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Lucerne: Simply N.O.P.E.

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The Chapel Bridge, Lucerne.

By Richard West

"I felt a desire to embrace, powerfully to embrace someone, to tickle him, or to pinch him." ("Luzern," Leo Tolstoy)

The great Russian writer felt a pinchable need (am I dreaming?) because he was at his balconied hotel window looking out at Lake Lucerne and the views beyond. My wife and I felt the same 152 years later, slightly stunned, gazing at the sea-green sheet of water, the pale-colored vista of the flanking mountains, the fantastic peaks, everything  bathed in a fresh atmosphere of bluish tint a pinch needed to reassure us we hadn't taken a wrong interstellar turn and landed in an ethereally beautiful spot N.O.P.E. — Not On Planet Earth.

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Luzern Palace Hotel.

    Knowing we would be exhausted to a sit-still halfway through a three-week tour of European cities last summer, Swiss friends wisely advised us to whoa up the team for a pampering stop at the luxurious 103-year-old Luzern Palace Hotel overlooking Lucerne's lake. How right they were: Rome-Venice-Vienna, always interesting, but hot-noisy-crowded.


    Lucerne, Mark Twain's "toy-shop town": cool-to-chilly, quiet, seemingly deserted, clean enough to please a Swiss hotelier, all nestled at the western lake's end no freeways, no industry, no sterile anywhereica office parks, just beauty with a river running through it.

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A room at the Luzern Palace.

    Behind our balcony, a room large enough to merit its own congressman, equipped with a  guest-supplied pair of binoculars, keyboard, gadget charger that probably accommodated North Korean products, a jumbo-size umbrella (jumbrella?), cloth-bag delivered newspapers, and enough bath amenities to shame The Body Shop. Realizing our good luck, joy rose like Champagne acid reflux, probably because we toasted our perfect mise-en-scenery with a small bottle of bubbly.
    It's no mystery why Switzerland is a great tourist destination. Aside from being the world's loveliest country, caring for visitors is a long-time tradition. Thomas Cook's first all-in tour was to the land of the Alps in the mid-19th century, and Europe's first school for hoteliers opened  near Lausanne in the 1860's, resulting in today's Swiss lodging perfection, it's Piagetian order and efficiency. No wonder Switzerland was the continent's first tourist nation whose prosperity mainly was based on its guests.
 

   Lucerne's central Swiss location draws many visitors as does the prospect of one of the world's most spectacular views atop nearby 6,953-foot Mount Pilatus. No longer do you ascend by mule as did Queen Victoria in 1868, but first in a small four-seat cable car to Frakmuntegg, then changing to a 40-seat cable car to the top. Guidebook information this, since rain hard enough to part a horse's mane prevented our trip to the fabled mountain where supposedly the ghost of Pontius Pilate haunts the summit.
    Thus, reluctant to leave Palace Hotel pleasures, especially the cornucopian breakfast,  after a early run alongside the lake (of course, a fellow welcoming us back with cold water and towels), we headed to town under the jumbrella, nodding to the swans  and marveling at the town's good carma, the lack of traffic entanglements, and noise.  Here are a few essentials we discovered:

    … The Chapel Bridge, Europe's oldest wooden bridge ribboning across the Reuss, rebuilt after a 1993 fire with lovely polychrome copies of 17th-century painted panels. And on our visit, a string quartet playing Herr Mozart.
    … The Lion Monument, a huge stone carving of a dying lion on a perpendicular face of a low cliff commemorating  Swiss guards who died protecting a French king. Mark Twain called it "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."
    … The Weinmarkt (Wine Market), the prettiest of the town's several fountain squares with flamboyantly frescoed surrounding buildings, including the 19th-century Hotel Des Balances
    … The astonishing Sammlung Rosengart (Rosengart Collection), one of Europe's greatest (and unsung) collections of Klee and Picasso paintings and drawings, along with brilliant photos of Picasso by David Douglas Duncan.
    … Hertensteinstrasse, Lucerne's main pedestrian-only shopping street. Don't miss the Merkur Chocolate Shop for  foot-and-a-half-long Toblerones; Bookbinders Design for fancy paper and writing items; Stocker for books; and Migros Food for take-out delicious sandwiches and other edibles. The ideal stroll for window shopping, what the French call "leche-vitrines," licking the window.
    … Lunch in the wine cellar (wine list, 22 pages) at Opus alongside the Reuss where the chicken-pie in a bowl with a dome of pastry crust looked scrumptious.
             
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Jasper restaurant in Luzern Palace.

    We ended our stay in Lucerne back at the Palace for dinner in their swankienda restaurant, Jasper, letting sommelier Frank Heinemann surprise us with complex multiple small entrees (potato musse & eggplant tartare, for instance) with accompanying appropriate wines, especially the 2006 St.-Laurent red with its top notes of cinnamon and vanilla with an undertow of money, perfect with the lamb marinated in ginger and yogurt. Very swallowrific. Very gulpalicious: the dinner, the hotel, the town.  Amor fati, love your fate, if it takes you to N.O.P.E.

For more information:
Luzern Palace, Haldenstrasse 10, Lucerne CH-6002, Switzerland  

For more on Lucerne, visit My Switzerland

RICHARD WEST spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas
Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek.
Since then, he's had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West
was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a
member of Texas Arts & Letters.


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