Switzerland’s largest city emerges from a cocoon of conservatism as a hipster capital for the 21st century.
Switzerland has been in the news for decades thanks to international conferences, natural beauty, and celebrity residents, yet like so many of the famous people who call the country home, it remains a nation superficially familiar to many but well known by few. This is especially true of Zurich, the country’s largest city.
Zurich is undergoing a startling transformation as one of Europe’s most vibrant cities. Just ask Corine Mauch, Zurich’s mayor who has led the city since 2009. Shirking the introspection of past generations, today’s young Swiss are worldly, cosmopolitan citizens who value their good luck in living in a city with a quality of life annually ranked as the highest in the world.
Then again, Zurich has always been at the forefront of the good life. From its time in the 16th century when the silk industry made the city rich thanks to the quality of textiles produced here, Zurich has seen its fortunes rise over the centuries. It remains one of the most important financial centres in the world, but, not unlike the current experience of Singapore, a telephoto focus on money has widened to a panoramic understanding that happy lives and financial prudence are not mutually exclusive.
The Best Of Old Zurich
Unsurprising given the amount of wealth in the country, Zurich’s major museums are endowed with impressive collections, however unsung they may be on the international arts scene. The Zurich Kunsthaus is a splendid repository of Swiss and international art; virtually unknown outside the country, the works of artists Ferdinand Hodler and Giovanni Segantini are unique reflections of Swiss culture, more fully evident in the vast collections of the newly refurbished Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum), the country’s foremost institution of Swiss history. Displays at the evocative Museum Rietberg stimulate nearly as much excitement as the displays of chocolates, cakes, and pastries in the windows of Sprüngli’s flagship boutique on Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s famous shopping street.
In a country renowned for its hospitality and hotel schools, it comes as no surprise that Zurich’s hotel scene is peppered with several outstanding properties where well-heeled guests feel at home. The sumptuous Dolder Grand opened its doors in 1899, but time had not been kind to this landmark property on a hill above Zurich. With great fanfare and a revamp by no less a starchitect than Sir Norman Foster, The Dolder was reborn several years ago as a deluxe spa resort with style and grace to match its privileged setting.
Renovation work started from the bottom, literally. The earth around the base of the existing building was removed, leaving the hotel resembling an island floating on a sea of air. A billion dollars later, the landscapes curve gracefully around the restored original building and Foster’s Spa and Garden Wings. The Dolder offers a type of casual luxury popular with young Europeans cashed up from their business ventures; suits, ties and gowns are far outnumbered by polo shirts in a range of pastels.
Widder Hotel is Zurich’s best-kept open secret. This remarkable property exudes a type of class and sophistication appealing to business travellers, design mavens, and affluent shoppers. Stylish interiors by Swiss designer Tilla Teus characterise the hotel’s charming blend of traditional architecture and contemporary design. Widder is not a single building but rather an aggregate of nine historic houses in the centre of Zurich’s atmospheric Old Town. Every room at Widder is unique, some showcasing the original architectural details such as exposed beams, impressive frescoes, and decorative stencils while others are thoroughly contemporary in style, with Modernist furniture and expansive spaces culminating in the stunning penthouse suite which has a private rooftop terrace for taking in the cityscape in total privacy.
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