Zurich is an underrated city. Though not as romantic as many European cities, the Old Town section is rife with gorgeous historic buildings, winding cobblestone streets lined with chic boutiques, flanking both sides of the Limmat River on the northwest tip of Lake Zurich. It’s a scenic, walkable setting. Having been to most of Switzerland’s cities from Geneva to Lucerne, Zurich is easily its most cosmopolitan.
Though I only had 24 hours in Zurich coming down from the Alps on my way home to San Fran, I found myself longing for more time here. I similarly spent a day here during my first visit to Europe back in 1999. It’s clearly got a strong dining scene, an emerging artisanal cocktail movement, plenty of history and unique sights, proven by the riches stumbled upon in merely 24 hours.
SLEEP: My favorite hotel stay during 2013 fall travels in Europe through four different countries was Zurich’s 25hours Hotel Zurich West (they have a few other hotels in German cities). Granted, I questioned my destination when we pulled up to what looked like a corporate office building surrounded by office highrises, freeways, wide roads – very American and sparse. But upon entering, it’s a hip haven for cosmopolitan travelers. Additionally, the convenient Zurich metro/train picks up just outside the hotel, an easy, 10-15 minute ride to Old Town.
The hotel clientele skews young, attracted by its mid-century-meets-modern style designed by Alfredo Haeberli. There’s ping pong in the lobby, Mini Cooper toy cars in rooms (they have a Mini-Cooper partnership, offering rides around the city in red Minis), and sparse, colorful rooms with cheeky phrases on pillows and soaps. They do a lovely breakfast (included) and the young staff, as cool as the hotel is, are helpful and attentive.
DINING: Zurich West, home to my hotel and Hotel Rivington & Sons (below), is also where one Michelin-starred restaurant Clouds sits on the top 36th floor of Switzerland’s tallest building, Prime Tower. In a building packed with businesses, Clouds’ glass walls gaze out over the city, with the Alps viewable during the day.
Clouds is pricey – easily a couple hundred Euro per person with wine, but the dishes are inventive and delectable, worthy of that Michelin star. Lush Iberico ham from Spain comes out as a starter, while the sommelier recommends stunning Swiss and Austrian wines we might not see in the States. With Zurich sparkling below, Clouds is a memorable Zurich meal.
BAKERY: Peclard is a dream of a bakery/cafe. Yes, the front patio is, oh-so European. The multi-floored cafe with wildly different rooms is enchanting. The low-ceilinged, wood rafter and red velvet-lined room with mismatched chairs and settees is nothing short of seductive.
What “seals the deal” is fantastic Paris-by-way-of-Switzerland pastries and menu items, including idyllic quiches and crepes. In the midst of perfect croissants and macarons, they bake a mean apfelstrudel (apple strudel) in keeping with the location.
Hotel Rivington & Sons (in a hip, Zurich West highrise that houses Clouds) exemplifies the rising Zurich scene with small spirits brands alongside big names, extensive classic cocktails and a hidden upstairs bar that feels like 1930’s-meets-hunting-lodge (animal heads lining the hallway), given a coating of modern, dimly lit chic. Bartenders are friendly and laid back, while New York is the stated bar inspiration, proven by classic American tunes playing in the background.
SPIRITS: If you can ignore the stern, schoolteacher-like shopkeeper I stumbled across (who clearly can’t discern the real spirits aficionados in her shop) in Fine & More, next door to Peclard, you’ll find a wonder of a shop lined with carafes with taps. Purchase refillable bottles of edelbrande (brandy and fruit brandies), grappa, liquors, Calvados, whiskies.
Down a quiet alley on the posh West side of the Limmat River is Scot & Scotch, a charming whisky shop ideal for the Scotch and Japanese whisky lover.
LOCAL POPCORN: I got hooked on local gourmet popcorn, Snackolos, this visit, particularly a tart sour cream and a sweet, Chinese 5 spice-esque star anise.