View of the ferry dock and railroad turntable

Vitznau is a popular Swiss summer resort at the foot of Mt. Rigi on the eastern shore of Lake Lucerne between Weggis and Brunnen. Lake Lucerne is also known as the Vierwaldstattersee, or Lake of the Four Forest Cantons. It sits amidst the Swiss cantons (states) of Lucerne, Uir, Schwyz, and Unterwalden in the German-speaking eastern part of Switzerland.

Vitznau (pronounced "fits-now") is a transportation hub of the touristic sort. It is the lower terminus of the Vitznau-Rigi cogwheel railway constructed by visionary Swiss engineer Niklaus Riggenbach between 1869 and 1871. Riggenbach invented the cogwheel system in which a gear wheel on the train engages a toothed rail on the track, allowing the train to ascend much steeper grades than it could relying on friction between the wheels and a smooth rail. In summer, the train departs approximately hourly for the 35 minute trip to Rigi-Kuln (Kulm?).

Sharing the square with the train platform is the landing stage for the paddle-wheel steamers that ply Lake Lucerne transporting tourists and locals alike over the placid lake waters. At the opposite end of the village from the railway are two cableways, one connecting to the Hinterbergen, the other to Weissenfluh. Car travelers aren't left out either, as the main coast road from Weggis to Brunen passes through the middle of town.

Lake ferry arriving at Vitznau

Vitznau also played a role in Switzerland's defense of its neutrality against the Nazis in World War II. As part of the Gotthard defense, the Swiss constructed an underground artillery fortress inside the cliffs of Mt. Rigi. The installation remained a secret until 1998. The cannons were last test fired in 1956. Like many formerly secret military installations, the fortress is now open to the public.

With a population of only a little over one thousand permanent residents, Vitznau is a pleasant spot for a short stop or a longer visit. At only 26 km (16 miles) from Lucerne, it is an easy day trip. It is just a bit more than 60 km (35 miles) from the international airport at Zurich. While the most convenient way to arrive is by car, the approach from the water is more impressive.

The cogwheel train to Mt. Rigi


Copyright 2005 Harry B. Rowe