Emily Rose Mawson finds thrills on Europe’s highest exterior lift
“Enjoy the ride,” says the lift attendant with a glint in his eye, as he closes the door on us. Seconds later, we’re off. Chiselled limestone hurtles past, before a small opening reveals the cliff tumbling away beneath us.
“Help!” I hear myself shriek, entirely involuntarily, as the landscape gives way and our little glass lift is suddenly speeding through thin air. I grip onto the railing. Lake Lucerne is far beneath us, glistening turquoise; raging summits pierce the sky all around; there’s nothing but emptiness beneath us. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I have wings attached.
The 525ft Hammetschwand Lift, on the Burgenstock plateau in central Switzerland, is Europe’s highest exterior elevator — in other words, it’s suspended off the edge of the cliff, halfway along the two-kilometre Felsenweg rock path.
Conceived by Belle Epoque tourism entrepreneur Franz Josef Bucher more than 100 years ago, the structure carries walkers straight up, to 3,714ft above sea level.
“The lift was built so people could easily reach the top of the Burgenstock, the Hammetschwand,” explains Zita Graf-Koch from the Burgenstock Bahn AG. “The view is so breathtaking, it was worth building a glass lift.”
The Hammetschwand also saves significant amounts of time: once the fastest elevator in the world, it shoots up to the top in a little more than a minute.
I’m just beginning to acclimatise to the feeling of flying when we judder to a halt, and the magnificent panorama settles into position: views from the top stretch along the fingers of Lake Lucerne, and towards the city and Mount Pilatus.
It is easy to see what Zita meant — and why the Burgenstock was a popular retreat for the rich and famous in the 20th century; in 1954, Audrey Hepburn married Mel Ferrer at the Burgenstock Chapel, and Sophia Loren had a private villa on the mountain.
Strolling in the fresh air, I breathe deeply and take it all in. Feeling is slowly returning to my knees. Being prone to vertigo, I might not have ridden the lift if I’d known what was to come. But when it comes to taking it back down, I discover I’m raring to go.
“And?” says the lift attendant at the bottom. “That was so cool!” seems the best conclusion, as I continue along the Felsenweg with a spring in my step.