Switzerland: A taste of Zurich, city of surprises
I am standing on the rooftop of a shop. It's not just any old rooftop, though - it's one that's been transformed into a buzzing restaurant called Rooftop Restaurant.
It's a Thursday and the place is packed to capacity. My companions and I sip delicious cocktails, or apero as they are known locally, and gaze out over the skyline, basking in the evening sunshine and waving at strangers on the street below. It's like something out of a Disney film, such is the mood of utter contentment.
Where is this excellent location? Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich.
I was surprised to discover that Zurich is a meagre two-hour flight from Dublin. As we boarded our flight with Swiss, I couldn't envision what was in store from a city that has been more traditionally known as a financial and industrial centre rather than what it has become in recent times, a city-break hotspot. Chuffed by the fact that the airline handed out their own brand of Swiss chocolate, I had a pretty good feeling about what might be in store.
After a pleasant flight, I pick up my ZurichCard - a must if staying in the city. The ZurichCard allows unlimited travel by tram, bus and train for 24-72 hours. It also entitles you to other perks, such as free admission to most Zurich's museums, some boat trips and discounts on a variety of cultural and leisure activities. In a city that can be pricey, this is money well spent.
Our lodgings, Marktgasse Hotel, is a newly-refurbished boutique hotel. Formerly an inn that dates back to 1426, it is nestled in the heart of the Old Town surrounded by quaint cobbled streets. Staying here means you're within walking distance of all key attractions with excellent restaurants and shops at every turn. Not to mention the fact the hotel's mattresses are from the same manufacturer that supplies Buckingham Palace. Trust me, you will sleep like a log. I couldn't resist the cloud-like appeal of the bed so had a quick, delicious snooze before setting out to explore the city.
Once an industrial hub renowned for its shipping enterprises; Zurich has reinvented itself. It remains the financial capital of Switzerland, but has emerged as a hugely vibrant and exciting metropolis. With more than 50 museums and over 100 galleries, you will not have an idle moment.
My interest in Zurich was heightened by the connection to one of our own literary geniuses. Zurich was a favourite with James Joyce, who honeymooned here, and found great inspiration for his writing - he wrote parts of his masterpiece Ulysses in this Swiss city. Members of the public can visit the cemetery where Joyce is laid to rest alongside his wife Nora and son Giorgio. Or while away an afternoon, by appointment, in the James Joyce Foundation library at Augustinerstrasse, tucked away in the Old Town.
It is, possibly, a lesser known fact that Zurich is a city of food, and this is what I'm here to experience. Dinner is at the Food Zurich opening party in Jelmoli, a large shopping centre in Bahnhofstrasse, a short walk from the delightful aforementioned rooftop. In typical Swiss fashion, the location of this festival is quirky. My dinner companions and I wind our way past designer handbags and perfumes, wondering where on earth this food festival could be. We descend into the basement and the foodcourt to be met by blaring music and crowds milling about. Chefs are cooking their produce, dishing it up at lightning speed. Wines are flowing, there is every type of cheese you can think of; local produce; fresh baked bread. The place is brimming with tasty bites to eat. The atmosphere is contagious. We divide and conquer in an attempt to sample all of the delicious offerings. Food artisans abound, beckoning pools of enthusiastic eaters waiting their turn, and soon our appetites are sated.
We wind our way home, negotiating the foolproof tram network with the ease of locals.
Next day, enjoying the vibe that comes as a result of excellent coffee and a sumptuous bowl of porridge, we set off to our next destination: an artisan sausage factory. Owned by Mika Lanz - a filmmaker, turned food scientist, turned butcher, with an immaculate dress sense - it epitomises the farm-to-fork mentality that is evident throughout food producers in Zurich.
Mika likes to blast hip hop as he works in his sausage factory, which is located in the basement of a church that is still in use. I am again struck by how nothing the Swiss do is predictable. His in-demand fare is stocked in many of the local restaurants, so inquire if his produce - the label is Mikas - is on the menu if you visit. All the produce is simply delicious.
Our next stop is restaurant Markthalle in Limmastrasse. Built into a viaduct, a thriving food market is not what you expect to find as trains trundle overhead. We gobble our tasty lunch before exploring all the stalls. One bakery in particular catches my eye - St Jakob Beck bakery and ice cream parlour in Viaduktstrasse. It churns out freshly baked goods every day and purposefully employs only those with disabilities. It is a unique concept and sums up the feel of this city in an instant. A city of gamechangers, movers and shakers.
Our weekend passes in a happy food-induced haze. On the Zurich food tour, which is held once a day every Friday, we discover the culinary secrets of Zurich West. This comprises a walking tour of the restaurants in the area that are particularly popular with locals.
Again there are surprises at every turn, as we learn about brewing in one location and chow down on freshly made hummus in the next, all washed down by some beautiful Swiss wine. A highlight for me, and a must-visit, is La Salle - a restaurant built into a former shipping yard with extraordinary architecture to feed the soul as you feast within a ginormous glass cube. You have to see it to believe it.
Whether it's a fine-dining experience at one of Zurich's premier hotels, such as the Dolder Grand with it's panoramic views; wandering the weekly vegetable and flower markets at Gemusebrueke; nipping up Zurich's local mountain, Uetliberg, to work your holiday indulgence off; or luxuriating in Thermal Bad spa's incredible rooftop pool - no matter what you're seeking for your holiday, you'll find your place in this city at the heart of Europe.
It's just spilling over with culture and things to do and see - and of course, most importantly, to eat.
Places to stay: Marktgasse Hotel, marktgassehotel.ch Dolder Grand, doldergrandhotel.com/en
Spa: Thermalbad & Spa, thermalbad-zuerich.ch/
Foodie hotspots: Sausage factory, mikas.ch; bakery, johnbaker.ch; vegetarian restaurant, hiltl.ch; chocolatier, laederach.com/en
For Zurich Food Tour / Street Food Festival/ Zurich Tourism
MySwitzerland.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org; for packages, trains and air tickets, email email@example.com
Swiss International Air Lines
Swiss offers up to 119 weekly flights from Dublin to Zurich.
All-inclusive fares, from €75 one-way, including all airport taxes, one piece hold luggage and hand luggage, plus meal and drink.
Swiss is happy to transport your first set of ski or snowboard equipment and boots free of charge, in addition to your standard free baggage allowance. swiss.com
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