I went kayaking in the rain and through the low-hanging clouds. Incredible doesn’t even sum it up. From Truebsee, you can ascend to the top of Mt. Titles via the world’s first revolving cable car, the Titlis Rotair. I walked through the Mount Titlis Glacier Cave at 10,000 feet (where I found frozen flowers inside), rode over a glacier on the Ice Flyer ride, and walked across Europe’s highest situated suspension bridge, where I saw mountains touching sky as far as the eye can focus.
I did not want to leave Engelberg, but my itinerary took me to Lucerne on day four. I knew when I checked into Hotel des Balances, located right on the Reuss river with a view of the Jesuit Church in Lucerne’s Old Town, that I would fall in love with Lucerne immediately. I went on a guided walking tour through Old Town to learn about the history of the area. The guide pointed out the old paintings inside the covered bridges, the many murals covering the old buildings, the apothecaries that carried special salves that all Swiss women apparently carry in their purses, and she highlighted what life might have looked like when the area, full of squares and winding cobble-stone streets, was in its prime.
“This is the square where women would throw their trash out of the second floor windows and then the men would push the trash into the river,” said guide Heidi Muffler. “Go to the top floor of this convenience store to see a good view of the rooftops out of the café window."
I went on an individual “Taste My Swiss City” tour next, which allowed me to navigate the city with local suggestions of places to nosh and nibble. I walked through the Neustadt-Hirschmatt quarter, past the Chapel Bridge via Schweizerhofquai to the Hochwacht Quarter and through Old Town. I stopped at Restaurant Stern, Dr. Oetker Café, Max Chocolatier and Bourbaki (where I saw the Bourbaki Panorama Museum and nearby Lion Monument and Glacier Garden). That evening, I indulged in a sunset cruise on “MS Diamant” on Lake Lucerne, which rewarded me with towering mountain views of Central Switzerland, past little lakeside towns with churches and little colorful houses dotting the coast.
Of course, I didn’t want to leave Lucerne either, and I honestly could have spent another couple of days exploring the mountain regions nearby, swimming in the lake, and enjoying more sunset views. There were also many restaurants that I wanted to try in addition to the Scala Restaurant in the Montana Art Deco Hotel which required a cable ride from the lake up to the top of the mountain to reach its doors. Of course, I’ll have to come back.
Travel expenses provided by Switzerland Tourism