We Travel

When in Lucerne | A weekend in Switzerland

posted by on 24/07/2013

Switzerland! I naturally think watches, mountains, snow, chocolate… and that’s about it. I like all of those things (aside from snow) but Switzerland is one of those places that many people don’t know enough about including myself. Lucky for me, the Swiss Tourist board invited us to spend a weekend in Switzerland as part of a campaign to highlight some of the best spots in the country and change perceptions. I was one of a few bloggers and we were all given different cities, I got Lucerne which is North of central Switzerland. The weekend saw me explore Lucerne’s creative network, the nightlife, visit Lake Lucerne and immerse myself in Swiss culture with my ambassador; Heidi Happy. More after the break.

As part of The Swiss Tourist Board’s mission to change people’s perceptions of Switzerland, they’ve created ‘Make My Switzerland’- an app that helps you explore the country based on your interests and location; I’ll be using the app a bit later on. The idea of exploring a city like Lucerne is an exciting one but I was quite pleased that the tourist board organised for an ambassador to show me around. Her name is Heidi Happy, she lives in the city and she’s a singer-songwriter. Check her out!

Taking plane is unavoidable when travelling to Switzerland, yep, still got that fear of flying *clutches seat*. But I was joined by a couple of other bloggers Farhana from My Fashion Life and Shini Park who I’m sure you’ve all come across. We flew to Zurich and first impression- it was clear that the Swiss like things clean and simple. The airport has a real clean/minimal feel about it. It was quite easy to navigate and find platforms- it’s no tube network but it was easy enough. We picked up a Pocket Connect from Swiss Com which provided us with wifi for the duration of the trip- and caught our trains to our respective cities.

I love the trains there, they’re all double-decker Eurostar looking things from the future- and again it’s clean and spacious. As soon as I sat down I started fiddling with the Pocket Connect- wifi is like manna for us lot- you know you’re guilty of it too! On the way to Lucerne, the views were amazing. I saw lakes, fields, cottages, apartments, mountains. It was like cities and villages merged into one. It took about an hour to get to Lucerne from Zurich.

In foreign countries I always try to blend in and walk with purpose like I know where I’m going… when actually I’m just baffled. Today I found my self at the front of the station scanning my map like a true tourist, trying to pronounce the road names… got me nowhere.

I had a little bit of a dilemma here; the hotel I was staying at is called “The Hotel”; acknowledging this and also the fact that I don’t speak Swiss German- it became quite clear that asking which way “The Hotel” is, was a no-go! Fortunately for me, the roads are quite easy to navigate and also I couple glancing over my shoulder on the street (not in a weird way) realised what I was looking for and pointed me in the right direction.

On the way to the hotel I was already quite captivated by the sights which at this point were mainly local cafes and residential buildings. One of the things I liked was the phone boxes. Weird I know, but I just like how clean they are and also they look like they teleport you somewhere. But straight outside the station you get quite picturesque views of Lake Lucerne and Mount Pilatus- which I was TOO involved in, on day 2 of the trip.

The Hotel

From outside, I was already impressed with The Hotel- who wouldn’t be won over by silver exterior.

Designed by Jean Nouvel, The Hotel is packing about 30 guest rooms and all of them feature a different design. I liked the minor detailing of the room even though the imagery on the ceiling gave me a fright when I woke up on Saturday. The Hotel also has it’s on restaurant Bam-Bou which is Asian Fusion and a very cool bar with a good range of whiskeys. It’s no cheap though, but then it’s Switzerland!

 It’s hard to compare this hotel to others, it falls somewhere on the spectrum between somewhere like ALoft and W Hotel. It’s actually one of the top hotels I’ve stayed in for a few reasons; the unique minimalist décor, the staff are very friendly and attentive and… they bring you a big breakfast in the morning. That’s all you need on holiday really.

I was due to meet my ambassador Heidi at 7.30, I got to the hotel at 7.30. So it was an in and out situation. So I went down to the lobby and met up with Albi Christen, creative director of Clou Creative Agency who’ve been working on the “My Swiss” app.

As Lucerne is quite a small city, there is a big cycling culture there. It’s also sometimes easier to walk places than catching the bus. So we walked down to meet Heidi at one of her top places to dine, Neudstadt- pronounced “Noysh-Stadt”. It’s based in the ‘New Town’ of Lucerne. With a name like that I as expecting a super posh restaurant but actually its very chilled which was a relief as I wasn’t suited and booted for that type of dinner!

As it was my first time I put my trust in Heidi and Albi and asked for their recommendations. They both agreed that I absolutely needed to get Cordon-Bleu, its two slabs of pork stuffed with cheese and ham. I definitely wasn’t saying no to that. As you can see, that came with a mixed salad on the side.

Through dinner Albi and Heidi gave me the run down on Lucerne and what I’d be doing over the weekend. Straight after, they took me to another one of Heidi’s hangouts Black-Velvet to chill out a little bit before exploring some of the city. We ordered a Carajillo which is basically an espresso with brandy. I was slightly confused/alarmed when my coffee was set alight by the waiter- turns out they ignite the brandy which burns off the alcohol creating a blue flame on top of the drink. It looked pretty amazing.  If you need something to pick you up, that’s the one you want. It gave me a good boost for the rest of the evening… 2 of them.

We headed to Neubad, an old swimming complex which is being converted into a work-space for creatives. They will be able to rent out desks and book spaces for their projects. At the moment the space still looks like swimming pools but Erich Brechbühl a graphic designer working on the project showed me the plans and actually it will be a very unique working environment when it’s complete. It’s also right in the middle of Lucerne’s creative network- their version of Shoreditch/old Street. All of the artwork on the walls in the complex were painted by local artists- it looks amazing and way better upfront. It was really dark in there so it was hard to capture the full scene. You can find out more about it here.

Time flew by, before we knew it was midnight. So we went down to Boundless for a few drinks to end the evening. They gave me a taste of the nightlife in Lucerne. There is a generally a good vibe around the city on a Friday night; being in Europe I assumed I would be going to a Swiss Leicester Square club but actually Heidi and Albi aren’t into the “mainstream” clubs which was great- the vibe was very indie and like most places in Europe, they closed quite late. By 4am, it was time to call it a night.

After getting back so late last night I was definitely in need of my elixir (sparkling water). I thought I’d missed breakfast (a regular occurrence for me on some holidays) but actually they serve breakfast till…. 2pm. They served me a feast for; I really wasn’t expecting that at all. It was very neatly presented too. I was feeling quite worse for wear but the sight of all that food perked me up instantaneously!

Make My Switzerland App

After breakfast I explored the city a little bit on my ones before meeting up with Heidi again. I love the scenery in Lucerne, the architecture is generally quite colourful and as I mentioned before, it’s so clean. It’s just a very pleasant environment to live in. I was actually quite lucky, the weekend I spent there was one of the hottest, and Switzerland is not exactly renowned for warm weather…

The Swiss Tourist Board have been working on an app that allows you to explore Switzerland and make the most out of some of the best spots it has to offer.

These were all selected by a bunch of young creative professionals living in Switzerland, Heidi being one of them and representing for Lucerne. The app categorises all of these spots by mood, ambassador and city. If you decide to play it by mood, you’re given 4 options: social, active, culture and stylish. It’s a available on iPhone and Andriod- so if you’re about that Blackberry life, sorry. Check it out.

After exploring the city on my own for a while, I met up with Heidi again and we headed for the Old Town for lunch. We stopped by a Flea Market on the way which boasted antiques as expected but also stunning views of Lake Lucerne as well as the Kapellbrücke (The Chapel Bridge). Built in 1333, that bridge is centuries old… unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1993, but it was restored the following year.

The current on this end of the lake is so strong, I was reluctant to get closer for better shots but in the end I did it anyway whilst clinging tightly to a nearby post!

Before going for lunch, Heidi laid eyes on a stall selling stuffed animals and decided it was imperative that he buy some. Those things freak me out… it’s an ACTUAL animal! I must admit though, pretty great craftsmanship.

We explored the old own a little bit more, which I straight-away decided that I preferred it to the New Town. I preferred the architecture there because it’s a lot more traditional and you get much better views of the lake and the mountains.

We ate at ‘Bäckerei Hug’ in the middle of Mühleplatz- a courtyard within the old town just by the Spreuerbrücke. Here I OD’ed on pork with my sausage and cheese salad starter and then sausage and chips main. It’s tradition, the Swiss love Sausage. Heidi suggested the horse meat steak (also traditional)… which I did raise an eyebrow given the recent scandal in the UK involving Tesco beef. I gave it a chance and tasted it, and it wasn’t for me. After a lunch, the Swiss usually order an espresso- to avoid food coma maybe?

We walked up to Lake Lucerne for a boat trip around the mountains. Typically there are two kinds of boats to choose from, the panoramic boat or the classic steam boat. The panoramic boats look pretty suave but we ended up choosing the classic steam boat. I’d never experiences this kind of boating adventure before until then… that is unless the Woolwich Ferry counts as a boating experience?

I loved the boats’ interior, it was indeed very classic. The upper deck was mostly seating and a canopy with a bar where we of course had a few drinks. The middle deck featured a classy traditional Swiss restaurant and the boat’s steam engine which was exposed. It’s interesting that they trust people not to get too curious and fall into it… if it were the UK; it would be hidden below deck.

We spent most of the duration of the trip on the upper deck for better photo opps. Being on the boat is so relaxing especially since the weather was so good. Something about the water and the fresh air is so soothing; it would be pretty easy to fall asleep if it wasn’t for the beautiful scenery.

The boat took us on a 2 hour journey stopping off at other piers for more passengers before sailing through Kreuztrichter” where all four bays of the lake merge and passing Mount Pilatus giving us gorgeous views.

After seeing the beautiful sights along the lake, we ended the weekend by meeting up with Albi at Seebad (another one of Heidi’s top spots) for some drinks. Seebad is pool bar, only the pool is the lake- Swiss efficiency at its best. I loved this place, they’ve sealed off part of the lake for the pool but confident swimmers are able to swim out into the winder lake. The water is a lot cleaner than let’s say… the Thames- so I would have definitely gone for a swim if I had swimming gear. After Seebad, it was time to wrap it up and head back to the hotel.

Big thank you to The Swiss Tourist board for organising everything including our flights with FlySwiss. Although, FlySwiss ruined it on my way back to London thanks to an ignorant member of staff at my gate. We were booked on business class for our return flights and before I could even hand her my ticket she was ready to usher me from the queue “Sorry sir I think you’re in the wrong queue, this is business class”…. Sigh. I had to ask her to check my ticket, imagine, I had to ask her to do her job. Then she had the cheek to laugh about it like it was funny. Not cool.

That aside, I had great time in Lucerne thanks to Heidi and Albi; they were really accommodating and took me to some great places. To be honest, a weekend wasn’t enough time for me to fully see the city so I feel like I should go back! Granted, Lucerne isn’t as vibrant as other city breaks but it is beautiful and there is quite a lot to see. After you’ve seen it all it’s a great place to go and chill out, it’s a pleasant environment to be in, the food is great (a bit expensive though) and the scenery… you’re by Lake Lucerne and Mount Pilatus.

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