Helen Palmer (nice_cup_of_tea) wrote,
Helen Palmer

New York Times Review of Zurich

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Intro | Events | Sightseeing | Where to Stay | Where to Eat |

What's doing in Zurich? Alison Langley
Most Zürchers wish visitors would get past the clichés about Heidi, tidiness and secret bank accounts. The city has grown up. Twenty years ago it was hard to find anything but a plate of veal and oompah music. Now Zurich, the financial capital of Switzerland, has a thriving night life and an excellent array of cultural events. Although the right-wing People's Party complains about foreigners invading the country, the influx has definitely spiced up restaurant choices.

Cliché or not, everything you've heard about Swiss correctness still rings true. The cobbled streets of the 12th-century Old Town are pristine, crime remains minimal and the blue trams run reliably. Fondue, raclette and bratwurst are still the mainstays of a Swiss diet. There really is gold squirreled away in the vaults of the banks ringing Paradeplatz on the glittering Bahnhofstrasse.

There is also a hip, less conventional side to Zurich. The Barfüsser Café and Bar, Spitalgasse 14, one of Europe's oldest gay drinking establishments, serves some of the best sushi in town. And Züri West, once the industrial section, has become the in spot over the last decade, with loft living, galleries, museums, experimental theater and clubs.

Zurich is easy to navigate in a day. Visitors can hit all the major tourist points, stroll along the lakefront and still have time for window shopping along Bahnhofstrasse. To see Zurich at its best, one might spend an afternoon simply getting lost in the narrow alleyways of the old town, peeking into the tiny storefronts of jewelers, artists and antique shops on both sides of the Limmat River, which splits the town. Beyond, the Alps beckon: ski slopes like Laax and Engelberg are within easy reach.

The Opernhaus, Falkenstrasse 1, (41-1) 268-6666, fax (41-1) 268-6555, www.opernhaus.ch, where opera and ballet are performed, is the city's cultural center, and the holiday calendar is full.

Zurich's Fine Art Museum, the Kunsthaus, Heimplatz 1, (41-1) 253-8484, or www.kunsthaus.ch, The Kunsthaus is in the middle of a renovation that has already completed several rooms that house sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, who was born in Switzerland. Open Tuesday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday to Sunday till 5. Tickets are $12.50.

Four Christmas markets are held around the city. The biggest, with more than 120 stalls of ornaments, cookies and doodads, is in the main train station, presided over by a tree 50 feet tall, decorated with some 5,000 Swarovski crystal ornaments. It is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. from Friday through Dec. 24. Artisans dominate the Altstadt Market along the Niederdorfstrasse in the Old Town; open from Dec. 10 to 24. Closed Sunday.

For a bit of folk tradition, visitors can dip a cotton wick into a vat of hot, musty-smelling beeswax at the candle-dipping pavilion at Bürkliplatz, open daily until Dec. 12. A beeswax candle can take more than an hour to make; kids tend to go for the paraffin wax, which can produce one in minutes. The piped classical music, mulled wine and muted atmosphere add to the holiday mood.

A stroll on Zurich's famous Bahnhofstrasse might begin at the main train station and head in the direction of Lake Zurich. The pedestrian zone at Rennweg offers a look at the 16th- and 17th-century houses of the Old Town A hike up the steep cobblestone incline will take you to the Roman settlement, Lindenhof, the city's highest point, with the best views of the Old Town. Across the Limmat River is the funkier part of the Old Town, with lively restaurants, some X-rated theaters and alleys full of antiques shops and boutiques.

The Fraumünster, on the Münsterhofplatz, (41-1) 211-4100, is a 13th-century church remarkable for the art within. Five glass panels on the eastern side (depicting the life of Jesus, the prophets and the road to Zion, among other subjects) and the southern rosette were painted by Marc Chagall in 1970.
The Grossmünster church, on the Zwingliplatz, is imposing and austere, with a 16th-century statue of Charlemagne, credited with founding the church, in the basement. The impish-looking emperor also scowls down at the world from a perch in the south tower. The climb to the top of the tower takes your breath away, but so does the view.

The two-year-old Haus Konstruktiv, in a renovated electrical power plant at Selnaustrasse 25, (41-1) 217-7080, www.hauskonstruktiv.ch, spotlights the founders of the Concrete Art movement, a geometric art with an emphasis on line, form and color that began here. Among the artists represented are Camille Graeser, Max Bill and Verena Loewensberg. Nelson Rockefeller's dining room, designed by the Swiss artist Fritz Glarner in 1963, has been reassembled here using the original materials and is on permanent loan. Open Wednesday and Friday from noon to 6 p.m., Thursday till 8, weekends 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets $10.
The Zurich Zoo, Zürichbergstrasse 221, (41-1) 254-2500, www.masoala .ch, this year opened its latest exhibit, the Masoala Rain Forest, a Madagascan re-creation, with lemurs, tortoises and panther lizards in a domed ecosystem. Open in winter 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission $16.
Swiss Rail, www.sbb.ch, has special rates to 36 ski resorts that often include up to 30 percent reductions on rail fares and ski passes.

The Flims-Laax-Falera ski area has 137 miles of runs, three half pipes, and special runs for children. Laax is host to World Cup Snowboard competitions Nov. 28 to 30 and the Women's World Cup downhill and giant slalom races Dec. 19 to 21. The resort is just over two hours away by public transportation, including a bus that takes skiers from the train station to the lifts. Nonskiers can try the sled runs; www.alpenarena.ch

Because of its glacier, Engelberg offers year-round skiing and snowboarding. Trains leave every hour from the Zurich main station and deposit skiers almost at the foot of the lifts. The World Cup Ski Jumping competition will be held there Dec. 20 and 21; www.engelberg.ch.

Where to Stay
Chintz, stucco ceilings and fresh flowers decorate the 35-room Hotel Florhof, Florhofgasse 4, (41-1) 261-4470, fax (41-1) 261-4611, www.flor hof.ch, a charming 16th-century merchant's manor that has been renovated into a romantic guesthouse. It is centrally located, across the street from the Kunsthaus. The rooms, decorated with painted French reproductions, are spacious by Swiss standards, but the bathrooms are tiny. Doubles, $265 to $287.

Budget: The 52-room Hotel Adler, Rosengasse 10, (41-1) 266-9696, fax (41-1) 266-9669, www.hotel-adler.ch, is in a 14th-century building in the Old Town pedestrian zone. The local artist Heinz Blum painted each room with a Zurich theme when the building underwent renovation in 1997. Its restaurant, Swiss Chuchi, is a popular hangout for fondue lovers. Doubles start at $138.

The Zurich artist Hans-Christian Jenssen was commissioned to design the 23 rooms in the Hotel Altstadt, Kirchgasse 4; (41-1) 250-5353, fax (41-1) 250-5354, www.hotel-altstadt .ch. So far he has completed eight, inspired by novelists and poets, such as Yoko Tawada and Kim Kwang-kyu. Rooms contain original oil paintings by Jenssen and excerpts from the writers' works. The renovated rooms have wooden floors and smart modern furniture. Unrenovated ones have standard wood furniture and carpeting. Doubles start at $162, $198 for the renovated rooms.

Luxury: The Widder Hotel, Rennweg 7, (41-1) 224-2526, fax (41-1) 224-2424, www.widderhotel.ch, is a few steps off the Bahnhofstrasse. Its 42 rooms and 7 suites are encased in eight medieval town houses connected through a series of passages and bridges in a fusion of modern comfort and 15th-century ambience. Rooms, some of which have rooftop terraces, are individually furnished, mostly in an austere, modern style, and all include high-tech music systems. Doubles run from $475.

At the end of the Bahnhofstrasse, across from Lake Zurich, the 125-room Hotel Baur au Lac, Talstrasse 1, (41-1) 220-5020, fax (41-1) 220-5044, www.bauraulac.ch, has one of the best locations in town. The hotel offers old Europe elegance along with modern amenities that include a fitness room that looks out onto the lake and the Alps beyond. Each room is done in a traditional style with print fabrics. Doubles start at $500.

Where to Eat
It would be hard to visit Switzerland without tasting cheese.
Chäsalp, Tobelhofstrasse 236, (41-1) 260-7575, fax (41-1) 251-1181, is a chic but rustic fondue joint in a former stall on Zurichberg, one of Zurich's foothills. Traditionalists choose the moitié-moitié fondue, a mild Vacherin-based meal. The daring try the more aromatic cheeses for their fondue, which comes with bread cubes and potatoes for dunking. Lunchtime offers a mountainous view, dinner is more atmospheric. Dinner for two, about $75 with wine.

Kaufleuten, Pelikanplatz, (41-1) 225-3333, an upscale restaurant, lounge and club, has been a hot spot for decades. It's a favorite for business lunches, serving standard Swiss fare; wienerschnitzel with French fries is popular. Lunch and dinner weekdays, weekends dinner only. Kaufleuten's club offers everything from readings to jazz and disco. Dinner with wine for two, about $100.

La Salle, Schiffbaustrasse 4, (41-1) 258-7071, fax (41-1) 259-7071, is literally in a glass box inside what was once a shipbuilding factory in Züri West. Oversized chandeliers loom over tables dressed with white linens, but the atmosphere manages to be casual chic and the menu adventurous, like red vegetable curry. Lunch and dinner during the week, weekends dinner only. Dinner for two with wine, about $100. Afterward, most people head next door to Moods, (41-1) 276-8000, for live jazz.

William Tell's legendary crossbow is on display at the Zeughauskeller, Bahnhofstrasse 28a, (41-1) 211-2690, fax (41-1) 211-2670, www.zeughaus keller.ch, where you can down a beer and try rösti, a Swiss version of crunchy hash browns typically topped with an egg or fried ham, or feast on bratwursts smothered with onion sauce. Lunch and dinner served daily. Dinner for two with beer, about $35.

Hiltl, Sihlstrasse 28, (41-1) 227-7000, www.hiltl.ch, claims to be Europe's oldest vegetarian restaurant, with an extensive lunchtime salad buffet. The dinner buffet has a groaning board of Indian dishes. Colored pencils are on hand for children. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday; Sunday lunch and dinner only. Dinner for two with modest wine, under $75.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

| Intro | Events | Sightseeing | Where to Stay | Where to Eat |
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