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Luscious Lucerne

With its lake, medieval buildings, music and mountains, Lucerne is an unmissable Swiss delight, as Norman Wright discovers

THERE ARE two ways to cross the mouth of the River Reuss in the centre of Lucerne. You can join the trams, taxis and traffic on the new concrete bridge, or step on to the geranium-bedecked medieval covered wooden footbridge and stroll across to the old town admiring both the view and the paintings on the eaves of the roof at intervals along its diagonal route.

Take the Chapel Bridge with its 17th century paintings every time. It’s a couple of hundred yards further to walk but a privilege to follow in centuries of footsteps and marvel at Switzerland’s most-photographed icon.

The bridge and the connected octagonal water tower next to it make Lucerne instantly recognisable.

At the Western end of Lake Lucerne, the town spreads along both banks of the lake and the river. The Chapel Bridge crosses just where the lake narrows and the Reuss takes over as the water rushes into it. Further along there are more footbridges connecting the two parts of town, including the wooden Mill Bridge with more paintings. From those bridges you do get an impression of the power of the water. Its speed increases as the river narrows and there’s a good view of the torrent as it plunges over foaming weirs and away.

The Water Tower and the Chapel Bridge, both built around 1300, are Lucerne’s trademarks. The oldest preserved wooden bridge in Europe displays a series of 17th century paintings on triangular panels under its eaves. A major part of the bridge, including the paintings, was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1993. The reconstructed bridge was reopened six months later.

Since then, many of the paintings have been replaced or recopied. The octagonal Water Tower, like the Chapel Bridge, formed part of the inner city fortifications and has served as an archive, a city treasury and a prison.

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