Day 5: Lucerne to Bellinzona & Locarno
The sun smiled down on Lake Lucerne as our party of 12 walked in single file like ducklings with heavy wheelie bags to the boat ramp.
Today we’re using our Swiss Pass to take the Wilhelm Tell Express – it’ll start with a voyage on a paddle steamer to Flüelin at the southern end of the lake and a panoramic train (with windows curved over the ceiling) to Bellinzona.
The Swiss rail/boat/bus network runs like very efficient clockwork (is that why they ‘re famous for cuckoo clocks?), but when the connection time is only 7 minutes and you are 5 minutes delayed, it makes for a frantic scurry. We ran as if being chased by vampires and I managed to hoof my ever-heavier suitcase (day 5 worth of shopping and press releases) up the stairs and onto the next train with the strength of a woman whose infant is stuck under a truck.
Apparently they would have waited knowing were scrambling, but fortunately we didn’t hold up the train as 2 Indian couples I later met had a 12 minute connection at the next stop on their overnight to Amsterdam.
At Bellinzona we were met by American guide, Julie, who fell in love with the place – and a boy – about 17 years ago. She married the latter and her love for this little town famous for three castles and not much else was evident in her tour. (I’m a bit of a sucker for history and castles and canon holes.)
I was also quite enamoured by the horse salami sold in the deli, although refrained from purchasing. You can have weddings and events up here at Castelgrande (say that with a heavy Italian accent Castelle Grrrande – this kept us amused for hours) the biggest of the 3 and built around the 13th Century.
After 3 hours of walking the cobbled back streets and taking many photos we boarded the train for the 27-minute journey to Locarno on the Swiss/Italian border of Lake Maggiore.
Locarno is most famous for the annual Locarno International Film Festival each August. We had a great (and very hilarious) dinner at Cittadella restaurant after walking up a steep, wonky street high above the town square which was still packing down after the festival. I tasted grappa for the first time. Ugghh! All I can say is you need to keep candles well clear of your face when drinking. Not that there was an incident, but you can never be too careful when swilling meths, I always say.
The Hotel Ibis is where we stayed – modern little rooms, newly opened (July 2009). If you manage to put your laptop or iPhone in the right place you can steal a free WiFi signal from somewhere, otherwise they do have paid WiFi for non tight-wads. It’s a good price though and nice and central. I’d recommend it with, mmmm – 7/10?
For more info on Rail Europe, their Swiss Pass and the Wilhelm Tell Express for the most scenic way to see the country from New Zealand, jump to www.raileurope-nz.com