I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Zürich before my recent mini-break.
Thanks to its reputation as a business hub and millionaire’s tax haven I expected lots of suits and extravagant jewels on my recent trip there, but my visit proved that you don’t have to carry a briefcase or drive a Formula One car to make the most of its bounty.
This is a city with a real heart. It offers cobbled streets dotted with boutiques and bars plus open-air flea markets selling Fifties furniture on Lake Zürich (which you can swim in, skate on or boat across depending on the time of year). The city looks like a giant chocolate box image of Christmas and, thanks to the locals’ penchant for schnapps and its thriving nightlife, Zürich is now a New Year destination.
The trend for feet-friendly biker boots suits Zürich down to the ground; it’s a city to luxuriate in when walking around. From the windows of Hermès and Vuitton along Bahnhofstrasse (the city’s version of Bond Street) to the bar of The Dolder Grand hotel (lit by hundreds of suspended candles); the best thing about being somewhere so cold is having an excuse to hide in the warmth.
And if you want to prolong that Christmas feeling and start 2012 in luxurious style, the Dolder Grand hotel is the place to stay – a luxurious hilltop haven set high above the city resembling a Walt Disney castle, complete with turrets, balconies and ballrooms. Thankfully it also boasts some rather adult charm too. I stayed in a superior suite (there are 173 in total), which was the size of an apartment with views of the city and canopy of lush trees below. Esteemed architects Foster + Partners gave the hotel a facelift in 2008 and the Bavarian turrets now sit next to the hotel’s new wings (above the 4,000sq-metre underground spa).
Why it’s hot
No visit would be complete without a quick train ride to Zürich-West; a vast expanse of ex-industrial space that’s been developed into an arty hub packed with designers, warehouse spaces turned tea shops and a nine-storey Freitag shop made entirely from shipping containers. It’s edgy, chic and has that bohemian ‘anything could happen’ atmosphere which east London and Berlin had 10 years ago. While you’re there, try Rosso, a pizza restaurant in a converted warehouse and investigate the contemporary art galleries on Limmatstrasse.
Eating and drinking
The jewel in the Dolder Grand’s palatial crown is undoubtedly The Restaurant, chef Heiko Nieder’s two Michelin-star restaurant. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the name. Even the bread and butter (with six types of bread and four types of butter) were complex. Highlights were octopus with lemon ice cream, beef with cinnamon and potato foam and rhubarb cake; a dessert with candied rhubarb cubes, marshmallow and rice paper crisps. Also try Haus Hiltl , a vegetarian restaurant and bastion of the Zürich restaurant scene for over 100 years. Mingle with the locals at Mère Catherine in the old town or try the best hot chocolate at Sprüngli, specialising in Luxemburgerli – native Swiss confectionery which look like mini macaroons.
Just five minutes’ walk from the Dolder Grand is its own private ice rink, one of the largest in Europe and a real beauty spot. On New Year’s Eve, the fireworks over Lake Zürich will be the perfect way to bring in 2012