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Of all the resort towns on the lake, BRUNNEN is perhaps most dramatically located, snug in a right-angled corner of the shore between the crests of the Rigi and the scarps of the Fronalpstock. Vistas from its jetty are stupendous, looking the length of the Urnersee south to the snowy peaks around the Gotthard; directly across to the misty cliffs of Seelisberg, with the Uri-Rotstock and Titlis behind; and east the length of the Vierwaldstättersee to far-distant Luzern. Brunnen basks at the head of a wind tunnel which draws the warm Föhn wind north from the Mediterranean, frequently turning the Urnersee choppy and stormy – rapidly fluctuating weather conditions mean that it’s not unknown to look south to glorious sunshine on the high Alps and east to pelting rain over Luzern. Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria took a real shine to Brunnen in 1865 during a stay, and would reputedly order his boatmen to row him out at midnight into the middle of the glassy lake with a team of alphorn-blowers, to then spend the small hours revelling in the mournful, ethereal sound of the alphorn echoing beneath the silhouetted mountains all around.
The easiest excursion from Brunnen is to the Urmiberg peak nearby (1140m; www.marktkreisel.ch/urmiberg) – this is one not to be missed, with stunning views both on the way up in the tiny cable-car and from the summit itself. Hiking trails from the top include a steep path back down to Brunnen (an hour and a half; a gentler descent adds an hour), and other trails down to Gersau or Goldau (both three hours). There’s a summit restaurant, and also the opportunity (for Fr.150) to leap off into space on a tandem paragliding flight, courtesy of the Brunnen-based adventure operator Touch And Go, Parkstrasse 14 (041/820 54 31, www.paragliding.ch).
Brunnen’s train station is set back from the lakeshore jetty, about ten minutes’ walk inland on the main Bahnhofstrasse – you should allow plenty of time if you’re switching from a boat to a train, or vice versa. Before you get to the station, you’ll pass the tourist office, 150m from the jetty at Bahnhofstrasse 32 (Mon–Fri 8.30am–noon & 1.30–6pm; April–Sept also Sat 9am–noon; 041/825 00 40) – they can help you out with information for the whole area, including Schwyz (which only has a tiny information counter).
There are plenty of places to stay. Two campsites are on the western side of the Muota river, near the Urmiberg cable-car: Hopfreben (041/820 18 73) and Urmiberg (041/820 33 27). The best value of the lakeview hotels is Bellevue (041/820 13 18, fax 820 38 89), with stylishly modern rooms behind their ornate wrought-iron balconies. On the main street in the village is the charming seventeenth-century Weisses Rössli (041/820 10 22, fax 820 11 22; b–c), Ludwig’s old haunt, with comfortably traditional rooms, an excellent restaurant – with quality Swiss cuisine for Fr.25 or so – and a truly splendid Royal Chamber decked out in the Bavarian colours of white and blue with plenty of gold trim. On a quiet road beside the stream is the Gotthard (041/825 40 60, fax 825 40 61; b), a simple place set in its own gardens, while the National is an old roadhouse close to the station (041/820 18 78; a), with a choice of spartan en-suite and shared-bath rooms. The Brunnerhof on Kapellplatz in the centre, as well as offering some rooms, has stomach-filling menus for under Fr.20; both it and the Park restaurant further back inland offer veggie dishes. There’s a handful of lively café-bars in the village, including the popular Dodo on Bahnhofstrasse, and Mezcalito on the lakefront Axenstrasse, with a page of different cocktails and pricey food at Fr.30 and up.
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