Route 16 ~ Zurich to Lucerne, over the Albis (by Albisrieden)
10 stunden = 32 ¾ English miles. A diligence daily in 7 hours.
Or, today, 3 ½ hours by bicycle and just over an hour by train, taking the same route.
The high chain of the Albis intervenes between Zurich and Lucerne, running nearly parallel with the Lake of Zurich. Two roads are carried across it.
I would take both roads on two separate rides.
1 – The most northern, which, though somewhat longer, occupies less time than the southern road, because it crosses the mountain where it is lower, as it were turning the flank of the chain, and going round its North extremity.
Ah, that sounds like the easier road to me. All good so far.
This is the road taken by the diligence, and the only one practicable for heavy carriages at present (1837). An improved line is in progress, but it does not redound to the credit of the canton that it is not further advanced, and a year or two will probably elapse before it is finished.
Bloody Zurich council, with their 1837 austerity cuts. It wasn’t until ten years later, in 1847, that Birmensdorferstrasse was finally opened, linking Wiedikon with Birmensdorf. Instead I would take the steep zig zag climb over the hill.
The northern road commences the ascent of the Albis at the village of Albisrieden, about 3 miles from Zurich, passing under the highest summit of the chain, called Hütliberg
Leaving Zurich city centre and heading away from the lake towards the Stadion Letzigrund on Badenerstrasse, home to both FC Zürich and Grasshopper Club Zürich football teams, as well as the famous Diamond League athletics Championships, it wasn’t long before I was turning off on to Albisriederstrasse which leads to the pretty village of Albisrieden.
The steep climb starts almost immediately on leaving the village, and although only 2km long, certainly has the heart rate climbing to dangerous levels at almost the same gradient.
The top of the pass, connects to the “improved line” of the Birmensdorferstrasse at the old Restaurant Waldegg with the TV tower on top of the “Hütliberg” (Uetliberg)remaining visible throughout.
Having warmed up with the 2km climb, I decided to take a brief excursion and keep on going upwards, following the even steeper 5km climb through Ringlikon and the forest path alongside the railway to the top of the mountain.
Hütliberg, 2792 ft. above the sea-level, and commanding from its top – which may be reached by a foot-path in 1 ½ hours from Zurich – an extensive view.
Indeed, “an extensive view” over the entire city centre and Lake Of Zurich rewarded me for my efforts, although the CHF2 charge to continue up the 177 stairs of the viewing platform was as steep as the road to get here.
There were crowds of tourists at the top; English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Brazilian, Indian, and a number of Swiss. It made me wonder how they had all heard of this climb and why they would choose to come here over more celebrated peaks or attractions in the city centre.
On further research I found that the modern day version of “Murray’s Handbook For Travellers In Switzerland 1838”, the equally influential “TripAdvisor’s Website For Travellers In Switzerland 2016” had it ranked as #3 in their “Things To Do In Zurich” list, with only the lake and the Old Town being rated higher.
Then again, they also have Zurich Tourist Information ranked at #8, somewhat better than the terrace at Lindenhof, the Grossmunster and the Swiss National Museum. I’d definitely stick to Murray’s tips, even if they are 180 years old.
Murray doesn’t say if he scaled the “Hütliberg” and, as his description of the view extends to merely, “extensive”, I’m taking a guess that he was probably quoting the leaflet he picked up at the #8 ranking Tourist Information.
Had he waited 40 years, he needn’t have struggled up the 1 ½ hour hike, as the Uetliberg railway line was opened in 1875 and now transports tourists directly from Zurich HB to the top of the mountain in just 20 minutes. There’s a stop along the way at Waldegg, where I started my climb, and, from there, takes just 7 minutes to reach the summit, it certainly left me trailing in its wake.
Not that an electric mountain train leaves a wake but you get my point.
The reverse route back down to Waldegg was certainly more enjoyable and arguably quicker than the train.
On the opposite descent the road reaches Bonstetten
Sadly, Murray fails to mention that the “opposite descent” doesn’t actually start at the crest of the Waldegg hill. In fact, like the cycle signs, his notes are so vague that I had to do some extensive research in my collection of antiquarian travel books to determine which way he would have travelled onwards to Bonstetten.
Looking down at the road ahead, from the top of the Uetliberg, I could see two flat valley bottoms, split apart by a long forested hill. Bonstetten was on the opposite side of this large hill and I couldn’t see an obvious route from up above, that would suitably be described as a “descent”.
The answer was eventually found in Ebel’s 1823 “Handbuch für Reisende in der Schweiz”, from which Murray had taken most of his influence, including the title of his own guide.
With hindsight, I wish that I’d gone with my original presumption that he had gone the long way around this hill, by dropping down into Birmensdorf and then joining the flat main valley road, Luzernerstrasse, towards Bonstetten and Knonau. Sadly, my research revealed that this easier route wasn’t actually introduced until 1856 and a further climb over the dreaded forest hill was required after all.
From Ebel’s Handbook, I guessed that Murray would have taken Landikonerstrasse, built in 1829, down to the riverside hamlet of Landikon, with its old wooden farmhouses. The TV tower on the Uetliberg, from whence I’d came, now confusingly in front of me once more.
Ebel states that the road from Landikon to Bonstetten passed through Wettswil am Albis, and unfortunately, that meant climbing the incredibly tough zigzagging ascent.
Given that this ascent is much harder than the climb from Albisrieden to Waldegg, you’d think he would have surely mentioned it, although, in hindsight, I actually doubted he travelled this way and guessed he’d probably taken the alternative route in his book over the higher Albis road, instead quoting what he’d read in Ebel’s guide or on TripAdvisor.
From Wettswil, the road finally drops down to Bonstetten, a beautiful old village that is packed with old buildings from Murray’s period.
ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS IN BONSTETTEN (16km or 26km):
The absolutely stunning Restaurant Löwen still stands proudly on the corner of Dorfstrasse. Its menu specialises in Sicilian cuisine and is reasonably priced although there are no longer overnight rooms available. Apparently the 1958 Swiss film “Es geschah am helllichten Tage” with Heinz Rühmann (nope, me neither) was filmed here [watch here].
Leaving Bonstetten, the road enters the valley floor…
…passing the stunning Restaurant Frohsinn at the side of the road, which, dating back to 1825, would have been there in Murray’s time.
I then headed through Hedingen…
…turned to Affoltern…
…and was met in Mettmenstetten by the alternative road over the High Albis…
…before rejoining Murray’s know how at Knonau.
There is an inn at the castle. At this place the two roads unite.
Dating back to 1525 as the seat of the Landvogts, Schloss Knonau became the council’s offices in 1816 before being sold to the village President in 1832, who presumably was involved in both the selling and buying transactions. The castle remained in the hands of his family until 1900, and they ran both the post office and Goldener Löwen guest house from the building until 1887, possibly serving John Murray a nice cold beer and stamping his postcards when he passed by.
In 1926, a doctor bought the entire castle and set up a private mental hospital and in 1998 it was bought by its current owner who converted it to private accommodation, with various rich (foreign) families living in the surrounding buildings.
The road from Knonau to Lucerne proceeds by Rümeltiken and St Wolfgang – where a good carriage-road turns off on the left to Zug and The Righi .
It’s a beautiful road through open farmland to “Rümeltiken”(Rumentikon Hagendorn), via Niederwil with its Kirche St. Mauritius, dating back to 1510 but rebuilt only ten years after Murray’s visit. The church is idyllically located in the centre of the tiny farming village, with its red, domed baroque tower roof standing out amongst the surrounding old wooden buildings.
St. Mauritius was a proper Swiss saint. Well, a proper Swiss saint who was born in ancient Egypt and was a soldier in the Roman army before eventually becoming leader of the 6,600 strong Theban legion, dispatched with orders to clear the St.Bernard Pass across Mont Blanc.
Despite offering his military allegiance to Rome, as a Christian, he refused to engage in wanton slaughter and that service to God superseded all else, including his Emperor, Maximian, and the Roman gods, whom he also refused to worship.
When Max ordered the Theban Legion to harass some local Christians, they refused. As punishment, the Roman Emperor ordered that every tenth soldier be killed, a military punishment known as decimation and possibly the scariest lottery you could ever buy a ticket for.
As Maurice and his men grew more obstinate, refusing further instructions from Rome, a second decimation was arranged before Maximian grew so impatient he ordered all the remaining members of the 6,600 unit be executed (that would be 5,346 if my maths is correct and the previous decimations had gone to plan). History doesn’t state if this was done in further rounds of ten, although I’m sure that InFront Sports in Zug would have been awarded the TV rights, with Maximums allocating 85% of the tickets to sponsors and friends of the FIFA-family.
The mass execution is said to have taken place at Agaunum – now known as Saint-Maurice d’Agaune, 240 km south in the canton of Valais; the spot now being the site of the impressive Abbey of Saint Maurice-en-Valais. However, again, this being religion, historians and researchers have struggled to find anything to confirm whether or not the story of the Theban Legion is based on truth, fact or evidence.
It was normal for members of the military in those days to follow Isis – the Egyptian god, not the Islamic State – meaning it would have been incredibly unlikely that an entire squadron would consist of Christians. Either way, the story certainly achieved its aim in attracting pilgrims to the abbey at Agaunum.
Switzerland seems to have taken the story of St.Mauritius to heart; as well as Saint Maurice-en-Valais, he has given his name to St.Moritz, as well as seven churches or altars in Aargau alone – the canton itself being given to the abbey by Henry I in return for Maurice’s lance, sword and spurs; a transaction that must have made a monk or two smirk. As well as Einsiedeln Abbey, there are six churches in his honour in Luzern, four in Solothurn, one in Appenzell and this one in Zug.
As well as being the patron saint of swordsmiths, weavers and dyers, the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden and numerous cities around the world, he is also the patron saint of the Italian army’s alpine troops, Order of Saint Maurice, Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, the Order of the Golden Fleece, and the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a historical military order of unmarried merchants in Estonia and Latvia. More importantly, he is also the patron saint of gout.
St. Maurice had been portrayed as a black African knight ever since the 12th century, however due to the developing slave trade in the mid-sixteenth Century, he suddenly enjoyed a Michael Jackson colour change, much to the approval of the SVP (Swiss People’s Party), explaining his pale complexion here in Niederwil.
The route continues across the main road at Rumentikon, passing near the Ziegelei (Brickwork) Museum, through somebody’s farmyard and an extremely steep unpaved woodland path.
Alternatively you can also head to St.Wolfgang along a brief stretch of the “good carriage-road”, heading up the hill at Kloster Heiligkreuz instead, which was only a small school during Murray’s time, with construction on the huge monastery not starting until 1862.
St.Wolfgang is a pretty little hamlet, built around the 15th Century church and popular Landgasthof Rössli Hünenberg, which dates back to the 16th Century when this was the main trade route between Zurich and Luzern. A fine view is had from both over the Reuss valley directly below.
The village is named after its Catholic church, dedicated to St. Wolfgang von Regensburg, the German priest from the swinging 930’s who studied as a child at Reichenau (Route 7). He retired as a hermit, to what is now Wolfgangsee in Austria, apparently to escape the distractions of worldly life. This was AD 994, what the bloody hell was he escaping? Facetome, 24 Hourglass News, and Tabloid Scriptures?
He was canonised in 1052 after many miracles supposedly took place at his tomb, including various noted healings from stomach aches, and he remains a patron saint of such ailments today. So who would have thought that there was a patron saint of constipation, flatulence and IBS?.
He is also the patron saint of carpenters and wood carvers, so one can only guess the disappointment on Jesus Christ’s face when he was overlooked for that gig.
Bizarrely, Murray doesn’t detail St.Wolfgang nor the Wart (or Gesellenhaus) in Hünenberg, just a few metres down the road. Built in 1684 as a courthouse it is now a restaurant and wedding venue.
The Schützenhaus shooting club opposite also dates back to 1686, whilst the adjacent Wirtschaft zum Wartstein also offers excellent dining in a historic building.
Thence it proceeds along the banks of The Reuss to Gysliker-Brücke, Dierikon, Ebikon, and passing near the monument of the Swiss Guards (Route 16), enters Lucerne.
The road drops down to Rotkreuz and follows the river through the industrial outskirts of Luzern, scattered throughout with many picturesque buildings from the early 1700’s;
and Ebikon, home to the Schindler elevator company since 1874.
Elevators had only just been introduced to coal mines in the 1830s, so you can only speculate what Murray would have made of the idea of escalators and travelators back in 1837, let alone Wolfgang von Regensburg, who was already trying to escape ‘modern life’ 850 years earlier:
“This the writer knows to be unquestionably fact; yet he must candidly add, what he also knows from observation, that the absurd conduct and unreasonable folly of travellers on these moving walkways have strengthened the spring of my disdain for my fellow human beings in a very great degree. These mechanical floors were invented by a remarkable fellow who presumed, with reasonable expectation, that they would assist in making one’s journey from A-B somewhat more expeditious, yet, despite years of research and manufacture, the annoying fuckers still decide to stand still on them!
I have even observed on many occasion, languorous travellers standing still, two abreast in some cases, so you too must also stand motionless behind them, moving slower than had you chosen to take the stairs.”
With hindsight, I can now see why St.Wolfgang von Regensburg, decided to escape ‘modern life’ in AD 994.
Leaving Schindler’s Lift behind, it’s a straight run into the city centre.
The route ends in Luzern at the famous Lion Monument, which Murray pays more attention to in Route 16.
LUZERN ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANT (51km or 61km):
Inns: Schwan – a new house, in the best situation, and good; in 1837 complaints were made that it was dear
Restaurant Schwanen above the Perosa store on Schwanenplatz, overlooks the lakewith its Cafe de Ville offering terrace seating outside and a menu that, whilst good, in 2015 complaints could still be made that it is dear. They don’t offer hotel rooms.
Balances (Waage) – an old-established house, good, clean, and moderate charges. The four daughters of the late host take the management of the establishment, and the traveller will find in it extreme civility and most excellent attendance.
The chic 4 Star gourmet Hotel de Balances on Weinmarkt dates back to 1807 as “Wirtshaus zur Waage”, and was actually refurbished and renamed in 1837, the year Murray visited; going on to host the likes of famous Irish poet George Bernard Shaw, Princess Louise of Baden and, on numerous occasions, the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. The restaurant boasts 14 Gault Millau points and is reasonably priced (5 courses for CHF 105, or 3 course lunch for CHF 45), although the rooms are no longer moderately charged, starting at CHF150.
There is a good pension overlooking the lake close to the Kapel Brücke
Nowadays, the best fit for this is the popular English pub Hotel Pickwick, where I’m sure Murray would have gone to watch Preston North End beat Notts County to be crowned Champions of the first ever Football League, had he not arrived exactly 50 years too early and exactly 100 years before the first televised game. Unlike the beer, rooms are reasonably priced from CHF 90.
Zurich to Lucerne, over the Albis (via Albisrieden) 10 stunden = 32 ¾ English miles. A diligence daily in 7 hours.
At around 50km (plus optional 10km excursion up the Uetliberg mountain), this is a short cycle, although the steep zig zag climbs out of both Albisrieden and Landikon will seriously test your fitness. The possible excursion up to Uetliberg is the only off road section and can also be done by train (although you will need to leave your bike at the station in Uitikon Waldegg). Whilst still enjoyable, it is not as interesting as the alternative over the High Albis.
0km ~ ZURICH
5km ~ ALBISRIEDEN → flat
7km ~ UITIKON (Restaurant Waldegg)170 m
Possible Excursion (you can also take the train from Uitikon Waldegg):