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Vincent Landon books a place in the sun

Ever since I can remember, the sun has risen in the morning in the east and dropped back down to earth in a rather more westerly trajectory.

Given the astonishing regularity of its appearance - by all accounts, it's never missed a day - it's perhaps surprising that we still marvel at sunrise and sunset and seek out-of-the way places to observe it.

On the sun-lovers' itinerary, Rigi-Kulm near Lucerne is pretty much a must. Watching the sunrise from the summit has a long precedent, described by 19th-century US novelist, Mark Twain, in his travelogue, A Tramp Abroad: "We could not speak. We could hardly breathe. We could only gaze in drunken ecstasy and drink it in."

Twain required three days to walk up from Weggis on Lake Lucerne and was plagued by alp horn players who demanded a generous pay-off. He clearly had a lot of time on his hands, for three hours should suffice for the walk.

Nowadays there are several ways of getting to the top. Besides your own two feet, you can use cable cars and cogwheel railways.

There are two tracks, one from Arth-Goldau and the other from Vitznau. The lines were built by competing companies in the 1870s in a race to reach the top and capture the major share of the tourist trade. The line from the lakefront resort of Vitznau won but the Arth-Goldau is also busy as its base terminal lies on the St Gotthard route.

Like Twain, I began in the resort town of Weggis. Eschewing the cable car, I chose to walk up in the early evening. The route is steep but scenic and my only concern was not so much missing sunset as arriving after the hotel closes at 10pm.

My fears were groundless as I arrived in plenty of time at the 1800 metre summit. There were fewer people about than I'd anticipated - perhaps a dozen - enjoying a marvellous display as the sky and surrounding lakes turned orange and then red.

To the east and south lay rows of mountain peaks, including the giants of the Bernese Oberland, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Far away lay the Jura hills, shimmering and less sharply defined while across Lake Lucerne, soared Mt Pilatus where local legend says the body of Pontius Pilate was brought by the devil after the Crucifixion.

I spent the night in the Rigi-Kulm Hotel enjoying the old-worldly touches like the notice in the lift: "The proprietors of this hotel will feel greatly obliged if visitors would kindly ascertain that they do not take the keys of their rooms with them when leaving the hotel."

My alarm sounded at 5am. The sun rose predictably in the east - dramatic but a slight anti-climax after the glory of the previous evening. After a couple of hours more sleep and breakfast, it was time to go as hordes of daytrippers spilled out of the train to enjoy the views if not the solitude.

by Vincent Landon


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