An Echo Trails Hike in the Alps // Lucerne, Switzerland
It was 9AM when we boarded the ferry. The air was chilly but fresh. Rene, my guide, and I ordered cappuccinos from the ferry cafe and chatted about the weather, life in Europe, and everything in between. With the arrival of our drinks, Rene spread maps out on the table and oriented me with the lake, it’s history and our plan for the day.
Outside pearly white castles (well, perhaps just really fancy hotels) drifted by. Every so often the ferry would briefly dock at a lakeside village and unload eager tourists gunning for fresh mountain air. Locals boarded with less enthusiasm, the rest of us unaware that for them this was just public transportation and the only practical means for moving around the massive lake, nearly entirely embraced by peaks.
While Rene dove into tales of the Habsburgs, the history of the old trade route through the nearby Gotthard Pass and Switzerland’s cantons (something similar to states in the US) I couldn’t help but stare at the scene outside.
Cruising the clear blue waters of Lake Lucerne with it’s the soaring Alps and sleepy villages was a dramatic start to the day.
Two hours quickly passed and we arrived at the tiny dock of Trieb and boarded a funicular en route to the hilltop town of Seelisberg.
Naturally, I squeezed into the first car and competed with my peers (arguably two decades my junior) for views out the front.
Arriving at the top, I followed Rene into Hotel Bellevue‘s stunning dining room. A destination for some of his long distance tours, he’d visited numerous times in the past and chatted with the staff while I sneaked around taking pictures.
Strolling through petite Seelisburg, we made our way to Aschwanden Cheese Farm. First greeted by the cows (still in the barn for a few more weeks until the are free to roam the surrounding hillsides for the summer) and took a stab at identifying their sweet little faces with 60’s era european livestock print we found inside.
Moving on – all of 100 feet from the barn – was the cheese factory and shop. Specializing in bergkase, the owner cut slice after slice for us to sample. After a lot of “ohh yeah!”s and “mmhmmm”s we ended up settling on a wedge of their firmer, stronger variation.
Everyone say BERGKASE!
Full of cheese, we moved along the ridge-line keeping the lake to our left. Chatting as we went, we meandered through forests, explored a tiny mountaintop church, and even paid a visit to a sweet little farm in which Rene knew the farmer. While there I befriended the most adorable Swiss border collie (do not tell Stuart).
While the views of the lake below were staggering, the hike was also incredibly peaceful and fun. Rene, originally from California with Swiss parents, moved here only a few years ago but has an amazing amount of knowledge of Swiss history and culture. Fluent in Swiss-German he happily joked with those we passed, filling me in on the town gossip with each conversation. “Oh, there’s an issue with the new manager at that lakeside restaurant…”
After a few hours we stopped for a picnic with white wine, schnitzel sandwiches, cookies and our beloved cheese.
Crumbs on my face, I took multiple swigs of the yummy vino before remembering that I should probably capture the scene…
Our hike concluded in the idyllic little village of Bauen. While waiting for our ferry back to Lucerne we strolled the length of the town and visited the home of a famous Swiss composer. If you’re looking for a storybook setting, Bauen is undoubtedly it.
(I also tried in vain to capture the clarity of the water… sorry, guys!)
With the ferry slowly paddling towards us I reluctantly gathered my things. Once aboard, Rene read me like a book and popped open another bottle of white wine for our cruise back to Lucerne.
While Rene and I shared travel stories and finished our wine and cheese, I intermittently excused myself for quick strolls around the ferry deck. With the last light of the day barely squeezing through the heavy cloud cover the lake was moody and beautiful.
And it seems that I wasn’t the only one entranced either.
Start to finish, this was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had traveling. A special thanks to Rene of Echo Trails for the tour. I can’t overstate what a treat it is to explore the Alps with someone that not know exactly where to go – whether it be a scenic picnic spot, historic church, local cheese farm or gorgeous little village.
The lesson? Go to Switzerland, hike to Bauen, eat cheese, and drink wine with Rene!