An hour south of Basel and Zürich, and boasting invigorating mountain views, lake cruises and a picturesque old quarter, LUZERN (Lucerne in French and English, Lucerna in Italian) has long been one of Europe's most heavily touristed towns. When Queen Victoria came for a long holiday in August 1868 (checking in under a pseudonym), the town was already renowned, and a century of steady growth has resulted these days in five million admirers passing through each year. Tourism is the leading source of income, and yet the city has adeptly managed to retain all of its charm.
The River Reuss splits the town, flowing rapidly out of the northwestern end of the lake. River banks on both sides are clustered with medieval squares, frescoed houses, ancient guildhalls, churches and chapels, and filled with a liveliness that belies the city's age. Aside from using Luzern as a base from which to explore the region, it would be easy to spend at least a couple of days taking in some of its quality museums - a Picasso gallery, the impressive Verkehrshaus (Transport Museum) - in between walking on the medieval battlements, and exploring cobbled alleys and hidden garden courtyards.
But Luzern is no museum piece; café culture is treasured by the city's large population of young people, and at midnight on a weekend night, the main Pilatusstrasse boulevard has the feel of any European capital, with people bar-hopping, waiting for the last bus, or hanging out deciding where to go. Whether you're charmed by Luzern's sense of history and tradition, or by the misty lake at its doorstep and the snow-capped Pilatus rising above, or even by its nightlife, charmed is what you'll be.