The last full day of our trip was one of more fun and exciting ones. After breakfast, we drove west to Vitznau where the views of Lake Lucerne were absolutely beautiful. The bus dropped us off at the edge of the lake, where one can take a train to go up Mount Rigi, also known as the “Queen of the Mountains”.
The train that ascends the mountain is a cogwheel train. The Vitznau route to Rigi is the first mountain cog railway in Europe, with service that began in 1871 and is still running well over a century later. We arrived early, so there was plenty of time to take photos at the base and do a little souvenir shopping at the store at the station. The train itself consisted of two cars and there were signs on the doors letting us know where to go since several tour groups had bookings for the first departure.
There were several stops along the way up to the summit. At every stop, one member of staff on the train would exit and make postal deliveries; their were mailboxes at every station shelter. Not only were people living on Rigi but we saw several hotels and even a ski-lift along the route. The higher up we went, the more the landscape changed–the blues and greens of gently sloping hills and the lake below us gave way to frost-covered grass, dark conifer forests and snowy trails.
It was a steep ascent but we reached the summit in about thirty minutes. Rigi Kulm is nearly 1800 meters (approximately 6000 feet) above sea level. It was white all around us and very cold, but everyone really enjoyed stepping out onto the snowy summit. There were plenty of photos taken as well as snowballs being thrown about. There was a path to go uphill where there is a hotel but everything was hidden beneath the snow and it was already a steep climb just up the small hill next to the train station.
Soon, it was time to warm up a bit. Fortunately, there was a shop and fast food restaurant right there so one could thaw with a hot drink, food or a snack. It was far too early for another meal (it was only 10am when I walked in) so I settled for lighter fare.
I ordered a cup of rosehip tea and from the baked goods on display, settled for a slice of a Swiss specialty, the Engadine Nut Tart. The tart was filled with nuts and honey, so it was sticky and a bit sweeter than I like but it was pretty tasty. There were other members of my group already sitting down at the tables when I carried my tray over to the seating area.
Since our arrival on the summit, there hadn’t been much to look at. The skies had been cloudy all morning and we couldn’t see anything on the horizon. That finally changed and the clouds and fog slowly rolled out, giving us tantalizing glimpses of the mountains across the valley. By the time I finished eating and stepped out, I caught a brief glance of the mountains before they disappeared behind the cloudy curtains once more. This happened several times so one had to always have the camera at the ready but the clouds eventually moved on and we were given spectacular views of the alps in the distance and the forests below us.
The descent was slightly different. Instead of riding the cogwheel train all the way down, our group got off at Rigi Kaltbad to board a gondola/cable car to take us to base of the mountain. As we descended, the gray hues of the landscape around us slowly became saturated with color once more. We rode through thin clouds and so the views out of the windows were a bit blurry but very colorful. It’s amazing to see how green the grass is even in the middle of December! We landed in Weggis, which is another village on the lake and where our bus was waiting to take us back to Lucerne.