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Luzern, a Fixture of Europe’s “Grand Tour”


Situated on the edge of a lake with a dramatic alpine backdrop, Luzern was a regular stop on the "Grand Tour" route of Europe during the Romantic era. The ambiance from this age still lingers in Luzern’s classic sights: winding lanes, medieval fountains, and the city’s famous wooden bridges.

Complete Video Script

Shortly after leaving Zürich, the train ride becomes a scenic joyride. And 30 minutes later we pull into Luzern.

Since the Romantic era in the 19th century, Luzern has been a regular stop on the "Grand Tour" route of Europe. Its inviting lakefront now includes a modern concert hall — which incorporates the lake into its design. The old town, with a pair of picture-perfect wooden bridges, straddles the Reuss River where it tumbles out of Lake Lucerne.

The bridge was built at an angle in the 14th century to connect the town's medieval fortifications. Today it serves strollers rather than soldiers as a peaceful way to connect two sides of town. Many are oblivious to the fascinating art just overhead.

Under the rafters hang about 100 colorful 17th-century paintings showing scenes from Luzern and its history. This legendary giant dates to the Middle Ages, when locals discovered mammoth bones which they mistakenly thought were the bones of a human giant. Here's Luzern in about 1400 — the bridge, already part of the city fortifications. And Luzern looked like this in 1630.

Luzern is responsible for controlling the lake level. By regulating the flow of water out of its lake, the city prevents the flooding of lakeside villages when the snow melts.

In the mid-19th century, the city devised and built this extendable dam. By adding and taking away these wooden slats, they could control the level of the lake.

Swans are a fixture on the river today. Locals say they arrived in the 17th century as a gift from the French king Louis XIV in appreciation for the protection his Swiss Guards gave him. Switzerland has a long history of providing strong and loyal warriors to foreign powers.

The city's famous Lion Monument recalls the heroism of more Swiss mercenaries. The mighty lion rests his paws on a French shield. Tears stream down his cheeks. The broken-off end of a spear is slowly killing the noble beast. The sad lion is a memorial to over 700 Swiss mercenaries who were killed defending Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI during the French Revolution.

The people of Luzern take full advantage of their delightful river with a variety of cafés and restaurants along its banks. This evening, we're enjoying the setting as much as the food. I'm having the local pork. My producer Simon is having eel fresh from the river. With a picturesque setting like this, the dining experience makes for a wonderful memory.