Feature

This week’s dream:

A fantasy voyage across Lake Lucerne

If you yearn for “the nostalgic pleasures” of the early 20th century, said Jan Morris in the Financial Times, you should immediately book passage on one of the magnificent paddle steamers that traverse Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne. Nirvana begins the moment you step into the dining salon. The woodwork creaks, the pistons gently pound in the engine room below, the snow-dappled mountains rise above the lake, and a foghorn signals “that you are approaching the little lakeside resort of Weggis.” Lake Lucerne, more properly called Vierwaldstätter See, seems to reside not in the immensely competent modern Swiss state but in an old-time fantasy Switzerland. In Weggis, hotels are “unostentatiously comfortable,” musicians give recitals from a bandstand every Tuesday morning, and the bells of the 14thcentury church toll the hours. At lunchtime, “all is calm, all is Swiss” as you doze in the garden of the waterfront Beau Rivage Hotel until a waitress arrives with your meal and a steamboat’s horn toots in the distance. The port is full of hustle and bustle, and the health-minded Swiss are always walking, often pacing themselves with Nordic Walking Poles. Yet the coming and going of the steamers is like “some pledge of eternity.” Another port of call is Vitznau, the site of a “secret network of fortifications” that the neutral government built during World War II and maintained during the Cold War. Today a symbolic, solitary gun is all that remains, though the former living quarters of the soldiers have been converted into perhaps “the only fortress-hotel in the world.” A classic tourist destination is the mountain town of Pilatus, where, according to legend, “Pontius Pilate went to die.” Passengers step off at the foot of the world’s steepest cog railway. Lunch at the summit offers a view straight off a box of chocolates. Then it’s time to return home. Mark Twain observed that a steamboat voyage on Lake Lucerne was “almost the perfection of pleasuring.” That is as true today as it was more than a century ago. Contact: Beaurivage-weggis.ch

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