City Slicker: How Zurich got creative
This gateway to Switzerland's ski slopes is embracing all things creative. Ian McCurrach finds out what to see and do, old and new
Sunday 14 December 2008
For ski fans, Zurich's position in central Switzerland makes it one of the best gateways to some the country's finest ski resorts, such as Davos and Klosters, plus those of western Austria and northern Italy.
But this city is worth a visit in its own right. For years Zurich suffered the reputation of being the boring home of stuffy bankers with financial muscle. Now that's all changed. Little Switzerland's largest city has undergone a creative revolution.
Some of the world's leading architects, including Santiago Calatrava and Norman Foster, have built major projects here, such as the Bahnhof Stadelhofen tram station and the recently reopened Dolder Grand Hotel. And the city is now home to a community of young fashion designers, who have set up small boutiques and concept stores.
As of last year, Zurich is also home to trend-setting Google's European engineering headquarters. They may be engineers, but the Zooglers, as they are called locally, are the leading techy talent of their generation. And they seem to love their new home: one Zoogler was recently quoted as saying: "Zurich has all the sophistication of a big city without the dirt and the crime."
The international A-gay set generally acts as a barometer of what's hot, and Zurich is the gay capital of Switzerland. But there is plenty for all persuasions, from traditional old-world-charm-must-see sights such as the cerulean lake, to swish new restaurants, bars and clubs.
And if Christmas shopping is still on your mind, 160-plus stalls are currently doing swift business at the ShopVille-RailCity inside Zurich Hauptbahnhof (the main railway station). Ride the festive carousel and swing by the Marli tent for children's activities. Then make for the historic old town's Christmas market along Niederdorf and Spitalgasse streets and around Hirschenplatz. No wonder 'Wallpaper*' magazine recently named Zurich "Europe's trendiest and most popular city".
Being wowed by the contemporary and colourful stained glass windows at the Fraumünster abbey ( www.fraumuenster.ch) Although the original building dates back to 853, its crowning glories are the 1945 windows by Alberto Giacometti and Marc Chagall's two stunners installed in 1970 and 1978 respectively.
Viewing the significant works by Van Gogh, Munch and Picasso on the well-hung walls of the Kunsthaus (www.kunsthaus.ch) gallery. Look out for other big names on show here, including Rothko, Bacon and Twombly.
Taking in the Grossmünster church ( www.grossmuenster.ch) with its distinctive twin spires that dominate Zurich's pretty skyline.
Splashing your cash or stretching the plastic in the designer stores on Bahnhofstrasse ( www.bahnhofstrasse-zuerich.ch).
Booking a performance at Zurich's Opera House ( www.opernhaus.ch), which has been playing to packed houses since the former artistic director of La Scala, Alexander Pereira, took over the helm. Future delights include Wagner's 'The Valkyrie' and Verdi's 'Rigoletto'.
Jumping aboard a stately paddle-steamer and cruising the lake, looking out for the soaring snow-capped mountains in the distance. Boats leave hourly from the Bürkliplatz at the end of the main shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse.
Most guidebooks make believe that Zurich-West is still where it's at. But that was yesterday. Savvy Zurichers now favour its neighbouring district, Kreis 4, a hotbed of up-and-coming young artists' galleries, swanky Shoreditch-style boutiques and restaurants, bars and clubs that really rock. Check out Markant ( www.markant.ch) for trendsetting menswear, Tran Hin Phu ( www.tranhinphu.com ) for women's and menswear, accessories and jewellery, Zwei 25 ( www.zwei25.ch) for minimalist furniture, and Individum ( www.individum.ch) for vintage design furniture and fashion.
To see the best of the city you need to pound its beat. A pair of modish shoes is therefore a must. This boutique has a glittering array of affordable footwear sourced worldwide with prices kept sensibly low, unlike many of the killer heels in the women's range. Sensible flatties are on sale for both men and women. Glam Shoes also has a wide selection of new designer and vintage fashion items ranging from frocks to luggage. If you ask kindly, the friendly staff will even make you a cup of tea served in vintage crockery while browsing.
When is something old new? When it's in Zurich. In the spirit of reinvention, cunning chef Matthius Hunziker has taken stuffy old haunt Jdaburg (say eye-da-burg) and turned it into the current culinary hot spot. The property is secreted off the tourist track in the Jdaplatz neighbourhood. For starters, you can't beat the crisp white new look of the old establishment. Hunziker's tasty dishes include gravadlax, roast zander with gnocchi, followed by melt-in-the-mouth chocolate mousse. There are only 40 covers so booking ahead is essential.
The Dolder Grand
Another reinvention is the space-age look of this other old city favourite (above). Sweep up the curving driveway of the Dolder Grand, preferably in one of the hotel's new fleet of sleek black Mercedes S Class limos, and you can behold the familiar old turreted chateau lovingly restored to its original exterior. Plus there are two massive new "intelligent build" aesthetic extension wings courtesy of Foster and Partners and interior architects United Designers. The extension wings are futuristic with spacious, luxe-conscious interiors and a massive 4,000 sq m spa – 007 would look perfectly at home here, especially necking a martini in the darkly lit pencil-chandelier bar. To move with the cocktail shakers in this joint you need to dress to thrill. Live DJs turn the tables from Thursday to Sunday. Doubles from £287 per room, per night, room only.
Insider's secret: Juliana Kara
"In chilly winter afternoons I love lounging with friends at Café Schober, a flower-fest of a traditional tearoom in the old town," says model, stylist and local fashionista, Juliana Kara. "Their piping-hot chocolate and delicate patisserie are beyond compare."
How to get there
EasyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) offers return flights to Zurich from £54.
Zurich Tourism ( www.zuerich.com ).
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