Along the shores of Lake Lucerne, couples promenade arm-in-arm as the sun dips behind the snow-capped mountains. Families, catching the last light, head home pushing strollers. Seagulls swoop by colorful boatyards and swans skim across the cobalt lake, floating above the world of everyday cares.
One morning very early, before the dew had dried, we walked across the oldest covered bridge in Europe, the Chapel Bridge. We admired the remarkable 17th century paintings, hanging below the wooden roofs that depict the history and legends of Lucerne. The sides of the bridge are adorned with window boxes overflowing with pink and red geraniums. Then we relaxed on a bench along the shore, nibbled a hazelnut chocolate bar (rich, Swiss chocolate, of course) and watched children feed the friendly swans.
Another day we hopped aboard a ferry for a 90-minute boat ride across the lake and boarded the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. We chugged up the steep mountain through tunnels, around cliffs and near streams at a 48-degree gradient to the summit of Mount Pilatus. The almost 7,000-foot tall peak towers above the clouds. We hiked along narrow trails taking photos of the dramatic 360-dregee views of the lakes and Alps.
Within an hour, I had worked up an astonishing appetite so we sat down to a scrumptious meal at the Hotel Pilatus. Opened in 1890, the historic hotel and restaurant are not to be missed. After we were seated, in the marble pillared and chandeliered dining room, the waitress served carpaccio of thinly sliced wild deer, boar and sausage with quince jam accompanied by a fine Swiss Blauburgunder wine (known as Pinot Noir to most of us). A few minutes later, she arrived with plates of wild venison in a red wine reduction, homemade spaetzle (Swiss noodles), piles of red cabbage and tiny potatoes. When we hike, we usually pack a brown bag picnic lunch, but in Switzerland it’s hard to pass up the tempting trailside inns and cafes that offer delicious meals or warm apple strudel with whipped cream. We descended from the mountaintop by a small gondola and then a 15-minute bus ride took us back to Lucerne’s central station.
A three-minute walk from the railway station we discovered a beautiful private museum with an impressive collection of Picasso, Klee, Chagall and Monet. I have been a devotee of the Swiss-German painter Paul Klee since I studied modern art in college. So when I learned that the Rosengart Collection in Lucerne showcases 125 of Paul Klee’s wonderful, whimsical watercolors, drawings and paintings, I was determined to see this wealth of work in one place. Paul Klee is in good company in this exquisite museum. Pablo Picasso is well represented with 32 oil paintings and more than 50 drawings largely from his later years. Other famous paintings include those by Miro, Matisse, Monet, Modigliani, Bonnard, Cezanne, Braque, Renoir and Chagall.
The multi-room galleries on the lower floor show Klee’s full evolution from his earliest black and white works to his last one in the Nazi years.
A beautiful young woman in a red shawl is pictured laughing with Picasso on the gallery’s brochure and on a placard by the entrance. At the front desk I asked who she was. Angela Rosengart began her career as an art dealer at age 16, as an apprentice to her Swiss father, who was Picasso’s principal dealer in Switzerland. She and her father collected modern art, lived with it, and sold it for many generations. Now, at the age of 79, she has accumulated art for over 60 years. She wanted a home for her art to share with the public, so she spent $10 million of her own money to build the museum to showcase her collection.
“She is often seen in the galleries and if you’re lucky you’ll meet her,” the young woman at the desk told me. And I did get lucky. A half hour later I met the elderly, elegant Frauline Rosengart. I had purchased several postcards of my favorite artworks, one of which was a Picasso painting of Angela Rosengart. He made five portraits of Angela that are exhibited in the museum.
I pointed to Picasso’s portrait of her and asked, “Frauline Rosengart, in this painting you seem to be annoyed or perturbed. What were you feeling as Picasso painted you?”
“I was 16 when Pablo painted this. Yes, I was irritable. I had been sitting still for several hours and I was really tired. He focused on my eyes. You know, with Picasso it’s all about the eyes,” Rosengart explained.
She and her father were frequent visitors to Picasso’s home in the South of France and he often visited them in Lucerne. So did Paul Klee (she had six of his works in her bedroom as a child), as well as Matisse, Braque and Chagall. “Among all the artists who visited your home, who was your favorite?” I wondered. “Oh Picasso by far. He was such a force and so much fun,” she emphatically responded.
“What paintings do you have in your home?” I asked. “None anymore. They are all here. You see, they are my children (she is unmarried) and I want to share them with the world,” she added.
The museum displays many private photographs and artworks from their friendship, offering a rare insight into the personal life of Picasso. The Rosengart Collection is a gem for all art lovers.
Chocolate Dreams Come True at Läderach boutique, a Swiss Family business selling hand-made confections. Taste Brazil, Madagascar or Ecuador cocoa beans on the tongue punctuated with a nuance of oranges, a touch of pepper, vanilla notes or a spicy bouquet of liquorish.
Treat yourself at one of the two Lucerne stores located in the main train station and at 1 Wegglsgrasse. https://www.laederach.com/ch-en
A Swiss Rail Pass is an all-in-one ticket offering you an easy way to move around Switzerland by train, bus and boat. The pass includes unlimited access on the network of the Swiss Travel System, discounts on mountain top excursions, free entrance to over 480 museums and exhibits, free travel for children. They are sold for 3,4,8 and 15 days. The Swiss Pass now fully covers a trip to Mount Pilatus. https://www.swiss-pass.ch/
For reasonably priced cheese fondue, raclette and rösti (crispy potato pancakes) go no further than the Restaurant Pfistern located at Corn Market 4, in the heart of the old town, on the banks of the Reuss River. Dine in the warm ambiance inside, or enjoy views of the Chapel Bridge at tables outside on the second floor terrace, or along the river.
You might not want to try this anywhere else in the world, but in Switzerland you can drink the water flowing from fountains – in the mountains and in cities. Unless there’s a sign that says not for drinking, the water is safe to drink. Its source is usually the Swiss Alps – the source of much of the expensive bottled water around the world – or some other pristine body of water, which Switzerland has plenty of. And the best thing: It’s free. You just need an empty bottle.