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Pure theatre: homage to Lake Lucerne

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Looking east over Lake Lucerne from the hiking trail on Mount Pilatus (photo © Damien Verrier / dreamstime.com).


Swiss lakes are in a class of their own. But is there one that just has the edge over the rest? Some may cast their vote for Léman, and others will argue the case for Lugano. But for us it’s Lake Lucerne, where the lake’s unusual vaguely cruciform shape changes a boat journey into pure theatre.

Some lakes are set down fair and square on the map, boldly asserting their unquestionable right to be there. Switzerland’s Lac de Neuchâtel is just such a lake. In Italy Lago di Garda is similar. With its strong lines, especially that straight eastern shore where Garda nudges up against Monte Baldo, it’s clear that the Lago di Garda isn’t inclined to compromise. Geneva’s lake, known in western Switzerland as Lac Léman, is a piece of art in its own right, its gentle arc mimicking the curve of the mountains as it acts as a counterpoint to both the Alps and the Jura.

But Lake Lucerne is very different. Its cartographic footprint hints of endless compromise. It’s a lake with twists and turns, vaguely cruciform in shape. It sneaks surreptitiously between great mountains. And therein lies the drama of Lake Lucerne, which is easily the most theatrical of Swiss lakes.

With Lac Léman you know exactly where you are, and as you sail the length of the lake from Geneva in the west to the Château de Chillon at the lake’s eastern extremity, the landscape and vistas unfold in a manner which is both predictable and extremely beautiful. Shift to Lucerne and it’s as if an imaginative stage designer has created a series of bold settings which are revealed as surprises to the traveller venturing from the city of Lucerne down to the southern end of the lake.

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