The Swiss Path

Central Switzerland is well suited to experiencing the country's history, with landmarks representing facts and legends going back more than 700 years. You can see the sights below in a day by boat, bus, and train; on foot or by bicycle it will take you at least two days. Start at Switzerland's birthplace: take the boat from Luzern to the Rütli Meadow, where representatives from the three original cantons swore their Oath of Eternal Alliance against the Habsburgs in 1291. A short boat trip down the lake to Flüelen and the bus to Altdorf will take you to the statue of Wilhelm Tell, Switzerland's legendary symbol of independent spirit.

Back in Flüelen, walk the Weg der Schweiz (the Swiss Path), which you can locate on the shore right by the train station, and head north along the lake. The path dates from 1991, when it was created to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the signing of the oath of allegiance. The historic footpath covers 35 km (22 miles) of lakefront lore in 26 sections, each honoring one of Switzerland's cantons. In 14 hours, or better yet spread out over several days, you can trace the mythical steps of Wilhelm Tell and the genuine steps of medieval forerunners, climb through steep forests and isolated villages, and visit the holiday resort of Brunnen.

As you walk along it, you'll find yourself going through a series of hand-hewn tunnels that form part of the original Axenstrasse, a road built into the mountainside in 1865. This amazing feat of engineering shortened the long voyage from north to south over the Alps. You can walk to the romantic 19th-century lakeside chapel, the Tellskapelle (one hour each way) or all the way to Brunnen (on foot 5½ hours; by bike 2½ hours) or turn around and head back to Flüelen if you run out of steam.

A side trip to Schywz from Brunnen takes you to the Bethlehemhaus, a wooden structure built in 1287. From Brunnen or Flüelen, you can take the train back to Luzern, where the Bourbaki Panorama depicts the French army's retreat through Switzerland in 1870–1871. Up the street, see the moving Löwendenkmal, a dying lion sculpted into a cliff in 1821 in memory of Swiss mercenaries who died defending Louis XVI during the French Revolution; and the Gletschergarten, an outdoor park incorporating an expanse of rock shaped by passing Ice Age glaciers.

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