Zurich, Switzerland, is the “Gateway to Europe,” pulsating as one of the world’s busiest rail stations and the densest transportation network in the heart of the continent. It’s also the country’s financial capital, it’s the capital of German-speaking canton Zurich and it’s Switzerland’s capital of the world’s favorite feel good food.
Each day, 350,000 to 500,000 locals and international travelers pass through Zurich HB, the main train station in the city center. Here, trains, buses, and boats keep people moving to their final destinations around Europe or within Switzerland comfortably, frequently, and always on time.
A frequent traveler to Switzerland, I embrace the efficiency here that gets me from Zurich HB to Zurich Airport’s train station in 12 stress-free minutes.
The ease in getting in and out of Zurich makes for an irresistible stopover -- be it a few hours or a few days -- to take in this compact walkable metropolis that’s one of Europe’s hippest destinations and among the world’s most livable cities.
To start, inside Zurich HB is Shopville, a high-end shopping mall cleverly sandwiched between platform levels. Complete with clothing boutiques, restaurants, supermarkets, beauty services and drugstores, it’s open late every day of the year.
On this two-day stay, I exit the station, cross the short bridge towards my hotel in the romantic Aldstadt, or Old Town, then stop mid-way to catch a glimpse of iconic St. Andrews Church and St. Peters Church’s famous clock tower (the largest clock face in Europe). And I grin when I see two-story Starbucks on the edge of Old Town.
Zurich’s city center is surrounded by water, hence, its other nickname, the Water City. The labyrinthine rail yard on the “mainland” connects with the train station’s huge airy hall that straddles the River Sihl. On the other side of the small island-like land mass flows the River Limmat. At the southern tip is massive Lake Zurich. Come summertime, the city looks more like the Mediterranean.
“Badis,” Zurich’s version of Italian lidos, are scattered along the river and around the lake juxtaposing bikinis with power suits and bathhouses with office buildings. When the sun sets, badis transform into night clubs.
You know it’s a lifestyle here when office workers spend their lunch hours taking a swim in the river.
Local guide Annamaria Pal Muller helps make the most of my brief stay. On a walking tour, she updates me on the city’s coolest quarter and reacquaints me with Zurich’s quintessential landmarks like the Opera House; the world-renowned Kunsthaus museum of art; the Swiss National Museum next to the train station; the Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s world-famous shopping avenue; the cobbled streets and romantic Medieval alleyways of Old Town – and a stroll around the University of Zurich, one of Europe’s most important research institutes.
We head north of the station to explore Zurich West, the exciting rebirth of the former industrial quarter that’s now a culinary mecca, economic hub and the center of Zurich’s nightlife.
Here, Im Viadukt (German for “in the viaduct”), is the ingenious reuse of the 19th century 292-foot high railway bridge. Trendy restaurants and independent shops selling locally designed clothing, accessories and more are cleverly built into each of the stone viaduct’s 36 arches.
Nearby, colorful Markthalle Im Viadukt is home to 20-plus local food vendors, take-out counters and a stylish restaurant offering bagels and coffee, groceries, unique foods, sushi, and Swiss products.
Defining Zurich West’s skyline, Freitag Tower gives new meaning to repurposing shipping containers. Nineteen stacked metal containers create the 85-foot high “skyscraper” housing its flagship showroom of collectible waterproof messenger bags recycled from truck tarpaulins.
Steps from Freitag’s boxy architecture, we wander into bohemian Frau Gerolds Garten, an outdoor garden-restaurant-bar and popular community gathering spot. My taste buds tingle when I peek through a window of the pop-up chalet-style yurt that’s erected each winter offering warm, gooey cheese fondue and raclette, favorite Swiss comfort meals.
Back in Old Town, I meet Stephanie Greiner, impassioned founder of Xocotour Suisse, who leads me on a private one-of-a-kind chocolate tasting tour that’s decadently delicious, entertaining and educational.
Hopscotching between the legendary confectionaries -- Sprungli, Honold, and Teuscher and artisan chocolateries Dieter Meier’s Oro de Cacao and Max Chocolatiers – Greiner shares the history of chocolate and “trains” my nose to recognize aromatic spices, citrus, hazelnut, passion fruit, even roses.
Derived from the cacao bean, the fruit of the cacao tree, chocolate was first consumed as a bitter beverage for medicinal purposes by the Mayans somewhere around 600AD.
It contains properties said to lower blood pressure and the amino acid tryptophan – that makes us feel so darned happy.
So, I pay silent homage to the chocolate gods while “inhaling” Honold’s pralines and truffles, Sprungli’s signature Luxemberglis (mini macarons) and Teuscher’s Dom Perignon Truffles to Dieter Meier’s revolutionary cold extraction method that uses less sugar, and Max’s bite-size pieces made lovingly by hand and packed with flavor.
The finale, a Connoisseur Chocolate Tasting at historic Teecafe Schwarzenbach, brings it all full circle.
“High-quality chocolate is recognized by its smooth and shiny surface,” says Greiner as she unwraps more samples. “You should hear a snap when it breaks.” And don’t be so quick to chew and swallow. Let it melt in your mouth. Savor the rich flavors.
“Good chocolate melts quickly,” Greiner warns.
“But don’t worry. The rich tastes will linger…”
IF YOU GO:
Zurich Tourism: www.zuerich.com
Stopover Switzerland: This new program of Switzerland Tourism allows Swiss Air passengers transferring via Zurich to stopover a few days without additional charge before arrival at their final destination. Search: Swiss Airlines Stopover Program
Xocotour Suisse: www.xocotour.ch
My overnight accommodation: Marktgasse Hotel, www.marktgassehotel.ch
Gallery 1 (10 images)
Gallery 2 (9 images)