The Gastronomic Allure of Zurich, Switzerland
While we are proudly nocturnal, we nonetheless found ourselves oddly and intoxicatingly energized on a recent morning - well before eight o’clock. Imagine our surprise, but there we were, atop the highest hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, on the 32nd floor - swimming in an infinity pool where the water is always kept at a bathlike temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
No one else was swimming at that hour - and every time our head came above water, we were nearly overwhelmed by the breathtaking views of Zurich and the snow-crested Swiss Alps. And right then, perhaps more than ever before, we understood why it was that Maria von Trapp broke into song as she crossed the Alps. Sing out, Maria; welcome to Switzerland!
Located in the heart of Europe, on the northern shores of Lake Zurich, Zurich was originally settled during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages - making it more than 7,000 years old. Currently, the largest city in Switzerland (with nearly 400,000 people), Zurich has been designated the city with the best quality of life in the world - for seven years in a row. A world leader in attempting to salvage the global climate, Zurich is also the wealthiest city in Europe - and one of the few world cities where a plurality of its citizens profess no faith or religion.
So there it is then, the recipe for civic happiness: concern for the environment, a healthy skepticism for theology - and money in the pocket.
With over fifty museums and more than 100 art galleries, Zurich is, for many, the cultural capital of Switzerland (discuss this proposition with a citizen of Basel - merely for argument’s sake). The birthplace of the Dada art movement (with its emphasis on anti-war politics), Zurich has been, for centuries, the home for writers, composers, and artists such as Mozart, Goethe, Lenin, and Thomas Mann, all of whom worked and created in Zurich. Currently, Zurich holds one of the world’s largest collections of works of Alberto Giacometti, as well as the well-loved windows by Marc Chagall at the Fraumunster.
Some of Zurich’s historic focus on culture is, no doubt, attributable to the artisans’ guilds that influenced the city’s development from the 14th to the 18th centuries. For more than four hundred years, Zurich was controlled by various professional guilds comprised of vintners, tavern owners, saddlers, painters, and other artisans’ associations. More interesting, at least from a gastronomic perspective, is that many of those guild houses are now restaurants, affording one of the best ways to discover Zurich: through its food.
One afternoon, for example, we stopped by the Confiserie Sprungli on Paradeplatz, where ladies lunch on macaroons in the 175-year-old splendor of this world-known confiserie. Later, we wandered into Cafe Schober, perfect for pastries and coffee on a chilly afternoon - and where the sumptuous rooms beg for a clandestine tryst.
Late in the afternoon, strolling through Old Town Zurich, every shadowy doorway seems a portal into a romantic past - which was a fantasy further fueled by a boat ride on the river Limmat out into Lake Zurich for an idyllic meal at LakeSide on the Gold Coast of the lake.
It is from this picturesque setting that you might consider Zurich and its charms - and better understand why Mozart, Mann, and Goethe succumbed to its salutary pleasures.
For a country roughly the size of the state of Maryland, Switzerland has always held a great deal of allure - and specifically for Americans. Charlie Chaplin settled in Switzerland after being demonized by American demagoguery. And from where we were seated on the summer terrace at LakeSide, we were certain we could make out Tina Turner’s estate on the Gold Coast of Lake Zurich.
Perhaps everyone feels better in Zurich. With more than 40 swimming facilities, Zurich has the highest density of public bathing areas in the world, nearly half of them in the open air, on the lake, or along the river. And the water gushing from Zurich’s more than 1,200 fountains is some of the cleanest in the world - and completely refreshing to drink at any time of year.
All these attributes swam through our head as we churned through the water, swimming our early morning laps atop Zurich’s highest hotel - with the Alps appearing to be but an arm’s length away. And we remembered then how it was to enter Zurich from the airport: we’d boarded a train and, heading into a tunnel toward the city center, we were suddenly greeted by the sound of an ethereal choir piped in on the train’s speakers. We looked around to see who else might be hearing it - and we were not alone. Nor were we alone in smiling when the choir segued into a chorus of cows mooing.
Ah, Switzerland! Ah, Zurich! It’s the land of Heidi, and Swiss bank accounts, and where you eat at the continent’s oldest vegetarian restaurant while listening to Curtis Mayfield singing the theme from "Superfly," and where twenty-one Nobel Prize winners co-exist with goats grazing in a field. What a smorgasbord of life’s bounty: it’s small wonder that people are so happy.
(Feature continues on next pages: What to Do, Where to Drink, Where to Eat, Where to Shop, Where to Stay...)