In photos, Lucerne, Switzerland looks like a tiny, serene town overlooking a shimmering lake, with a flower-lined bridge being it’s only claim to fame. In reality it’s a beautiful, bustling city with perfectly-preserved historical buildings, a maze of one-way cobblestone streets, throngs of tourists jostling positions to get the best camera angle and important landmarks dotting nearly every corner. To say we weren’t expecting that there was so much to see would be an understatement, which made our arrival during the height of daily chaos slightly unfortunate.
My husband and I were staying at the luxurious Hotel Des Balances right in the heart of the action. Decades ago, the site overlooking the famous Chapel Bridge and Water Tower served as the city hall, but has since been converted into a five-star hotel boasting some of the best views in Lucerne. The only downside to its waterfront location is that it can be tough to access by car—especially for people like us who don’t realize that the narrow ‘pedestrian only’ roads can actually be driven on by those needing to access the hotel. Lesson learned.
After 45 minutes of literally going in circles, navigating traffic jams and being thwarted by construction detours, the irony was not lost on us when the GPS recommended that we simply drive into the lake (true story). Finally, a kind young man took pity on us bewildered Canadians and hopped into his Range Rover to lead us all the way there. I’m pretty sure that if he hadn’t, we would still be parked in the middle of an intersection crying.
After that unexpected game of ‘meet the locals’, we finally pulled up to the hotel and gratefully ditched our car with the valet. That’s when we finally got to experience what draws people to Lucerne: its grand, sweeping vistas. After generously filling our glasses with some much-needed Chianti, we headed out onto our sun-soaked balcony and literally gasped at the sight stretched out before us. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
The next morning brought a wonderful surprise: what just might be one of the most spectacular breakfast spreads I’ve ever seen. Hotel Des Balances doesn’t mess around when it comes to starting the day off right, and the breakfast buffet was overflowing with fresh bread, cheese and pastries, ripe berries painstakingly arranged on tiny plates and made-to-order eggs, just to name a few. Oh, and did I mention the mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice? I feel like that should be mandatory everywhere!
The gourmet breakfast helped me fuel up the city tour I had planned for that day, and I was met in the hotel lobby by the lovely and knowledgable Gaby from Lucerne Tourism, who knows a ridiculous amount of trivia about the city. Though the day was grey, it couldn’t dampen my spirits as we weaved through the streets of the Old Town, pausing to look at the intrically painted facades that date back hundreds of years, and the fountains that are fed by glacier water so pure that people fill their water bottles up in them.