It’s hard to imagine anyone swearing or dropping litter anywhere in Switzerland. Everything about the country exudes elegance, solidness and, well, class.
There’s something very reassuring about a place where you can rely on – barring a national disaster – the trains running to the second. And where chocolate and cheese, for goodness sake, are the national fare.
Although Switzerland’s not part of the EU, it has the air of old-school Europe. Zurich, the tourist capital, is more or less devoid of tack, and a great place to nip to for a long weekend. So I did. And here are my top tips of things to do and see in Zurich.
Find a place to stay in Zurich
I stayed at the gorgeous and friendly Marktgasse Hotel (www.marktgassehotel.ch; from £150pn). It’s a stylishly modern boutique establishment, a short walk from the lake and main train station. There’s help-yourself coffee and bowls of fruit in reception. I like to do a bit of yoga each morning; the hotel keeps a stash of (scrupulously clean of course) mats and a lovely modern library space in which to practise in private.
The breakfasts are truly sumptuous and top quality. I found it almost impossible to walk away from the unrestricted quantities of truly freshly squeezed orange juice, just-out-of-the-oven home-baked cinnamon buns, eggs any which way and exquisite coffee that in London would cost you a fortune. Extra tip: fill up on this brekkie and you might get away with no lunch. Trust me, the food in this city— everything in this city—is pricey.
Get around easily – buy a Zurich Card
A Zurich Card (from £17.50 for 24 hours), gives you unlimited access to city trams, buses and trains, as well as some boat trips and museum entry. They’re on sale at the airport and main train station, as well as many other outlets in the city.
Seek out Swiss chocolate
You may not know of this brand, but in Switzerland Laederach is highly respected. Again, not cheap (quality, not quantity, is the way to go). Its main branch near the station offers workshops (around 35 euros), where you can decorate your own goodies and watch the experts at work.
Great food markets are popping up all over the city
On Saturday mornings you’ll find a collection of lovely, small, artisan food stalls on the bridge next to the Marktgasse Hotel. The vendors are rightly proud of their fare and happy to give out samples. For a bigger indoor food market experience, have a look at the Markthalle – again, lots of producers, among whom there’s a charming English cheeseman (imagine), Michael Jones, running the British Cheese Centre. At the far end of the building is a restaurant that truly does use that day’s market ingredients in its dishes.
This former industrial area has been transformed into hipster central, buzzing with vibrant shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. One striking example is Schiffbau, a former shipyard, stunningly converted to house a theatre and upmarket, glass-walled restaurant serving modern European fare.
Follow your nose…
Coeliacs, look away, I’m afraid. If you love bread, follow your nose to John Baker at Stadelhoferstrasse 28. It produces 11 types of handmade loaf made from locally grown organic wheat that’s transformed into a bespoke grind for the bakery, which also supplies local restaurants (the boss delivers on his bike). Baking continues throughout the day so there’s a never-ending stream of freshly baked bliss. Top-notch sandwiches and pastries well worth the calories are here too.
I loved Spheres, a beautiful light-filled café, bar and bookshop (mostly in German, mind you!) that has a small stage for performances and readings. On a fine day, sit out on the lovely terrace; for duller days there’s an indoor glasshouse ‘winter’ garden area.
You’ll want to stay in this café-cum-bar-cum-bookshop for hours.
For something completely different…
Moroccan tearoom and restaurant Maison Blunt is a refreshing antidote to Swiss orderliness and ideal for Sunday brunch. It offers comfy chairs, big tables, generous portions and a relaxed atmosphere. There’s no sense of feeling as if you’re being pushed out the door in order to free up space. Share a Classic Big Breakfast (£14), which includes croissants, breads, jam, cheeses, hams and birchermuesli.
Have a drink…
At the five-star Dolder Grand Hotel, whose front lawn has the most magnificent panoramic view of Zurich, some two kilometres below. This place is full-on, off-the-scale super-luxury, but the bar menu is, comparatively speaking, bargainaceous. A cocktail, including service, is around £14.50 (cheaper than the Savoy!). Trouble is, one’s never enough, and the environment is truly gorgeous. If you ended up the worse for wear, you could always book into one of the super-suites-with service for around £12k a night.
SWISS runs up to 119 weekly flights from UK and Irish airports to Zurich. All-inclusive fares start from £99 return. For information visit swiss.com or call 0345 601 0956.