Switzerland summer breaks - Lucerne and Interlaken. Part 2

Posted on: 31 July 2013 by Diane Priestley

Diane Priestley continues her tour of the picturesque lake and mountain region of Switzerland.

Travelling to Interlaken by boatOn this balmy afternoon with the soft sun setting across the glistening lake and a soothing breeze caressing my bare arms, I am discovering the delights of this historical city, as our little group strolls around the cobbled streets with our charming Swiss guide Hanny, whose clear blue eyes and cheerful smile exude pride in her pristine city. “Yes the citizens of Lucerne are very happy!” she chimes, as we pause to enjoy an orchestral concert in full swing. What’s not to love about an idyllic collision of rich culture, natural beauty and a high standard of living!

Camera-snapping, ice cream-slurping tourists jostle with masses of regal white swans waddling on the water’s edge. Migrating from across Europe, they too are visiting Lucerne for the summer!

Hanny, representing Lucerne Tourism with true finesse, shows us the modern Culture and Convention Centre built over water channels and a dramatic fountain, one of 225 that grace the elegant city. The harbour is alive with the hustle and bustle of colourful boats, docking to unleash swarms of sun-kissed sightseers

Baroque style Jesuit church of St Xavier

Historic buildings along the river form a bold skyline as we head towards the imposing 14th century Wasserturn Water Tower and the renowned chapel bridge adorned with flower baskets.

We visit the exquisite Jesuit church, built in the 16th century in the Baroque style as a tribute to St Xavier. The towering painted timber panels look like peachy marble. The wistful ceiling paintings and ornate columns are awe-inspiring.

Lucerne, the old city

As we wander around the magical Old City with fresco-painted buildings, we become aware that Lucerne is not your usual stressful, frenetic, traffic-dodging urban jungle. The quiet streets are free of cars. Relaxed pedestrians stroll and cyclists zip along amongst horse-drawn carriages.

Hanny tells us this German-speaking city is also a thriving hub of traditional festivals, concerts, museums and art galleries that draw culture-lovers like bees to a honey pot.

That evening we dine alfresco in a leafy garden restaurant, eating loads of salad (to balance our macaroni lunch) as we soak up the atmosphere of lovely Lucerne.

Train ride to InterlakenInterlopers in Interlaken

Come Friday it’s time to leave Lucern and take a smooth and efficient Golden Pass Panoramic train journey to Interlaken, a township sandwiched between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz at the foot of Mount Eiger, Monch and famous Jungfrau, the tallest peak in the Bernese Alps.

We meet our knowledgeable guide Martin in the foyer of Hotel Interlaken and check in. Wow! I have a spacious luxurious room! Dragging myself away from the enticing sofa, I join the group to set out in the late afternoon.

Martin knows the region like the back of his hand and leads us through the cosmopolitan town, a mecca for thrill-seekers. Gazing skyward we spot dozens of floating figures of intrepid para-gliders. How about bungee jumping, rock climbing, white water rafting?

Here in Interlaken, all levels of fitness and ages are catered for with a range of activities to suit everyone from adrenalin junkies who leap off mountains and drift on air currents suspended by panels of flimsy fabric to plodding tourists like me, whose tastes are more earthbound!

Trip to the Harder Kulm

Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch, plus our guide.At Hardenbahn station we pile in the funicular, along with loads of excited parents and children, and glide up to the lookout at the summit of Harder Kulm. The lofty vantage point gives us magnificent views, a vibrant palette of lakes and valleys and the majestic Jungfrau massif, making picture-postcard memories.

Tourists can forget about cars because in central Switzerland the favoured modes of transport include a range of fascinating boats, cheerful old-style and sleek, modern trains and cable cars and funiculars that propel curious humans up and down the steep slopes.

That evening we meet lovely young Meret from Interlaken Tourism who joins us for a gourmet dinner at Hotel Interlaken and we learn about her charmed life in this picturesque paradise. Meret has designed our intriguing itinerary for the next two days so it’s wise to retire early to be fresh for the action!

For something really unusual, Martin takes us to the Jobin woodcarving workshop in Brienz and Flavius, the owner of the family business dating back to 1835, leads a tour of the beautiful sculptures and exquisite Swiss handicrafts. The detailed works of animals, human forms and historic figures are truly captivating.

As an added treat, Flavius has laid out a workbench with little wooden cows for us to paint! Now I haven’t done anything remotely crafty since embarrassing flops in the high school art room so I was a little daunted. But I quickly become engrossed in the hands-on experience along with my fellow journalists who also throw inhibitions to the wind and paint up a storm!

Horse-drawn carriages Clutching our little hand-painted cows we stroll around the idyllic lake surrounded by opulent chalets and watch real artists at work wielding chainsaws on life-size wooded sculptures. Taking a bus, we travel to the next attraction, the Ballenberg Open-air Museum, which draws visitors from across Switzerland and Europe and far-flung countries to see 250 native animals and more than 100 centuries-old buildings and gardens set on 66 acres.

After another scrumptious Swiss lunch of massive proportions, our host Dario takes us for an enchanting horse-drawn carriage ride taking us back in time. Our driver Ivo clearly adores his horses as he gives them affectionate kisses on the snout!

We stop at the homemade chocolate shop; a perfect opportunity to buy gifts to take home! Swiss chocolate is as smooth as silk and as irresistible as Swiss ice cream and cheese made from the contented cows that graze the alpine meadows.

Giessbach waterfall

Spectacular Giessbach

A nostalgic funicular takes us up the ferny mountain to Giessbach to view the gushing Three Waterfalls and onward to the elegant Grandhotel Giessbach where our host shows us through the opulent dining rooms with heavenly views. Unsurprisingly this stunning mountaintop venue is a popular choice for lavish weddings.

Some of the more hardy members of our group opt for a strenuous hike while the rest, including me, return down the mountain in the funicular followed by a restful boat trip to rendezvous at the outdoor Restaurant De Luc, specialising of course in the freshest fish for my companions and a generous serve of veggies for me!  A brass band assembles at the lake’s edge and strikes up a rousing medley entertaining the throng of revellers!

What an amazing day, jam-packed full of wonders and delights! We wander through the peaceful fishing village of Iseltwald to catch a bus to our hotel and collapse into sweet dreams.

 

Cogwheel railway train to Schynige Platte

On the final morning of our glorious visit, Martin takes us skyward in the prettiest red cogwheel railway train to Schynige Platte to view the Alpine Gardens with 600 species of native plants and gaze across the glorious Swiss Alps. I am humming the tune to Edelweiss and tempted to burst into 'The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music' and dance like Julie Andrews across the lush mountaintops. These giddy scenes set your heart racing with sheer exhilaration and you know you have experienced something truly magical.

 

Information about this trip

Thomson Lakes offers 7 nights half board at the 3* Hotel de la Paix in Lucerne from £889 per person. Price includes flights from Heathrow to Zurich and train transfers. Regional airports are available at a supplement from £20 (Birmingham) and £40 (Manchester).
For bookings and details Tel: 0871 230 8181
 
A week’s half board at the 4* Hotel Interlaken costs from £725 per person.
 
For more information on Switzerland, please visit www.myswitzerland.com and www.swiss.com
 
 

You can read part one of this trip to Lucerne and Interlaken

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