I’ve been in Zurich for less than an hour and am talking about Tina Turner for the third time. I have so far met three different people, and each has told me the 80-year-singer has a house here, and goes shopping without bodyguards because it’s so safe.
Clearly she’s a big deal in these parts, but that isn’t my only surprise on this weekend break in Switzerland’s largest city.
Switzerland isn’t a place I thought of visiting before, believing it was only for skiers and hugely expensive – which it is. But there’s a captivating charm here that’s worth exploring.
Known as the financial capital, Zurich has a great transport system and is impeccably clean. The city centre’s main shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse, links the train station to beautiful Lake Zurich, where people swim in the summer. The closer to the lake, the more expensive the shops and, minutes after climbing off the public boat, I suck in the sights of Dolce & Gabbana, Chloe and Tiffany.
As you continue into the city, there are designer labels around every twist and turn.
I explore the views from Lindenhof, a tree-covered park, looking out over the River Limmat. Green spires, church domes and colourful facades flank the double-towered Grossmunster church, the technical school where Einstein studied, and the university.
Back in Zurich’s centre, I arrive at the squares. My favourite is Munsterhof, which gets lit up for a Christmas market. It’s easy to forget how delicious Swiss chocolate is, but this is, of course, home to Lindt. And the Luxemburgerli mini macarons at Spruengli are sublime. They’re bite-sized and beautiful, but not cheap at 1.50 CHF (£1.20) each.
Swanky department store Globus is worth a wander, too. Homemade pasta, stunning breads and delicacies are yours, if you can afford it. A tiny pot of olives costs 7 CHF (£5.60) and a generous serving of dried mango is 25 (£20).
Art lovers can amble around the 100-odd galleries here, and you can even take a seat in Zurich’s first coffee shop in the edgier old town. It’s here, in Swiss Chuchi, I taste my first Swiss fondue. We opt for the Moitie-Moitie fondue, into which we dunk chunks of rustic bread and boiled potatoes, and wash it all down with a Turbinen Brau Start – a zesty wheat beer from Zurich (the beer is so good here), though we should apparently be drinking white wine with it.
For vegetable lovers, a reservation at Haus Hiltl restaurant is a must. Founded in 1898 and managed by the Hiltl family since 1904, it’s the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world. It is renowned for its huge a la carte selection, and the buffet, where you can fill up your plate to be charged by weight – 5.30 CHF/£4.29 per 100g, or all you can eat for 59 CHF/£47.70 – starters, mains and desserts.
Switzerland breeds outdoorsy types, and five miles from Zurich city centre, we head for a hike. We hop on a cable car from Adliswil Luftseilbahnstation (free with the Zurich Card) and make our way up the mountainside. It takes about five minutes to Felsenegg and, from there, you can walk the trail to Uetliberg.
There are uphills and downhills, but the track is easy to follow. It takes an hour and a half, and at the end you can climb the steep steps and reward yourself with a Swiss beer and the most amazing view.
After a day of exploring, the Alex Hotel is a beautiful bolthole. With 44 rooms, set on Lake Zurich, it’s 20 minutes from the city centre and an hour from the ski slopes.
The small but perfectly formed spa houses a sauna and steam room, a tiny infinity pool and one treatment room, where therapist Elfie works her magic.
In the Boat House restaurant, floor-to-ceiling windows invite a view overlooking the lake. The food is good, with huge, beautifully-presented portions. Breakfast is a relaxed affair, served in the same place. As I spoon off a slab of honeycomb, fresh from the hive, I look out towards mind-bogglingly expensive houses.
“That’s the Gold Coast,” my waitress tells me. “Tina Turner lives there.”
Visit MySwitzerland.com or call 00800 100 200 30.
Swiss International Air Lines offers one-way fares to Zurich from £74. swiss.com
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