Lucerne (Luzern in German) and its lake lie in the heart of Switzerland, where the tops of the mountains are covered with eternal snow and their sides flanked with glaciers. We're in William Tell country now, where the seeds that led to the Swiss Confederation were sown. It was near Brunnen, in the meadow of Rutli, that the Everlasting League of 1315 was created.

Despite the presence of many small resorts in the neighborhood, Lucerne, with a population of 60,000, is the district's largest and busiest city. The lake that nurtures it is the fourth largest in Switzerland, 39km (24 miles) long and (at its broadest) 3km (2 miles) wide. Geologists refer to it as the terminal basin for the nearby glaciers. The lake is known in German as Vierwaldst├Ąttersee and in French as the Lac des Quatre Cantons. Either way, it's the lake of the four cantons: Lucerne, Uri, Unterwalden, and Schwyz (from which Switzerland derives its name).

Lucerne and its lake are among the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe, attracting more than a million overnight visitors every year, plus countless more who stop by only for the day. Paddle steamers service the many cable cars and lidos (beaches) set at the edge of the water, providing sweeping views of mountains with names like Pilatus and Rigi along the way. The region is rich in panoramas, folklore, and sports such as tobogganing, skiing, hill climbing, ice-skating, and curling. The irregular geography of the brusquely vertical limestone and granite outcroppings makes the shoreline one of the most beautiful and romantic sites in Switzerland.