It is said that a biblical generation is 40 years. Therefore a generation ago in summer, I entered the valley pictured on our masthead for my first night on Swiss soil. Our adventure targeted the historically beautiful town of Lucerne. We chose to stay out of town in the hamlet of Merlischachen on Lake Lucerne.
The Gerani village of Merlischachen was first mentioned historically in 1168. Knight Hermanno de Merlascachen appeared here as a witness in a deed of donation. The name Merlischachen itself is said to be a combination of the Latin names “Merula” for blackbird and the German word “Schachen” for small forest and thus means “Amselwäldchen”. The lands as well as the fishing rights belonged to the monasteries of Lucerne and Engelberg. In 1440 Merlischachen went to the canton of Schwyz for 60 gold gulden and was united with Küssnacht.
Using my high school and college German I attempted to blend into my surroundings. A ramrod-straight young man of 6’5″ with a tight haircut, I stood out like a sore thumb. The locals overlooked my obvious vocation to embrace the American. I rose in the morning for my runs to the natural stillness of the secluded valley. The pace of life had slowed to a glacial crawl. If I had a pulse during my breakfast of cold cuts, bread, and cheeses drinking my strong black coffee, I sure could not find it.
In Merlischachen, we chose a historical landmark for our stay, the Swiss Chalet. After the war in the 1950s, residents from the northern countries of Europe began to travel to the southern coastal countries of Italy, France, and Spain during the summer months. Guests from Germany and the Netherlands traveled through Switzerland to Italy. The roads in Switzerland at that time were still narrow and slow. A trip to the south took two to three days and the Gotthard road led through Lucerne and Merlischachen. Consequently, the area around Lake Lucerne become very popular for overnight stays. The Swiss Chalet was born in the demand of travelers. (See below)
In the next picture, you can see the red roof of the Swiss Chalet and get a sense of the lake and mountain view from the hotel.
Off to the far right is the inlet that lands travelers in Lucerne. Luzern in German lies at the north end of Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstätter See) where the River Reuss flows out of the lake. The town, with its medieval core, elegant historic buildings, and genial atmosphere, is one of the top-rated attractions in all of Switzerland.
The Benedictine monastery of St. Leodegar was founded around 730. In the monastery’s writings is the first recorded mention of the town of Luciaria in 840. Lucerne only became important after the opening of the St. Gotthard pass through the Alps in the 13th century, when its location made it a significant trading town.
Lucerne is small and a joy to explore, with the old town and all the main sights within easy walking distance. What sticks in my mind to this day is seeing the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a covered wooden bridge running diagonally across the Reuss for the first time. The bridge serves as the picturesque centerpiece for Lucerne. Constructed in 1333, the bridge is adorned with more than 100 17th-century pictures hanging from the roof rafters inside, depicting patron saints and scenes from the town’s history. Viewing the pictures is a must for an evening walk after dinner.
The Chapel Bridge is absolutely gorgeous at night as you can see in the photograph above. To this day, I can still see the bridge and smell the lake in my mind’s eye. Forthy decades have not diminished that first visit for me. Over the years, my pilgrimage to the Swiss Chalet in the tiny town of Merlischachen became a ritual. Truly nothing beats landing in Frankfurt, Germany. Renting a sleek Mercedes for two weeks and heading south to Switzerland. I spend a week driving in a big Z pattern through southern Germany with stops in Munich for a beer and Salzburg, Austria before heading off to Zurich, Lucerne, and Geneva. I have my favorite haunts in every town.
The drive from Geneva to Milan across the Alps is breathtakingly beautiful. After Milan, I head to the coast before making the return trip, in the same way, I came.
In Milan, architectural splendor collides softly with commerce. Back in a big city, my time in the little hamlet of Merlischachen is a fond memory and a wonderful time out from the hustle and bustle of my city life. Writing this post, I am adding this trip to my 2023 bucket list of travels. 2022’s agenda is already full.
Until next time.