Uri is also home to Altdorf, the picturesque cantonal capital where William Tell allegedly shot an apple off his son’s head. It’s marked today by colourful murals and statues in the town’s bustling platzli (plaza). His birthplace of Bürglen, just a few kilometres away, is also worth a visit and noted for its charming William Tell chapel.
In 2019, native guide Hansruedi Herger launched his own sustainable small group tour operator called The Alps By Joe. He takes guests to see the lake’s red pine forests and ibex colonies and feels that his native Uri has a special allure. “Urnersee is the most magical part of the lake and its deep green beckons you to plunge in,” he says from his home in Bürglen. “Swimming in this arm of the lake restores harmony in your body, especially after a hike.”
The deeper you go into Uri, the sunnier and more Italian it feels – a reminder that Switzerland’s sole Italian-speaking canton, Ticino, is the next stop heading south, while Italy itself is less than 100km away. Indeed, Uri remains the only canton besides Ticino where learning Italian is still mandatory in primary school. What’s more, Swiss cuisine here begins to mingle with Italian through dishes such as the creamy alplermagronen (a macaroni and cheese dish with roots in Switzerland and northern Italy) and ghackets mit hörnli (macaroni and minced meat ragù).
Tempting as it is to give in to the gravitational pull of Italy and the magnetic Roman world to the south that sculpted so much of Europe, I plant myself here on the lakeshore at the seams of these two distinctly different European cultures. Sunset comes early in Uri and the sun sinks behind the sculptural Urner Alps, electrifying the tips of mountain tops in a spectacularly pink display of alpenglühen or alpenglow.
Swiss as the scene is, it’s the moon rising over sparkling Urnersee that is a moving and fitting finish to any visit. As it peaks over the Alps and shines down on the lake’s glassy surface in a million milky shards, I regard the goodness, the tolerance and the virtue of these Alps, and my sense of the world is restored once again.