Visiting the Birthplace of Switzerland
In my first post, I’m going to take you on a journey back in time to the year 1291.
We find ourselves at Rütli, a beautiful meadow overlooking Lake Lucerne.
Legend has it, this is where three men swore an oath to the Swiss Confederation on August 1, 1291.
This is the beginning of Switzerland as we know it.
The three men were from Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden — the first cantons of Switzerland. And together, they were united under one confederacy.
To commemorate this occasion, the Rütli oath is reenacted at this historic landmark every August 1st, on Swiss National Day.
But more recent history makes me shudder.
It was here that Switzerland’s commander-in-chief, General Henri Guison delivered his famous speech with the prospect of an invasion by Nazi Germany in 1940.
Addressing all officers in the Swiss army, he said —
“I decided to reunite you in this historic place, the symbolic ground of our independence, to explain the urgency of the situation, and to speak to you as a soldier to soldiers. We are at a turning point of our history. The survival of Switzerland is at stake.”
This defensive strategy is known as the Réduit strategy, and it leads many to wonder if Switzerland could have stopped an invasion from Germany.
As I walk through the meadow, I think back to these moments in history, and appreciate this place even more. The sun is shining and the Swiss flag stands tall. A light, warm breeze wafts through my hair.
It’s almost lunch time and we’ve worked up an appetite. So we treat ourselves to a traditional Swiss meal at “Restaurant Rütlihaus.”
The Alper Macaroni is a personal favorite and can be enjoyed at any time of the year.
If you sit at the ledge of the balcony, a breathtaking view awaits. This is Lake Lucerne, otherwise known as “Vierwaldstattersee”, which translates to “The Four Forested Settlements Lake.”
As you can see, the lake borders Switzerland’s first three cantons — Uri, Schywz, and Unterwalden (which was later divided into Obwalden and Nidwalden). It also borders the canton of Lucerne.
Rütli Meadow is perched on the shores of Urnersee, which is at the southernmost part of Lake Lucerne and where the famous Swiss Path begins — a 35 km (22 mi) hiking trail that was dedicated to Switzerland on its 700th birthday.
To begin the first leg of the hike, follow the trail signs from Rütli to Bauen. This will take a little over three hours to complete, and it’s a great way to work off your lunch. Alternatively, you can take the boat to Bauen and choose a short hike to Isleton. This will only take 40 minutes.
Many people pick and choose parts of the Swiss Path to hike, instead of attempting the whole thing at once. There are many historic sites to be enjoyed along the way, and the best time to go is between April and November.
Ready to visit?
Rütli Meadow is somewhat isolated and best reached by boat, operated by the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company (SGV).
If coming from the north, catch the boat from Brunnen to Seelisberg, the municipality where Rütli is located. Boats run every hour and the ride lasts almost 20 minutes.
If coming from the south, catch the boat from Flüelen to Rütli in Seelisberg. The boats also run on the hour and the ride lasts almost 40 minutes. For those of you who prefer shorter boat rides, take the train from Flüelen to Brunnen instead — the boat ride from Brunnen is only half as long.
Have you visited Rütli yet? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below!
- Guisan (1946). Rapport du General Guisan a l’Assemblee Federale sur le Service Actif, 1939–45. Bern, Switzerland. p. 203.