Roger St Pierre is surprised by the wide variety of facilities and experiences that Lucerne offers corporate group organisersIt’s probably down to the country’s Calvinistic heritage that Switzerland has a long-standing reputation for sobriety.
Business is taken seriously, people are renowned for their punctuality, the trains run accordingly on time, and banking is the cornerstone of the economy. And it’s all so spick and span that it’s easy to get the impression that someone gets up very early each morning to paint the mountaintops white.
But there is a lighter side to the national psyche. In the small but vibrant capital city of Berne, considerable numbers of otherwise straight-laced office workers are given to jumping off the bridges and swimming home along the River Rhine, with their belongings in an inflatable waterproof bag.
The charming lakeside city of Lucerne reflects this innate ability to mix business with pleasure and to work hard at both.
There beside the leisure-yacht and ferry-dotted and tourist-thronged waterfront you’ll find the KKL Culture and Convention Centre – a masterpiece of the French architect Jean Nouvel and acclaimed as one of Europe’s finest, most modern and best equipped venues. Facilities here include what has been lauded as one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the world.
Also based within the KKL edifice are state of art conference rooms and the city’s excellent Museum of Art), featuring exhibitions of international contemporary art and revolving selections of the museums own collection. The city’s most unusual building is the circular Bourbaki Panorama which contains not only the city library, five cinemas and a 200-capacity revolving bar and bistro, but also accommodates a spectacular diorama depicting the harrowing winter retreat of the defeated French army into Switzerland at the end of the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 – an event that led to the founding of the Red Cross movement
Opened in 1845 and owned by five generations of the Hauser family since 1861, this landmark establishment has a solid reputation for refined hospitality. It’s been the haunt of Emperors, kings, politicians, writers, composers and business magnates.
Richard Wagner completed ‘Tristan and Isolde’ while staying there and Mark Twain was a guest and wrote about his stay. An ornate marble-columned lobby opens the way to sweeping stairs, nine huge public rooms – the largest accommodating up to 800 – and spacious guest accommodations in a choice of 101 rooms and suites, all equipped with wi-fi and individual air-conditioning.
Up on the fifth floor there’s a wellness and beauty centre featuring high-tech Technogym workout machines and its own range of beauty-care products.
Additionally, this is a host venue for the Rose d’Or Festival, the Lucerne Blues Festival and the World Band Festival.
Lucerne boasts two other 5-star grand hotels – the 266-bed Palace Luzern and the 67-bed Grand Hotel Luzern. . If you prefer smaller, more intimate style hotels there’s the newly opened Boutique Hotel Schlüssel, a beautifully restored 1820 mansion, standing beside the lake, just outside town, which has only 11 letting bedrooms but can cater events for up to 50.
Wagner’s time in the city is celebrated at the appropriately named Richard Wagner Museum in the delightful house where he lived with his family between 1866 and 1872.
Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Joan Mirò, Marc Chagall and Paul Klee are among the greats whose work is featured at the Rosengart Collection. There are 32 Picasso paintings and 100 of his sketches, drawings, graphics and sculpture pieces on display.
A pleasant 20-minute lakeside walk from my hotel brought me to the imposing Swiss Museum of Transport , with its collection of cars, motorbikes, trucks, trains, aircraft and associated memorabilia – over 3,000 objects in all – housed in a clever, award-winning contemporary building that makes a great venue for imaginative corporate events and has an IMAX theatre, as well as a purpose built conference facility.
There’s also a planetarium featuring a sensational 200 sq metres aerial photo of the whole of Switzerland, over which visitors can walk.
The 75,000-resident city’s most iconic attraction is the 14thC covered wooden bridge, the Kapelbrücke (Chapel Bridge). Set by the lake and cradled by the mountains, Lucerne benefits from an almost Mediterannean microclimate, where orchids, palm trees and vineyards flourish.
No visit is complete without venturing into the mountains. Mont Pilatus can be ascended via the world’s steepest cog railway and is crowned by the now totally renovated Hotel Pilatus Kulm, whilst 10,000 feet high Mont Titlis has the world’s first revolving cable car. I chose to take a comfortable ferry ride down the lake to the little town of Vitznau where I picked up the mountain railway – Europe’s oldest – for the half-hour ride to the summit of Mont Rigi, dubbed locally as ‘The Queen of the Mountains’.
Unfortunately, an unseasonal whiteout cut visibility to a few yards as it deposited a new blanket of snow but, as I started to descend, the cloud miraculously lifted in little more than a minute to reveal a truly breathtaking view.
Mont Rigi also has an aerial cable car and a cogwheel train alternative and at the summit there’s a unique all-season marquee for special events. I certainly ended my Lucerne weekend on a high!