Friday, May 29, 2015

Lucerne’s Hotel Schweizerhof: Another place where B.B. was King

The grand Hotel Schweizerhof in Lucerne, Switzerland as it looked in 1896  (Hotel Schweizerhof)
LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND From the moment you enter the lobby of HotelSchweizerhof in Lucerne, Switzerland, you sense you have stepped back in time. And with it you are surrounded by the aura of ghosts from centuries past who, until now, may have only been references points in the pages of history.

Lake steamer in Lucerne  (wikipedia)
Nestled along the shores of the Lake of Lucerne which spills into the rushing waters of the River Reuss, Hotel Schweizerhof stands proudly encircled within a bowl of majestic Alpine peaks. Here you are whisked back in time with barely a challenge to your imagination. This is a place where the golden age of travel beckons, and with it the 19th century splendor of historic surroundings and the personalities who brought it to life.

Richard Wagner finished Tristan and Isolde here. During his visit he also encountered “Mad” King Ludwig II of Germany who built the famed Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria.
Mark Twain wrote about the Rigi near Lucerne  (wikipedia)
Mark Twain stayed at the Schweizerhof during a grand tour of Europe while gathering material for Innocents Abroad.

Leo Tolstoy spent time writing at the hotel, describing his experience in July, 1857 this way:
“As soon as I went up to my room, and opened the window facing the lake, the beauty of the sheet of water, of the mountains, and of the sky, at the first moment literally dazzled and overwhelmed me. I experienced inward unrest, and the necessity of expressing in some manner the feelings that suddenly filled my soul to overflowing. I felt a desire to embrace, some one, to tickle him, or to pinch him; in short to do to him and to myself something extraordinary.”

Early postcard of Hotel Schweizerhof during the Golden Age of Travel  (Hotel Schweizerhof)
More recently, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, took another “small step” as a guest.

Even the famed American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, B.B. King spent time in Lucerne’s Schweizerhof while appearing in concert at nearly 80 years of age.

Schweizerhof Bar pays tribut to B.B. King  (Hotel Schweizerhof)
On the day he departed, King wrote in the guest book, “To you and the staff, many thanks. B.B. King.” The message is now immortalized at a table in the Schweizerhof bar.

B.B. stood for “Blues Boy”, by the way.

It’s an eclectic mix that reads like a who’s who of emperors and empresses,  kings and queens, writers, poets, politicians and business magnates from all over the world.

But that’s only the beginning, for Lucerne has long been a traveler’s paradise. Combined with its nostalgic links to a more genteel day, there are powerful reminders that time can indeed stand still, even in the 21st century.

The lobby of Hotel Schweizerhof hearkens to an earlier era of luxurious travel  (Hotel Schweizerhof)
The Schweizerhof is a family affair. It opened in 1845, but has been operated by the Hauser family since 1861. Today, owners Patrick and Michael Hauser are the fifth generation to manage the property. Among their modern innovations are wall tattoos“  which personalize each room with detailed information about celebrity guests from the past.

The terrace is a gathering spot for guests  (Hotel Schweizerhof
Don’t let its grandeur fool you. The Schweizerhof retains its family hospitality and charm with 19th century style and 21st century comfort. Look no further than the charming lobby elevator with barely enough room to accommodate two people – without luggage. A beguiling seat beckons road-weary guests to rest during the methodical ascents and descents. Speed and space are of little consequence, for time does not matter to those who yield to the pace of days long ago.

Situated just a few hundred yards from Lucerne’s famed 14th century Chapel Bridge, or Kapellbrucke as it is known to locals, the Schweizerhof overlooks the westernmost point of the lake where passenger boats regularly arrive and depart to other historic villages along its shores.
Lucerne's Chapel Bridge is an international landmark that is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe   (wikipedia)
The Chapel Bridge is the symbol of the city. It is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe as well as the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge. In August of 1993, the bridge caught fire, destroying two thirds of its historic interior paintings and killing one person.

So important was it to the city as such a recognizable landmark, it was quickly rebuilt and re-opened to the public by April of 1994.
Cog train takes travelers to the summit of Mount Pilatus  (wikipedia)
Lucerne is a treasure trove of museums, Alpine vistas, Swiss history and colorfully painted architectural facades. With its central location in the German speaking region of the country, it is an ideal to use as a base for day trips.

Wall tattoos are a modern innovation  (Hotel Schweizerhof)
When long days of sightseeing are finished, Hotel Schweizerhof becomes an enticing oasis of elegance just beyond the miniature maze of alluring streets that lead to the captivating old town of Lucerne.

Rates at Hotel Schweizerhof are seasonal with standard double rooms beginning at about $470 during high season which runs from April through October. At other times of the year, rates start at approximately $385 per night. Breakfast is not included.

The Lion Monument is another Lucerne landmark that captivated Mark Twain  (wikipedia)
Hotel Schweizerhof in Lucerne rekindles the spirit of the past with a unique blend of capturing the essence of days long forgotten and turning them into the memories of a lifetime.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Great Britain by Train: An ideal international family vacation

The magnificent Royal Crescent of Bath, England sits on a hill overlooking the famed Roman spa  (wikipedia)
LONDON International family travel is a growing trend as grandparents are joining grandchildren in journeys that are both memorable and educational.

When it comes to international family travel, there may be no better starting point than Great Britain and there is no more convenient way to go than by train.
Modern British trains glide through history  (wikipedia)

A journey through the UK by rail is time travel by train. It is a beguiling destination for Americans that beckons us to savor its spirit. A place for legends and myths to merge with historic truths to create the ideal blend of fact and fiction.

Much of the appeal of the British Isles has to do with heritage and tradition, for this is a land of “once upon a time.” It is a place where the procession of history thrives within its own timelessness.

Jousting was popular in Medieval England  (wikipedia)
Consider literary characters and personalities, imagined and real, who pass through our minds as voices personified in a panoramic parade of poetry and prose: Macbeth and Lear and Hamlet; Tom Jones and Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle; Oliver Twist and Ebenezer Scrooge and Phileas Phogg.

There is an aura of mystery and suspense as well. Stonehenge, the Tower of London and the Loch Ness Monster; Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appear out of the mists.

Kings and queens have their own special allure in this land with its stories of King Arthur’s knights, Henry VIII, Victoria and Elizabeth and today’s royal family.
King Henry VIII was one of many notorious English monarchs  (wikipedia)
Truly this is a land for all seasons, enveloped by the richness of its history -- and trains are the ideal links to those legacies. British rails connect us to a cavalcade of culture that is familiar to us all.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a classic horror story  (wikipedia)
In many ways, the roots of our American spirit can be traced to the glories of the British past, and trains are pathways that lead us through the tunnels of time to new moments of discovery.

They take us to the birthplace of golf past neat fields, through a sea of vivid green tumbling landscapes that one writer said creates a sense of being at the “midpoint of creation.”

Trains pass by, and travel to, walled towns and haunting ruins. There is a medieval quality to it all; an ancientness enhanced by a kaleidoscope of colors amid heather carpeted hills and echoes of untamed vistas.

They reveal castles, estates and stately mansions, which are monuments to the works of man that are as engrossing in their own way as works of nature.

Castles are in abundance throughout the United Kingdom  (wikipedia)
British trains come to rest where the Romans once bathed in natural spring waters. Where cobblestone streets are squeezed into narrow alleyways beneath half-timbered houses. Where distant pastures can be seen through empty archways or as British journalist and writer H.V. Morton noted, “Where every meadow has a valet.”
Scotland is famous for its heather carpeted hills and deep lochs  (wikipedia) 
No trip is complete with visiting a pub  (wikipedia)
Taste the traditions with a full English breakfast. Have tea with Devonshire cream and scones. Try fresh fish chips or perhaps enjoy a pint of ale with locals in a country pub.

Meander through the countryside where sheepdogs bark in the distance and hedgerows and rock walls give order to things.

In Scotland and Wales a panorama unfolds as the landscape rises and falls past muscled peaks, fertile fields and dense forests before giving way to deep Scottish lochs or the embraces of the Irish Sea.

Steam train crosses the historic Glenfinnian Viaduct in Scotland  (wikipedia)
Diversity creates the character of Great Britain, and it is this variety that refutes the concept that “there are no more unknown places.” You see, every place is unknown until you experience it yourself.

Britain’s compact size offers concentrated travel experiences unlike any other, and the rail system makes it convenient to use one city as a base for individual day trips that seem like mini-holidays within themselves.

York is still surrounded by its wall  (wikipedia)
From London, for example, head north to the walled city of York. Journey to the Roman ruins at Bath. Spend a quiet afternoon in the gentle surroundings of the Cotswolds. Explore Shakespeare’s Stratford and visit Trinity Church where he is buried. Or stroll among the historic “rows” of Chester.

All are within easy reach, yet still close enough to have you back in London in time for the theater.
Prices for point to point tickets and passes vary according to distance, time of day, level of service and, even, a traveler’s age. Rail Europe is the complete one-stop shop for answering all of your individual questions and providing the best options for your particular itinerary.

Pulteney Bridge in Bath remains a commercial center filled with shops (wikipedia)
British trains do, indeed, tell tales of “once upon a time.” As someone once wrote, “the past is no ghost at this banquet, rather it sits at the head of the table.”

For American family travelers, our links to Great Britain are powerful reminders of our own heritage which is no more characterized than by sharing a common language.
The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror and later housed many famous prisoners  (wikipedia)

Listen to the rails of Great Britain, for here legends do linger and the rails are the “ties that bind.”

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stein am Rhein, Switzerland: Medieval magic, colorful facades and oriels

Half timbered houses, frescoed facades and oriels make Stein am Rhein a picturesque treasure  (wikipedia)
STEIN AM RHEIN,SWITZERLAND All too often travelers become so wrapped up in checking cities, attractions and sights off their list that they fail to achieve their primary reason for traveling…discovery. 

Alfred North Whitehead reinforced that notion when he wrote “One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering.” 

 “Hidden treasures” are the essence of travel and Stein am Rhein, Switzerland is one of those “treasures.”

Quaint narrow streets of Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
In many countries Stein am Rhein might be considered remote.  Not in Switzerland.  While it may be off-the-beaten-path, the accessibility of the Swiss Travel System, combined with its proximity to Schaffhausen, Winterthur and other delightful spots along the River Rhine and Lake Constance, make Stein am Rhein a great place as a base for day trips.

The tiny municipality is a jewel in the canton of Schaffhausen.  Stein am Rhein, which translated means “stone on the Rhine”, lays claim to being the best preserved medieval town in the country, featuring some the finest half-timbered houses in Switzerland
Stein am Rhein is famous for its bay windows and intricately painted buildings  (wikipedia)
If you take your time, you can walk leisurely through this outdoor museum and back in thirty minutes.  Frescoes adorn the facades of the buildings and oriels, or bay windows, overlook delightful cafes and storybook streets.  In some places, the layers of time have elevated the streets enough to even force strollers to duck beneath those bay windows to walk under them.

Aerial view of Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
Situated along the shores of the Rhine, just a short distance from the place where Lake Constance spills into the river on it way to the North Sea, Stein am Rhein became a strategic location during the 11th century.  It was then that Henry II, the fifth, and last, Ottonian emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, moved St. George’s Abbey from Hohentwiel in Singen to what was little more than a quaint fishing village. 

Over time, commerce grew along the river and Stein am Rhein flourished.  The monastery, which was abandoned during the Protestant Reformation, remains a highlight for visitors today.  Located near the Town Hall Square, St. George’s Abbey Museum, as it is commonly referred to now, dedicates its exhibitions to local art and history.  Perhaps of more interest however, are the ceilings, paneling and murals of Thomas Schmid and Ambrosius Holbein.

St. George's Abbey on the shores of the Rhine, Stein am Rhein, Switzerland  (wikipedia)
Abrosius, the son of Hans Holbein the Elder and the older brother of Hans Holbein the Younger, lived in Stein am Rhein in 1515 while assisting Schmid with the murals in the main hall of the abbey. 

With a population of 3,000, Stein am Rhein is only twice the size it was during the 1800s.    

Hohenklingen Castle on a hill overlooking the village (
Adventurous travelers can walk up to the Castle of Hohenklingen, a 13th century fortress overlooking the city where they can see the Lake of Constance and the Alps when weather permits.

For less ambitious visitors, there is still plenty to explore including the frescoed facades of the buildings which depict biblical and historical themes throughout town.  In addition, the oriels that elegantly perch above the streets, are symbols of the city’s former affluence, as are the paintings.

Even today, ownership of the frescoed buildings in Stein am Rhein comes with serious obligations to the history of the village.  As a condition of proprietorship, a titleholder must agree to maintain the paintings in the same condition as the originals without compensation for the investment.

Stein am Rhein is a great place for a stroll  (wikipedia)

With its Lilliputian size, Stein am Rhein is built on a human scale.  It is a charming place for walking and exploration.  Most people begin their strolls at the 16th century Town Hall, pausing frequently to admire the frescoes and oriels before stopping at a cafĂ© along the way to simply savor the surroundings.

You can access Stein am Rhein by car, boat or rail.  The train station sits on a hill across the river
from the main village, but it is only a short walk across the bridge which spans the Rhine.  Bike rentals are available at a kiosk at the railway station.  For 32 Swiss francs a day there are several well-marked bicycle paths along both shores of the river.  Schaffhausen is just 13-miles to the west or you can peddle eastward to Kreuzlingen which is 18-miles away.
Rhine Falls near Stein am Rhein is the largest waterfall in Europe  (wikipedia)
There is also regular boat service between Kreuzlingen, which is easily accessible by rail or car, and Schaffhausen.  Cruises meander through a beautiful region that alternates between Switzerland and Germany.  Among the special sights are the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall, just outside Schaffhausen.  The cascading torrents of water can be likened to Niagara Falls in miniature.

Another popular place for an outing is nearby Winterthur with its remarkable private art exhibition at Am Romerholtz.  The Oskar Reinhart Collection is known throughout the world as one of the finest of its kind.  Featuring the work of artists such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Miro and Klee to name a few, the Reinhart Collection is displayed in a private residence rather than a museum.  Just 17-miles from Stein am Rhein, Winterthur is a convenient 40-minute train ride to the south with hourly service throughout the day.
Am Romerholz, home of the Oskar Reinhart art collection in Winterthur, near Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
For the traveler who seeks a quiet destination far from the madding crowd yet accessible to a rich diversity of scenery, history, quaint villages and world-class art, Stein am Rhein is a gem to consider.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Asheville, N. C.: Proof there is no place like home

The front entrance to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It is also known as "America's Castle"  (wikipedia)
 ASHEVILLEN.C. Asheville has long been a cultural oasis in the state of North Carolina. In fact, CondĂ© Nast Traveler once ranked it among the 20 “friendliest” cities in the world.

Asheville is an ideal spot for a base to visit the famed Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains and immerse in a diverse selection of historic homes. It’s  Americana at its best, running the gamut from a Native American village to the glory days of turn-of-the-20th century industrial entrepreneurism.

Omini Grove Park Inn with its natural stone charm  (wikipedia)
Begin at the century-old Omni Grove Park Inn, which has been visited by no less than ten presidents. The 44,000-square-foot resort with its subterranean spa was inspired by Edwin Wiley Grove who was known as the “Father of Modern Asheville.”

Grove, a Civil War veteran, purchased a pharmaceutical company in his mid-20s. He believed the climate in Western North Carolina would have health benefits and serve as an ideal location for a resort.

The original property opened in 1913 with Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan delivering the keynote address to more than 400 distinguished southern gentlemen.

Though expanded several times, the favorite rooms are still in the original building with its over-sized fireplaces at each end of the lobby and the outdoor balcony overlooking a jagged expanse of bluish-gray mountains.

Cherokee tells the history of the original tribe (wikipedia)
About an hour away is Cherokee, home of the original Cherokee nation and the starting point for “Trail of Tears” in 1838. At that time Cherokees controlled over 140,000 square miles covering what is today part of eight states.

The drive is beautiful any time of year, but during the fall season it is especially vibrant with its myriad palette of rust oranges, buttery yellows and candy apple reds.

Historians date the ancient civilizations in the area more than 11,000 years ago, to the end of the last Ice Age. Europeans arrived in the territory in 1540 in search of gold and other riches.
Scene from Unto These Hills, Cherokee's outdoor drama about the Trail of Tears  (wikipedia)
Today, Oconaluftee Indian Village takes visitors 250 years into the past to demonstrate Cherokee life as it existed in the mid-1700s. Serpentine pathways guide travelers into the past through ancient homes, and through demonstrations of basket weaving, canoe making and dart blowing and lectures about Cherokee myths and legends.

For non-historians, the Harrah’s Casino at the outskirts of Cherokee offers a contemporary alternative.
Moving forward to the 1800s, head north out of town along the winding road that hugs a rushing stream leading into Cades Cove. Preserved by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the site features original pioneer homes, farms, barns and pastures as they were more than two centuries ago.

Carl Sandburg home in Flat Rock, NC  (Wikipedia)
Another day trip from Asheville is Flat Rock and historic Connemara Farms. It’s a name that immediately garners more attention when you learn it was the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Carl Sandburg. Sandburg required peace and solitude for his writing, so he moved to his 30-acre North Carolina home in 1945.

Sandburg’s wife, Lillian, also needed extensive pastureland for her award winning dairy goats. The goats remain and are a favorite with visitors. In summer, live readings of Sandburg’s works and excerpts from the play about his life are performed in the amphitheater at the park. Sandburg spent the last 22 years of his life at Connemara.

Thomas Wolfe house in Asheville  (wikipedia)
Complete the Asheville “homecoming” visit with a tour of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. Though severely damaged by fire in 1998, the Old Kentucky Home boarding house, which Wolfe described extensively in Look Homeward, Angel, re-opened for tours in 2004.
The picturesque serpentine beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway -- take your time this is no Interstate highway (wikipedia)
Wolfe was strongly influenced by his hometown of Asheville. He died at the age of 38 writing four novels in his all too brief lifetime.

Last stop: the famed Biltmore Estate of George Vanderbilt. The Chateau-style mansion took just six years to build, opening on Christmas day in 1895.

Vuew of Biltmore Estate from the south (wikipedia)
Still in the family, it is owned and operated by William A.V. Cecil, Sr., one of Vanderbilt’s descendants. The estate has become a major national attraction, the setting for several movies and has undergone considerable renovations to open more of the property to the public.

Sometimes known as “America’s Castle” and said to be the largest private home in the country, Biltmore Estate covers nearly 180,000 square feet with 250 rooms.

The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also did Central Park in New York City. The gardens at one side of the chateau are always a treat as is the winery. There are also other enjoyable food and beverage concessions on site and an inn.

North Carolina’s mountains are proof positive that Thomas Wolfe was wrong, “you really can go home again.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Nisbet Plantation on Nevis combines history with relaxation

Avenue of the Palms and the Great House at Nevis Plantation  (Nevis Plantation)
NEVIS Nisbet Plantation on the island of Nevis is the sort of place where Valium goes to relax.
“On the island time forgot is a hotel you will remember forever,” is the way the Caribbean’s only historic plantation on the beach describes itself.

Palm Tree Alley leads the way to the beach (Nisbet Plantation)
If it is true that first impressions are lasting ones, then visitors are immediately impressed by Nisbet Plantation’s signature gateway to the Caribbean Sea known as “Palm Tree Alley.”  The 30-acre tropical beachfront property uniquely combines a storied history with casual elegance.

Travelers may take a while to adjust to the serene rhythms of island life, but once immersed in the contagious ambience of Nevis, they soon wonder what all the fuss was about back home. Nevis’ sister island of St. Kitts, just two miles across the shallow channel called “The Narrows,” seems like Mardi Gras by comparison.

On Nevis the biggest event of the day will likely be a dominoes match between some of the locals in the capital city of Charlestown. Or it could be the spotting of a green vervet monkey roaming through town.
Rope hammock with Mount Nevis in the background  (Nevis Plantation)
Meanwhile, at Nisbet Plantation, the toughest decision a guest may make all day is which rope hammock to choose at the beach.

Interlaced within its tranquil setting, Nisbet’s history hearkens to the romantic past of a more genteel era. Nevis is a gumdrop shaped island encompassing just 36-square miles. In the center rises Nevis Peak, the island’s dominant geographical feature. At 3,232-feet, the extinct volcano is almost always surrounded by clouds.
A real life fantasy island, Nevis Peak with its perpetual clouds  (Wikipedia)
Little wonder that the island’s 18th century plantation life embraced a legacy of cultured gentility and charm. That ambience still lives at Nisbet Plantation, and it’s part of the magic.

Admiral Lord Nelson  (Wikipedia)
Remnants of the sugar cane industry that once made Nevis “Queen of the Caribees” can be found everywhere on the island, and Nisbet Plantation was one of the richest. When Admiral Lord Nelson, the famed British naval hero, visited Nevis, he met Frances Nisbet, the wealthy widowed wife of Dr. Nisbet, who had owned the plantation. 

Fanny, as she was affectionately known, quickly fell in love with the captain and they were married at Saint John Figtree Parish Anglican Church in 1787.

Just 32-years earlier, in 1755, Alexander Hamilton, was born on Nevis. Hamilton spent much of his childhood there before becoming a founding father of the United States. Even today the Nevis Island Assembly Chambers are located in the place of Hamilton’s birth.
Alexander Hamilton's birthplace is now a museum  (Wikipedia)
When Christopher Columbus sighted Nevis in 1493 he called it “Our Lady of the Snows,” referring to the perpetual cloud cover around Nevis Peak.

Breakfast overlooking the Avenue of the Palms  (Nisbet Plantation)
More than a century later, in 1607, Captain John Smith visited Nevis during the voyage that eventually led to the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

Coconuts dining room is the best of all worlds  (Nisbet Plantation)
Electricity came to Nevis in 1954, but it was not available throughout the island until 1971. Even today, one will not see traffic lights, nor buildings constructed taller than a coconut palm tree.

For travelers enjoying the luxurious rustic ambience of Nisbet Plantation, Nevis’ quiet history whets the appetite for island exploration or lively dinner conversation following a hard day of croquet and lounging on the beach.

In 1950, Mary Pomeroy purchased the property and attempted, without success, to turn it into a coconut plantation among other ventures. Eventually Pomeroy refurbished some guest rooms and later added bungalow-style cottages leading down to the beach.

Following several ownership changes, current owner David Dodwell purchased Nisbet in 1989 and since has received international attention for the property.

Nisbet Plantation features 36 rooms, of which 14 are superior rooms and 22 are suites in three categories. All rooms are elegantly appointed with a regional motif and soft Caribbean pastels.
Deluxe luxury suite (Nisbet Plantation)

Rates, which include full a breakfast and dinner, as well as afternoon tea, vary according to season. Currently, special offers are booked only via phone or by e-mail. Among the amenities are free Wi-Fi and 110-volt electrical current sockets, the same as the United States.

Resort facilities include a spa, tennis, fitness center and croquet lawn, plus three restaurants offering a light fare menu up to fine dining.

A favorite gathering spot is the great house with its trademark setting that faces the rows of palm trees that somehow manage to lure visitors away from the beach. The Tea Patio overlooking Palm Tree Alley is especially enticing in late afternoon when the day eases into the amber glow of twilight and sea breezes caress the grounds.
Serenity is Nisbet Plantation's greatest natural resource  (Nisbet Plantation)
On the tiny hump-shaped paradise of Nevis, Nisbet Plantation is one of the few properties with direct access to the beach -- reason enough to saunter down Palm Tree Alley to locate that perfect hammock for the surge of serenity that awaits.