The Lake of the Four Cantons, or Vierwaldstättersee, is surely the most spectacular of the Swiss valleys. This is where William Tell managed to escape from the tyranny of the House of Habsburg, weaving the legend that would lead to the independence of Switzerland. Altdorf (the town where Tell shot the arrow through the apple placed on his son Walter’s head), Weggis (the village that Mark Twain described as the most beautiful of the world), and Rütli (the meadow where the Swiss Confederation was founded) are some of the historical places near this lake. As a tourist, it is also worth it to visit Brunnen, the village where the visitor’s center of the famous Victorinox knife factory is located, as well as Hergiswil, whose glass factory is a must see for those who are traveling with their family. The best way to get around the lake is by boat. The Swiss Travel Pass gives free access to boats, trains, and buses around the country. Therefore, it is the most convenient way to move around. The fleet on this lake is made up of 20 boats: 15 of which are motorboats and 5 are steamboats. The oldest is the Uri, which dates back to 1901. Visiting its engine room is like entering a Swiss watch due to the precision of its operation and the impeccable state in which it is maintained.
The largest city of the Lake of the Four Cantons is Lucerne. That is where Wagner lived. His house (now a museum), which was funded by his patron Ludwig II of Bavaria –the “Mad King”–, is a recommendable visit for music lovers or for anyone who gets goosebumps listening to the “Ride of the Valkyries”. The icon that identifies Lucerne is its famous Kapellbrücke wooden bridge – the oldest of Europe, dating back to 1365. The bridge suffered a fire in 1835, and another in 1993, but it was rebuilt – although it lost most of its decorative paintings that represented the history of the city. Nevertheless, Wasserturm –the octagonal tower situated in the middle of the bridge that has played roles throughout history ranging from that of a torture chamber to that of the treasury chamber– has been kept intact over seven centuries.
Many of the buildings of the Old Quarters have their façades painted with epic stories such as the Battle of Dornach, biblical scenes such as the Wedding at Cana, curious stories like that of the inn where Goethe spent the night in 1779, as well as there being more symbolic paintings, such as that of a 1530 pharmacy in which it is confessed that “there is no herb that can heal a broken heart.” The entire old town is protected by a wall that embraces it and stretches from the river to the lake. It is worth entering one of its watch towers, as from there you’ll have a complete view of the city.
On the other side of the river, high atop a hill, is Château Gütsch – a unique, nineteenth-century mansion that is now a hotel. Its interior has been beautifully restored and it is a very good place to eat lunch or have a coffee and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
A mountain measuring 2,132 meters in height rises up next to Lucerne: Pilatus. Its summit can be reached by rack railway, cable car, and even by hiking. At its summit, there are several restaurants and a hotel. Although the views from the top are undoubtedly beautiful –just like the ascent (especially by cable car)– there is another mountain at the Lake of the Four Cantons that is even more popular than this one: Rigi, the “Queen of the Mountains.” To get to Rigi, one must take a boat to Vitznau and, from there, make the ascent via rack railway. This mountain offers plenty of possibilities to do outdoor activities both in the summer and in the winter: cross-country skiing, trekking, downhill paragliding, etc.
At the foot of the Rigi Mountain, along the lake’s shores, is the best of all the hotels in the Vierwaldstättersee area and one of the most outstanding of all of Europe: Park Hotel Vitznau. The original lodge dates back to 1903, although the building underwent its greatest transformation in 2009, taking its current form at that time. Wine, food, art, culture, health, and wealth are the pillars of this palace, and this shows in the themed decoration of its galleries and its 47 rooms, suites, and junior suites. Château d’Yquem, Schumpeter, Keynes, Newton, and Kammerspiele are some of the names of its rooms – names which give a semblance of what guests will find inside: elegance, sumptuousness, and luxury but also excellence, creativity, intellectuality, and genius.
Health and wellbeing are quite important at Park Hotel Vitznau. Its spa includes a sanarium, Finnish sauna, tepidarium, steam baths, relaxation rooms, fitness center, massage rooms, and a La Prairie beauty room, as well as an ice grotto and a heated infinity pool that merges with the lake and the mountains. The garden that surrounds the pool invites guests to go to lunch at the Prisma restaurant, which fuses Asian cuisine with European cuisine and has been awarded with a much-deserved Michelin Star.
The other of the hotel’s large restaurants, Focus, offers cosmopolitan gourmet creations and is run by Chef Patrick Mahler, having received two Michelin Stars. After dinner, many guests head to Verlinde, the hotel’s bar which features more than 200 types of Cognac and vintage Armagnacs.
Alcoholic beverages are something that the Park Hotel Vitznau has enthusiastically gotten involved with, especially in terms of wines. The hotel has six wine cellars: French wines, New World, Europe, Champagne, Rarities, and Château d’Yquem. There are wines for all, with prices ranging from €50 up to the €600,000.00 per bottle and a total value of 23 million euros in wine: 4,000 different types of wines; 32,000 bottles in total.
This plethora of pleasures makes Park Hotel Vitznau a destination in and of itself. A unique place on the shores of the lake with the greatest symbolic and historic significance for the Swiss Confederation.