A Guide to Weggis, Switzerland, by Ravinia President Welz Kauffman

MOUNTAIN DO: Enjoy a restorative retreat for culture lovers

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A lakeside hamlet in Weggis, Switzerland
Recreation abounds in the lakeside hamlet
 

DESTINATION Weggis, Switzerland
DISTANCE FROM CHICAGO 4,400 miles

OUR GUIDE Welz Kauffman, president and CEO of Ravinia
WHAT HE LOVES ABOUT WEGGIS The clean, crisp air

The cobblestone streets of Weggis, Switzerland, aren’t generally bustling with the starry roster of maestros that makes Lucerne the annual mecca for upward of 120,000 festivalgoers. The capital of a 17-town area, Lucerne is the district’s major draw, naturally, since it hosts three of the classical music world’s most revered festivals; the largest and oldest—the summer festival—runs this year from August 10 through September 18. But Weggis, a 45-minute ferry ride away, is no less alluring, says Welz Kauffman, the president and CEO of Ravinia in Highland Park.

In a country known as a skier’s paradise, Weggis sits on a thumb-shaped promontory in a zone where mild temperatures allow olive trees to thrive. If you want a panoramic view of greenery reaching toward white-dusted peaks, you can ride a cable car dangling 4,000 feet above Lake Lucerne. If you prefer to earn the dizzying view, you can hike up hundreds of miles of trails. You can also bask in the town’s rich artistic heritage. Franz Liszt did much of his composing there. Mark Twain famously explored Weggis’s Mount Rigi during the summer of 1878, eventually extolling the peak’s beauty in his travel memoir A Tramp Abroad.

“A century ago, people came to Weggis for health reasons, to take the waters,” Kauffman says, referring to the natural mineral baths. “They still do. The air, the water, the mountains—everything there just feels so healthy.” Today, the ancient town, which dates to the ninth century, offers resorts, spas, and top-flight restaurants. Yet for all its posh modern amenities, Weggis remains genuinely bucolic, thanks in large part to a moratorium on building along the water. From the Zurich airport, the taxi ride to the lake district takes about an hour. “Between the airport and the lake, my head completely clears,” says Kauffman, 50, who has visited Weggis four times since 2006. “I become more open to the kind of contemplative thinking that Chicago, much as I love it, doesn’t always allow.”

Development has been halted along the lake, but several homes still dot the waterside landscape. Among them: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s summer villa, now occupied part-time by Alexander Rachmaninoff, the grandson of the legendary Russian composer. In Weggis, he oversees the Rachmaninoff Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports concerts and musical education around the world—including the all-Rachmaninoff programs in Highland Park. (This year’s Ravinia events are slated for July 21 and September 7.) In 2006, Kauffman, while attending a performance in Geneva, received an invitation from Rachmaninoff to meet in Weggis.

 

Photograph: Panoramic Images

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