Charm & Chic
7 June 2015
Switzerland's largest metropolis, Zurich is a dynamic blend of medieval enchantment and modern industrial style, writes Tatyana Leonov.
The cobblestone laneways coil throughout the old town, each one more picturesque than the one before. I stroll past quaint chocolate shops overflowing with hand-made delights, kitsch stores selling ornate homewares and the occasional luxury boutique crammed with designer apparel.
Each step brings a new discovery and I feel like an early explorer as I Iose track of time meandering along scenic walkways and passing medieval houses, majestic churches, museums ... and countless more chocolate shops.
The old town is the historic heart of Zurich and whichever way I wanderI eventually end the day at the Limmat River, where I always pause to takein the scene. Zurich is exceptionally beautiful come sunset, when the last glimmering rays of the day bounce across the roofs of the city, flickering for the final time as they catch the unmistakable twin towers of Grossmünster Church, one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks.
This 12th-century Romanesque church is one of Zurich’s three main places of worship. Although much of the interior has been stripped of its medieval adornments, the features that remain offer enough to gauge what it might have looked like in its former glory.
The 12 colourful stained-glass windows are a recent addition by German artist Sigmar Polke (they were completed in 2009) and apart from adding a burst of colour to an otherwise beige-and-grey interior scheme, they have fostered the relationship between art and church.
However, the stained-glass windows most people come to see are at another Zurich landmark, the Fraumünster Church. Eminent artist Marc Chagall crafted the five windows, which were installed in 1970, and visitors travel far and wide to appreciate them.
The first thing I notice is the vibrancy of their colours. The brilliant red, orange, green and blue hues bathe the chapel in a dazzling spectrum of light, and like everyone else in the rather small church I just stare and marvel.
When not gawking at striking ancient buildings dotted through the old town or lingering at the river, I take to strolling along the Bahnhofstrasse for some serious window shopping.
Zurich’s main shopping promenade is one of the most fashionable – and pricey – streets in the world, home to luxury brands such as Hermès, Bulgari, Gucci, Armani, Prada and Rolex. Although I don’t purchase anything (this time), I enjoy watching people do their thing, noting that most of them, like me, are window shopping.
For people-watching of a different variety, I head to Zurich’s District 5, also known as Zurich West. Just a hop and a skip away from the old town (or a quick tram ride, if working off excess chocolate is not of importance), this pulsating quarter beckons trendsetters and cultural connoisseurs.
Here, friends discuss eco-design developments while casually sipping organic almond milk mochas, edgy- looking families pedal past on pastel- coloured bikes, and hipsters in thick, black-rimmed glasses talk politics deep into the night.
The once-industrial district is going through a cultural renaissance and entering this world is like stepping onto a cool movie set – one where art, design and gastronomy take centre stage.
One of the best places to sample the city’s culinary offerings is at Les Halles, one of several perennially busy bar- cafe-restaurants found inside a formerly neglected factory building.
In Zurich, many of the best restaurants and shops are housed inside buildings that were once something else, which serves to underline the changes that have occurred in the city in recent years. These days, many of the cafes, restaurants, shops and bars are eccentrically furnished, with all kinds of eclectic items scattered throughout. I eat my mussels and fries (one of the most popular choices at Les Halles) slowly to allow myself time to take in the quirky surrounds.
To fit in with the locals, just a little, I head to the iconic Freitag store for a bag purchase (what Gucci is to Italians, Freitag is to the Swiss). Unlike many of the other shops in the area, the building in which it is housed is comparatively new. In fact, the flagship store is built from shipping containers, a nod to the innovative design of the bags.
The enterprise is a result of two graphic designers who came together in 1993 to create sturdy, waterproof bags that would allow them to transport their artworks without damage. They made the classic Freitag messenger bag from recycled truck tarpaulins and today each of the company’s hundreds of designs is equally resourceful, utilising materials such as car seatbelts and discarded bike fragments, while other recycled paraphernalia is used for the clips and zips.
With my stylish new bag I fit right in and have no qualms about enjoying a pre-performance drink at the Schiffbau auditorium, the younger and edgier sister of Schauspielhaus, which is one of Zurich’s main theatres.
Schiffbau comprises a jazz venue (Moods), a bar (Nietturm) and a restaurant (LaSalle) and is housed in an industrial building used for constructing ships up until 1992. The clean-lined, minimalistic interior, teamed with a polished wine list, makes for an ultra- sophisticated ambience, and with my Freitag bag casually thrown across my shoulder I saunter in and take a seat at the bar amid the fashionable crowd.
Where to stay: In the city centre, the luxurious Baurau Lac (bauraulac.ch) is located in its own park a short walk from Bahnhofstrasse. Many rooms come with lovely vistas of Lake Zurich and the Alps. Zurich West calls for a trendy hostelry and 25hours Hotel Zurich West (25hours-hotels.com) is a funky fusion of art and design flair.
What to wear: Make your dress code casual-chic to fit in with a trendy crowd.
What to eat: Swiss chocolate. For something more substantial, try potato rösti.
Essential souvenir: A Swiss-made watch or an army knife.
Essential reading: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum.
More information: myswitzerland.com.