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Bargain Travel Europe guide to Europe on a budget for unusual destinations, holiday travel tips
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Scenic Railway and Cable to Lucerne’s Mountain of Legends

Lake Luzern Aerial Tram View photoMount Pilatus rises eternally over Lucerne, Switzerland a crown of jagged crags crowned by a white snow cap in winter, green and gray stone in summer. The mountain of many legends is both a symbol of the beautiful Swiss city on the lake as well as Lucerne’s great mountain playground. Mt. Pilatus got its name from one of the oldest legends of Christendom, named for the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands of Jesus, but could never wash his soul. Zurich Mt Pilatus photoThe legend is that Pilate died in Rome and his body thrown into the Tiber River, but the water rejected him and threw him upon the shore. His body was carried north to gaul and tossed into the Rhône River, which also rejected it. Finally taken to the top of a mountain, his corpse was dropped into the frigid water of a glacial lake where it finally sank. But Pilate’s legend was not done. It was said Pontius Pilate would rise again from the waters of the deep mountain tarn every Good Friday to wash the eternal blood from his hands, then sink once again.

Children's View photoMt. Pilatus is a sole peak, standing alone so that incredible views of Switzerland can be had in all directions, including 73 mountain peaks visible, from Jungfrau to Mont Blanc and can be easily reached by rail or cable in either direction. The aerial panorama gondola rises up the northern face of the mountain from Kriens, a ten minute city bus ride (Line 1) from central Lucerne. There are two cables to reach the top, a small 4 person gondola from Kriens to Fräkmüntegg and a large 40 person cable car to Pilatus-Kulm. The cable route operates all year. On the southern side of the mountain is the amazing world’s steepest cogwheel railway from Alpnachstad on the shore of Lake Lucerne to the Pilatus summit, the Pilatus Bahnen. Alpanachstad is along the main rail line between Lucerne and Interlaken and is 20 minutes by rail from Lucerne main station. One of the most popular ways to Scenice Mounatin Cog Rail photogo up Pilatus is the cog rail funicular up one side and cable down the other or vice versa, called the Golden Round Trip. The ferry boat (about an hour) can be taken to or from Lucerne to Alpanachstad for an even more scenic adventure. The cable up and rail down is a little less crowded and going downward on the steep grade of the cog rail offers a greater sense of thrill, than climbing up. You feel at any moment the stepped-level historic car might break from the tracks and take flight down the hill, but take comfort that the trip has been safely made since first built in 1889 and changed to electrical operation in 1937. The Pilatus railway’s symbol is a red dragon, from more of the mountain legends from the middle ages of dragons living in its many caves. The railway operates from May to November, closed in winter months.

Hotel Bellevue photoAt the top of Mt. Pilatus you’ll find two hotels, each with their own distinctive style. The historic Hotel Pilatus-Kulm was built in 1890, a year after the completion of the cog rail train and has hosted the likes of Queen Victoria of England. The rooms of the turn-of-the-last-century Pilatus-Kulm Hotel have been recently updated (see Hotel Pilatus Kulm Restored). The Hotel Bellevue, built in 1960, is of more modern style design of a circular form with 28 rooms, all with views and bathrooms. The Hotel and Restaurant at the Bellevue has had a complete makeover with anew Panorama Gallery between the two hotels. Special packages are available for the hotels, including cable and rail up and down, dinner and breakfast.

Free Beer photoIf not staying more than a day, there are seven restaurants from snack bars to view seated dining. Or just grab a traditional weiss sausage from the outdoor stand. Mt Pilatus' own brand of beer, Eichof, can be poured for free (alcohol free variety) from a public tap outdoors on the plateau walk, though it doesn’t work when the weather is freezing. Activities on the top of Mt. Pilatus involve mostly incredibly stunning views - in good weather - and walking around the peak, through the carved-out cave view tunnel called the Dragon Walk cut through the mountain stone, to short climbs to nearby peaks. For curiosity, look for the world's longest Swiss horn in the stairwell of the Bellevue Hotel and the unassuming closed doors in the mountain side where anti-aircraft guns are hidden. Mt Pilatus is also a military installation due to its clear view to the Swiss borders. In December, Mt Pilatus Kulm hosts the world's highest Christmas Market. In summer, halfway up the mountain at Frakmuntegg is a rope park, the Seilpark Pilatus, for climbing walking and zip-line rides, and Switzerland’s longest summer toboggan run the Fräkigaudi, with a steel track for fast runs on wheels through the mountain glen. In winter, mostly snow hiking is available from the Kreinseregg gondola stop Lucerne side. There is no skiing on Mt. Pilatus. The cable and cogwheel scenic round strip is about 65 Swiss Francs, half-price with a Swiss Pass (see Switzerland Rail Pass).

And don’t expect to see Pontius Pilate rise from the high Mt. Pilatus alpine lake on Good Friday. In the middle-ages, a group of monks defied prohibition and climbed Mt. Pilatus to confront the ghost. They threw rocks into the cursed waters of the lake, paddled over its surface and offered prayers. Pilate never appeared and apparently has never returned since. © Bargain Travel Europe

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