swiss menu board
A quiet restaurant reached by boat on Lake Lugano serves these specials.

dining in lugano
Eating next to the water on Lake Lugano.
















































Lucerne view
Morning view from our room in the magnificant Palace Hotel, Lucerne.

the crocodile
Swiss Transport Museum's "Crocodile."

hostess aboard the train
Luzia Weber is a hostess on the luxurious Belle Epoque, an 1873 salon car.
























































































































































boat on lake lugano
Our beautiful wooden boat on Lake Lugano.



Back in Switzerland, Lugano is a picturesque village surrounded by tree-covered mountains and Lake Lugano (The Lake That Steals Your Heart). Lugano is situated in Ticino, the southernmost corner of Switzerland where the climate is exceptionally mild, and where palm trees and cactus thrive.

The Lugano waterfront is one long tree-lined promenade, with plenty of hotels set back from the shore, and mountains that rise precipitously from the lake. It's a relaxing spot to recover from train-riding in Switzerland, and a couple of days here will set your mind straight for weeks to come. Its beautiful serenity, combined with quiet tradition, contrasts with the hustle-bustle of everyday life in America.

For a scenic boat tour, contact Societa' Navigazione Del Lago Di Lugano that can take you to a number of locations on the lake, from cogwheel railways to funiculars to the Swiss Customs Museum (has been open since 1949 and offers attractive exhibits in a former customs officers barracks).

Lugano is blessed with many museums, both large and small, to keep you occupied including the Cantonal Art Museum, Municipal Fine Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum and the Galleria Gottardo (owned by the Bank of Gottardo). The Gottardo exhibit highlights the archaeological findings from Poggio Civitate (near Siena, Italy) which was controlled by Etruscan aristocrats, who wore zany pointed, broad-brimmed hats. Other museums include the Villa Saroli, the Cantonal Natural History Museum and the Wilhelm Schmid Museum. Many more museums are also in surrounding towns.

View from our boat on Lake Lugano, Switzerland.

The Swiss Miniatur in Lugano is a permanent "little village" that opened in 1959 that "synthesizes, symbolizes and summarizes Switzerland "-- in 1:25 scale. The exhibit consists of 120 models of houses, castles and cathedrals, mountains, lakes and towns, and 11,480 feet of scale track that can accommodate 18 trains, funiculars, rack railways and cable cars! A modeler would have to put this display on his agenda; kids and spouses would enjoy it as well.

To cap off a day of exploration in Lugano, take the funicular up to the top of 3,000-foot-high Monte San Salvatore (the last downhill train leaves at 11 p.m. in the summer) for a mediterranean supper at Le Ristorante Vetta. Overlooking Lugano, this outpost high above the city can be a memorable experience. While you're there, look for the Daphne Odorosa, a rare plant with delicate pink flowers, found only on the mountain's slopes.

Good local guides can be tricky to find, but Romeo Bozzini, Ra Cara 16, CH-6926 Montagnola, Switzerland (Fax 41 91 994 36 40) should not only give you excellent history details of the Lugano area, he is saavy about local foods, customs and people. He has a good sense of humor, as well.

One of the experiences you'll want to try in Lugano is eating at a grotto. Grotto means cave, but today dining at a grotto means dining outside with twinkly white lights strung in the trees. Grotto Figini, located up the side of a steep slope in Gentilino, will fill your plate with delicious local Ticino foods such as hot minestrone, risotto with fresh mushrooms and onions, sliced local meats, small round cheeses and good, dry red wines (the area is home to elegant Merlots) poured from an earthenware pitcher known as a boccalino.

More Lugano information can be obtained from

From Lugano station, you can catch an SBB train to a fascinating, unspoiled region that begins at Locarno, Switzerland and ends in Domodossola, Italy. The Centovalli Railway is a 32-mile electric line that passes through numerous valleys as it snakes its way over high trestles and through tunnels (there are 83 bridges and viaducts on the line), over streams, past chesnut forests, vineyards and villages clinging to the sides of mountains. After Camedo the train crosses into Italy, and border guards may board the train at that point.

The Centovalli Railway.

The countryside offers a lot to be explored, and you'd want to plan in advance if you want to stay overnight at any of the charming towns located on line. There are monuments, churches, paintings, embroidery, old streets, stucco work, old frescos, engraved glass, grottos, 500-year-old stoned roof houses and more to see tucked back into the hills and villages here. Go to and for more information on these trains and the area.

Centro barn

This remote, beautiful region is accessible via numerous modern two-car wide-window Centovalli trains that leave from a tunnel station at Locarno. Soon the train encounters steep grades, as much as 6%, as it heads for Santa Maria Maggiore, the highest point on the line at 2,624 feet and approximately two-thirds of the way to Domodossola.

Older electric Centovalli equipment on display.

Three trainsets were built in 1959 and one in 1993, with scattered vestiges of older equipment on various sidings and yards. In all, the railway is very modern, well-kept, and it employs 95 people. It's a railfan's delight because of its scenery and because it's a bit hard to "discover" unless you know it runs there.

There are special Lago Maggiore Express packages with both rail and boat transportation available, with featured locations such as the Borromeo Islands, Cannero castles and the resorts of Stresa and Ascona.

A tiny but richly-adorned church near Lugano.

foggy hills
View from the top of Mt. Salvatore at Lugano.

Leaving Lugano, you can board the popular northbound William Tell Express that combines rail and ship travel over the famous Gotthard Pass, the watershed between the Mediterranean and the North Sea. Be sure to ask for the small all-color 6 x 8" William Tell Express guidebook when you make your reservations with Rail Europe back home. It gives a map and pictures of what you'll be seeing on the route.

You'll board a first-class Panoramic Car, which means you'll be riding high with huge six-feet-wide windows (with sunshades) for excellent views. The seats are comfy and large, with two-abreast seating on one side of the car and one seat on the other side with wide aisles. Be forwarned, however, to board the train quickly when it arrives at the station. To maintain its schedule, it waits for no one!

Besides the mountains and waterfalls en route, you'll see granite quarries, vineyards, small villages, churches and meadowlands. The Gotthard route sees 270 trains on peak days, with 50 international expresses and 100 merchandise freights on average. The Gotthard Tunnel itself is nine miles long, and it opened in 1881.

At Gurtnellen the first of three loop tunnels appears. At Wassen, look out the window at the quaint little church below you -- you will pass it three times! Then at Wattinger spiral tunnel you are at the same height as the church, and at the Leggistein tunnel, you are lower than the church. Don't miss this three spiral tunnel show -- it's worth noting.

At Fluelen, the train station is a few steps from the paddle steamer boat ramp, and your luggage can be off-loaded to the boat using the Swiss railway's Fast Baggage service which takes care of your luggage so you don't have to load and unload it yourself.Check in your luggage at the station from which you depart.

On a clear day, the view from Fluelen towards Lake Lucerne as you await the Vier Waldstattersee steam paddle boat is as good as it gets: snow-covered Alps loom in the distance, contrasted by lush green hillsides filled with sheep, cows and farms.

A lake cruise between Fluelen and Lucerne is something one should experience at least once in a lifetime: it's relaxing and dignified. Definitely a stress reliever.

The Lake Lucerne Navigation Company is Switzerland's largest steam and motor ship operator with five paddle steamers and 15 motorized ships, transporting 2.3 million passengers each year. Since 1835 the ships have been plying the beautiful blue waters of Lake Lucerne, and recently the firm took over its food services on board the boats. The firm even owns its own shipyards.

In 2006 the steamboat Schiller, considered to be the most well designed steamer in the country, celebrated its 100th birthday. A portion of the ship is considered a national monument!

Watch for the Burgenstock Bahnen as you pass or stop at Burgenstock. It's a funicular that takes visitors to the Burgenstock Resort high on the top of Hammetschwand.

Lucerne, located on the shores of Lake Lucerne and only 36 miles from Zurich, is a captivating medieval city steeped in history and surrounded by the Swiss Alps. As they say, you can arrive as a stranger and leave as a friend. Lucerne has a population of only 60,000 people, and the boat dock and Bahnhof are located across from one another to make transfers very easy.

Lights shimmer on the River Ruess from a church across the water in Lucerne.

The Old Town, straddling narrow waters of the River Reuss, is a particularly beckoning section, with quaint shops and restaurants that draw you up the cobblestone streets. Be sure to visit the Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge), the oldest wooden bridge in Europe built in the early 14th century. But there are many other treasures to investigate as well.

The late-Renaissance style Altes Rathaus was built between 1599 and 1606, and the Hofkirche, with an 80-rank organ and one of Switzerland's finest, was built in 750.

The Swiss Transport Museum, at Lidostrasse 5, is the most comprehensive of its kind in Europe, and a railfan could easily spend the entire day there. A very extensive HO gauge Marklin train layout shows in miniature the Gotthard Tunnel track arrangements. There is a large selection of prototype locomotives and cars contained in 26,000 square feet of space, including 3,200 feet of track on which the cars and locos sit.

Swiss Transport Museum's replica of the steamer Limmat.

Special exhibits include the Limmat, a replica of the first Swiss steam locomotive; the Rigi No.7, the first European rack railway engine: the C 5/6 (the largest Swiss locomotive); and the legendary Be 6/8 Crocodile. There are numerous electric locos, SBB's Red and Blue Arrows, and the Landi-Loco which was the most powerful Swiss locomotive. There's even a cutaway view of an 0-6-0 to show how a steam locomotive operates.

An overhead walkway traverses the entire railway exhibit, making it easier to find the main attractions. There are also glassed-in exhibits of scale models to view. and special smaller exhibits such as one showing how the Langweis railway viaduct was constructed.

Other historical attractions of Lucerne include the Spreuerbrucke, an all-wood covered bridge dating from 1408, the Weinmarket, now a popular fountain square where passion plays were once conducted in the 15th to 17th centuries, and the Lion Monument (Lowendenkmal) called by Mark Twain "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."

You'll want time to visit the local chocolate shops, and perhaps purchase a watch or Swiss Army knife in one of the stores. You'll not have a problem locating this merchandise in town! Also take time to sit at an outside café for coffee and pastry (kuchen). It's something Americans just don't do enough.

For model railroad fans, stop in at Modellbahn Boutique at Frankenstrasse 5, next to the railway station.

A visit to the city landmark Palace Hotel (Haldenstrasse10), which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2006, is like visiting, well, a palace. The original owner of the hotel also built the Burgenstock funicular, as well as the Stanserhorn and San Salvatore funiculars, and the tramway system in Genoa, Italy. Franz-Josef Bucher wanted to build the most beautiful hotel in Switzerland, and spent 3.3 million francs to accomplish his dream in 1906. The current hotel has retained its old world charm but is respectful of what the 21st century traveler wants: attention to detail, more room -- the hotel has reduced its rooms from 168 to 136 -- and a good bit of pampering.

Two close-by Lucerne attractions that are easy to get to and worth your time are Mt. Pilatus and Mt. Rigi.

Mt. Pilatus (Mountain of Dragons), near Lucerne, is home to the world's steepest cogwheel railway. At a maximum gradient of 48% over its nearly three miles of 31.5" trackage, the line ends at 7,000-foot-high Pilatus Kulm, where two hotels, seven restaurants and hiking trails await the traveler. Opened in 1889 using steam, the line was electrified in 1937. Two of the former Pilatus steam locomotives are now in museums: #9 is at the Museum of Transport in Lucerne and #10 is at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

Today, bright red 40-person cars travel the route from May to November at 6-8 miles an hour ascending in 30 minutes to the top through several climate zones. On the way up or down, you're likely to witness trains passing at one of the unique "passing turnouts" on the line.

You can spend an entire day on Pilatus and its surroundings. Once on top, you can hike down, or take an aerial cable and panorama gondola down the back side. If you stop off part way down (at 4,640 feet), your kids can enjoy Switzerland's largest rope park where they can swing and sway on all manner of ropes and bridges. The Pilatus Railway is adding more fun-related activities to the mountain rail experience, and last year 268,000 visitors rode to the top.

Cafes/beer gardens dot the top of Mt. Pilatus in the spring.

For a refreshing toboggan run, stop at Frakigaudi (, the longest toboggan run in Switzerland at 4,428 feet. It's located at Frakmuntegg, a cable car station stop between the top of Pilatus and the town of Kriens.

Mt. Rigi (Queen of the Mountains), also located on Lake Lucerne but in the opposite direction from Mt. Pilatus, is 6,000 feet high, and the Vitznau-Rigi Railway ascends to the top. As the oldest cogwheel railway in Europe (1871), the line has enjoyed 135 years of service. In 2005, it carried 562,320 passengers to the top. The line was electrified in 1937, but today steam still operates on the line on special occasions.

Mt. Rigi special oil-fired steam train carries the 50-guest wedding party of Hans and Birke Weber of Switzerland up the steep mountain in June of 2006.

The Rigi operates two steam engines built in 1923 and 1925, two 1873 carriages and a 1899 carriage, and the oldest self-propelled cogwheel train in the world from 1911. Much of this older equipment is reserved for special occasions.

Trains leave frequently for the mountaintop from the Vitznau station. As the line angles up the side of the Rigi slope, Lake Lucerne quickly falls away in the distance as the train continuously gains height. At the top, you can hike on the marked paths, take advantage of the restaurants and hotels, or just watch the clouds drift by.

train crew
Mt. Rigi steam train crew with their locomotive at the top.

From the top on a clear day, you can see 13 lakes and Germany and France. A total of 400 Swiss inhabit the mountain, but I bet there are more cows on the Rigi hillsides than that. To vary your route back to Lucerne, you can catch a cable car at Rigi Kaltbad that descends to Weggis where you can board a boat for Lucerne.

Leaving Lucerne, you can take SBB trains that go directly to the Zurich airport located 7 miles north of downtown Zurich. That way you can skip having to change trains at the main train station in Zurich.

This Swiss-Italian journey would appeal to both railfans and their spouses. There are enough train adventures to more than satisfy the fan, and enough of life's other historical attractions, dining and shopping experiences to please everyone. If you go, enjoy the trip, and be prepared to become a bit emotional when it's time to leave. If you do, it means you had a great time!


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