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Life on the Edge (Part 2)

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The next day I explored the town, beginning with the bewitching assemblage of 20th-century art at the Rosengart Collection. It has some great stuff. Renoirs share wall space with Legers and Kandinskys, and there is a roomful of Chagalls, each one of them suffused with love and sorrow: David Mourning His Son Absalom, Les Amoureux, a Christ crucified alongside a longcase clock… The Rosengarts – father and daughter – were friends and patrons of Picasso, and works by him form the heart of the collection. There are lots of drawings, including a sketch of a mother and baby that is as subtle and profound as a Da Vinci Madonna. Some of these figurative works are much later than one might expect – they were produced long after Picasso began doing his fractured, kaleidoscopic compositions of violins and newspapers and music stands. You get the feeling that he was far too big an artist to be constrained by one style or movement – that he was a cubist only when he was in the mood for it. And, even in this smallish collection, you cannot help but be impressed not just by Picasso’s versatility, but also by his sheer output: the paintings and pots and sculptures seem to have poured out of him in a torrent, like the waters that gush through the Nadelwerk.

Description: the Rosengart Collection

the Rosengart Collection

It is a short walk from the Rosengart Collection back to the KKL. Right at the top of the buildings is the Kunstmuseum, Lucerne’s showcase for contemporary art. I happened upon a fabulous travelling exhibition of works by Chinese artists. I saw an astonishing maquette, a scale model representing the clifftops and palaces of Tibel. It hung from the ceiling and was made from edible dog chews that had been unfurled and stitched together. There was also a tiny piece by Ai Weiwei: an ashtray-sized ceramic of a rolling wave, like a Hokusai in miniature 3D.

Description: the Kunstmuseum

the Kunstmuseum

Come the evening I wandered off into the Old Town. It is at its best at twilight, when the shops are shut, the streets empty, and your eyes naturally drift upwards to the decorative frescos on the facades of the buildings. There are tall paintings of tradesmen and shopkeepers, announcing the kind of shop that is housed below (or once was). In places, plaster saints balance on plinths installed at first-floor level; elsewhere there are wooden- framed frontages like Jacobethan manor houses – only here the wood is carved into pleasing curves and picked out in oxblood tones. Many of the older buildings are capped with chaotic, whimsical roofs featuring turrets and towers and gabled windows barely big enough to put an arm through. The Old Town is dotted with open squares (each one with a fountain at its centre) where you can sit down with a glass of wine to enjoy the architecture.

Description: Wagner’s house

Wagner’s house

The next day was a Sunday, and my last morning in Lucerne. I got up early and went for a walk to Wagner’s house, which I had seen from the boat. The first five minutes led me through railway sidings and boatyards behind the KKL, but soon I was in a pleasant park. I nodded Guten Morgen to the joggers and dog walkers, and watched a few intrepid swimmers tiptoeing past the drowsy swans to take a dip. Walking on, I soon found myself at the bottom of Wagner’s garden, where his sloping lawn meets the shore. The water was opaque and silvery at this hour, like mercury. Mists rose in wispy strands from between the pale mountains. It was a Romantic artist’s dream of a landscape: not hard to see why this place appealed to a big-canvas composer such as Wagner.

Description: the bottom of Wagner’s garden

the bottom of Wagner’s garden

It was, however, a little chilly, and I wondered whether I should postpone visiting the house and go in search of coffee and a piece of cake. Suddenly the church bells of Lucerne began to chime all at once. Their pealing reverberated round the lake in such a way that it was impossible to tell which direction the sound was coming from. The bell- music just filled the air and – though it was an illusion – seemed to be making ripples on the surface of the water. I tell you: it was as if those mountains were singing to each other.

Where to stay

The Hotel - Jean Nouvel’s hip boutique hotel on the south side of the river, a short stroll from the station. In each bedroom the ceiling is a huge mural depicting a (faintly erotic) still from a film that means something to Nouvel: That Obscure Object of Desire, The Pillow Book, Last Tango in Paris, The Sheltering Sky. Definitely the coolest hotel in town. Sempacherstrasse 14 (00 41 41 226 8686; www.the-hotel.ch). Doubles from SFr375 (about $390)

Description: Hotel des Balances - Old- world

Hotel des Balances - Old- world

Hotel des Balances - Old- world but very stylish hotel in the heart of old Lucerne. It overlooks the river to one side and the Weinmarkt to the other. There is a fine restaurant, but this is also a terrific place for an aperitif. Weinmarkt (00 41 41 418 2828; www.balances.ch). Doubles from about $360

Where to eat

Bam Bou - French- Asian fusion restaurant in the basement of The Hotel. Terribly chic. Sempacherstrasse 14 (00 41 41 226 8686; www.the-hotel.ch). About $85 for two without wine.

Where to drink

Rathaus Braverei - A little micro- brewery on the riverside, underneath the Old Town Hall. The beer is excellent, and so are the brezels – sandwiches made with plaited bread. Unter der Egg 2 (00 41 41 410 5257; rathausbrauerei.ch). About $10 for a brezel

What to do

 Walk the lakeside - Go round the south shore to Wagner’s house (www.richard-wagner-museum.ch), or take the north shore to the Verkehrshaus der Schweiz transport museum (www.verkehrshaus.ch)

Climb the walls - The view from the remains of the medieval city walls is lovely.

Description: Switzerland's longest summer toboggan run

Switzerland's longest summer toboggan run

Ride a toboggan - Switzerland’s longest summer toboggan ride is at Frakmuntegg, on the slopes at Pilatus. Get there on the gondolas from the Lucerne suburb of Kreins.

Soak up some culture - Catch a concert at the Kultur- und Kongress – zentrum (www.kkl-luzern.ch), or see modern art in the Kunstmuseum at the top of the building (www.kunstmuseumluzern.ch). Visit the Rosengart Collection for Picasso and his 20th- century peers (www.rosengart.ch).

Getting there

Swiss - (www.swiss.com) files to Zurich, then take the fast train to Lucerne. A 1hr 45min flight to Zurich, then an hour’s train ride.

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