Discovering Zurich
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Discovering Zurich

Chic, small-scale, and thoroughly modern, Zurich is the sort of city that can seduce you without really trying. For Tyler Brûlé, it was love at first sight.

I'll start with a confession. For the better part of 20
years I've been carrying on a string of illicit rendezvous
in various corners of the world. The locations have largely
been familiar, the names recognizable, and the intensity of
the liaisons universally equal. I have done my best to be
discreet, have always been respectful of the feelings of
others, and have lavished all with the attention they
rightly deserve.

In the summer of 1983, at age 14, I had my first summer
fling. With my maternal grandmother as my chaperone, we
embarked on our own self-styled Grand Tour of Europe. It
was my first extended trip without parental supervision, my
first transatlantic crossing, and the first time I
experienced those odd, unfamiliar feelings of obsession.

Our journey started in London, jumped to Paris, went north
to Stockholm, and then circled back down to Essen for a
visit with family. Using the Ruhr Valley as a base for
visiting other cities, we planned a brief jaunt through
Switzerland. Having already been on the road for nearly a
month, I was well versed in which nations had the best rail
networks. British Rail was in a steep decline even then,
France's SNCF was comfortable and punctual, Sweden's
national railway had charming living room–style
seating in first class, but nothing quite prepared me for
my first trip on Switzerland's SBB.

Stepping into the dark-olive carriage in late July, we had
the entire car to ourselves. The setting was
immaculate—the cotton headrests were crisp, the
windows were spotless. Two decades later I can still smell
the cabin, a scent that could only be described as
reassuringly "railroad," the product of various
petroleum-based substances sticking to the undercarriage,
horsehair in the seats, and sweet tobacco .

We crossed the Swiss frontier, and I don't think I uttered
a word for the next two hours. Hurtling by outside was an
entire childhood spent playing with model trains brought to
life in full size and vivid color . Like most boys of my
generation, model-train sets made up an essential part of
my toy box, and the towns of either Switzerland or Austria
seemed to have provided the blueprint for the miniature
replicas made by brands like Mârklin and Herpa.

From my rear-facing seat, I watched as perfectly
proportioned villas with orange-and–chocolate brown
awnings zipped past. On the shores of tiny lakes were
picnicking families and small stands selling sausages.
Cheerful villages were a blur of window boxes, bursting
with geraniums, and leathery-looking pensioners taking the
sun in their garden allotments. Everything in Switzerland
was just as it had appeared in the perfect world of my
model-train catalogues .

Ninety minutes after we left Germany, the greenery gave way
to the start of a city. The geraniums were still visible
but were now housed on the balconies of lean high-rises;
silent trams carved through the leafy neighborhoods . As
soon as this ordered urbanism appeared, our boxy little
carriage started jolting from one track to the next and,
before long, platform signs for Zurich started slipping
into view. Stepping off the train, I was smitten. Zurich
was the capital of my faultless model-train world, an
instant infatuation, and the start of an urban obsession.

The city that greeted us was a deeply civilized, if
somewhat buttoned-down , affair. Perfect for a recently
retired grandmother and her grandson companion . It was
compact, safe, easy to navigate, and a pleasant mix of
quaint and unswervingly modern. Having budgeted only 48
hours to see Zurich, we spent our days along the
Bahnhofstrasse eating dainty cakes, drinking freshly
pressed blood-orange juice, and buying up as many of a new
type of plastic Swiss watch as our bags would accommodate.
The summer of 1983 saw the launch of the Swatch—and a
turnaround for an industry that was fighting hard to stay
relevant in the face of stiff competition from Japanese
brands.

Sitting in the dining carriage on our return to Germany, I
wrote in my journal: "Zurich is the most pleasant city
we've visited over the past four weeks. All cities should
be so easy for visitors." I went on to praise our little
hotel, in the city's Old Town, with its voluminous duvets;
the carved-wood farm animals I bought for my mom; and the
glamour of buying a Rolex from a very elegant lady at
Bucherer, on the Bahnhofstrasse. Once I was home, in
Montreal, Zurich was the only city I spoke of to family and
friends. London and Paris scarcely got a mention in
conversations about my first tour of Europe.

It took me almost a decade to get back to Zurich. In the
intervening period I'd managed to fall for other cities
too. I loved the physical beauty and optimism of Sydney.
After a series of quick trips to Tokyo, I found little to
fault in its unfailing attention to detail and boundless
energy. And London, snubbed the first time round, had
become home . But I was never able to shake my abiding
fascination for Switzerland's biggest city.

Yet Zurich is not big. It might punch above its weight
internationally in areas of finance, insurance, and
pharmaceuticals, but no matter how many surrounding suburbs
and villages you might want to add to its head count , it
would never qualify as a large, sprawling metropolis. At a
stretch , Zurich proper can muster a population of just
400,000. Locals like to say the surrounding area brings the
number up to a million, but it's tricky to see how they get
to this tally. Besides, they shouldn't bother. Despite
being generally quite expensive, the city consistently
takes top place in quality-of-life surveys because it's
able to combine compact proportions, global influence, and
a strategic position at the heart of Europe to lure
corporate headquarters and give residents a lifestyle that
has few competitors . The only problem with these surveys
is that they tend to miss out on the emotional,
occasionally intangible, qualities that make cities truly
great.


In the case of Zurich, it's the extras that put it on top
when stacked against other quality-of-life candidates like
Melbourne, Vancouver, Toronto, and archrival Geneva.
Everyone expects the world's most livable cities to have a
good airport, low crime rates, and a strong education
system. Not necessarily factored in are cultural diversity,
outstanding food stores, proximity to nature, a dynamic
modern art scene, and a lake with drinkable water .

In the mid nineties I started taking long weekends in
Zurich to get away from the grind of London. I returned to
the city for the very same reason that I first fell for it
in 1983—it was easy. Everything I wanted to see or do
was within walking distance: I could drink the best coffee
by day, see non-dubbed English films in the afternoon, and
sit quietly in a perfect Italian restaurant in the Kreis
Vier district in the evening and watch smart-looking
couples pull up in their muscular Audis .

You can tell a lot about a town by the cars that circulate
through its streets, and Zurich is firmly an Audi town.
Just as the brand is discreet, confident, and a little
sporty, the same can be said for the city: Zurich doesn't
reveal or share its secrets readily, there's a bit of
self-satisfaction that can veer close to arrogance , and
the 90-minute drive up to the Alps makes most locals more
sportif than average.

Zurich does its best to discourage cars in the city center
—those of residents and visitors alike—by
investing heavily in a busy tram schedule and issuing some
of the stiffest traffic penalties anywhere. While the
Swiss will look for any excuse to dig a tunnel or drill
into a mountainside, the city's politicians have not been
persuaded to build a subway system, although if they did it
would doubtless be perfectly engineered and architecturally
interesting . But, given its scale, Zurich does just fine
with its mix of trams, buses, and bicycle lanes. This is a
good thing, as the taxis are some of the worst I've ridden
in anywhere in the world—developed or otherwise.
Switzerland is obsessed with quality, good design, and
efficiency, yet Zurich's taxis are often
ex–U.S.-military-personnel cars that have been
imported from Germany and tend to be both smoky and dirty,
and the drivers rarely know where the hell they're going.
On top of all this, the cabs are absurdly expensive. It's
for this reason that I usually tackle most of the city on
foot and bridge any gaps by jumping on the tram.

A perfect Zurich weekend (and the city can be covered in 72
hours) used to involve my leaving work at lunchtime on a
Friday and jumping on a Swissair flight from Heathrow. One
hour and 15 minutes later I'd be touching down at Kloten
airport, and then I'd take the train to the
Haupt­bahnhof and grab a taxi, despite my better
judgment, to the Hotel Baur au Lac.

I'm convinced you can't have an affair with a city unless
you have a comfortable, efficient hotel to work from. It
doesn't need to be luxurious or crammed with amenities; it
just needs to function as a base for rest and refreshment .
The Baur au Lac does these things, including the luxury
bit, very well. It's a grand hotel in the truest
sense of the words, and the manager, Michel Rey, is still
the keeper of the keys and can arrange anything from a
private-jet transfer to St. Moritz to delivery of all the
Japanese dailies with your breakfast. The staff knows you
by name beginning the moment you check in, and in the 12
years I've been staying there, I've never encountered
anything the management team couldn't cope
with—including storing large parts of my life in
their cellar for months on end as well as rustling up
last-minute restaurant reservations. The Baur au Lac is the
type of hotel I could see myself moving into at some point
later in life. Its location at the foot of the
Bahnhofstrasse puts the best shopping within easy striking
distance, the lake is just across the road, and Restaurant
Kronenhalle is a five-minute walk over the bridge.

Just as you need at least one good hotel to fall in love
with a city, you also need at least a handful of
restaurants. Or perhaps not?What if a restaurant serves
the best schnitzel and Rösti in double
portions, displays original works by Marc Chagall and Joan
Miró on its walls, and has a bar designed by Robert
Haussmann, a godfather of Swiss Modernism ?I'm inclined to
think that one restaurant of such a caliber is reason
enough to make the journey. Anyone who knows Zurich knows
the Kronenhalle, in part because it's a culinary classic,
in part because it's a scene from another time.

The restaurant is divided into a main salon, inhabited by
regulars, and a pair of side rooms stacked one on top of
the other, and I've had some of my most enjoyable meals
there while dining alone and deciphering the personalities
behind the meringue-like coiffures, bronze-tinted glasses,
fur collars, and fallen cosmetic surgery— and those
were just the men. In the bar next door, entire evenings
have vanished with a few good friends and many bottles of
rosé from Canton Vaud.

I used to harbor a certain jealousy of Zurich's locals, who
seem to have the most charmed life in Europe, if not the
world. Theirs is a completely manageable city; skiing in
the Alps is a short car ride away and desirable parts of
Italy and the south of France a bit farther off; and their
national airline could take them anywhere else in the world
with daily frequency from an airport just 10 minutes from
town. The autumn of 2001 gave me an opportunity, if
somewhat tragically, to experience the city as a full-time
resident. In the wake of September 11, Swissair went
bankrupt and its global fleet was grounded. Having had
little warning that the airline's balance sheet was in such
bad shape, the country was in a state of disbelief. How
could a national icon collapse?In the Swiss press the
morning after, a blame game erupted with many pointing
fingers and no solutions to the crisis . Watching the
unbelievable unfold from London, I spoke to the editors at
one of the leading German-language Sunday papers in Zurich
and offered up a 10-point recovery plan for the airline.
Long story short: the advertising and branding agency I run
was hired to create a new national airline brand for
Switzerland.


The winter of 2002 was spent getting this new airline,
Swiss, airborne, and before long, without time to really
even consider my move, I left London, where I had lived for
nearly 13 years, and became a Zuricher . Meanwhile, the new
carrier was still in turmoil, despite our branding efforts:
passenger volume at the airports was dropping and routes
were being axed.

I've been a resident of Zurich for going on three years now
and have based both my company and some parts of my life
here. I continue to carry on my fling with London, have
long been doing the same with Stockholm, and added St.
Moritz to my list a few years ago, when I rediscovered
skiing. Among all these places, I'm not entirely sure where
"home" is. My friends are mostly in London, my spiritual
home is my summer house in the Stockholm archipelago, and
Zurich picks up the slack for everything else. For both
visitors and residents, the city makes entertaining
incredibly easy. New York, Paris, and London have
increasingly become obsessed with guest lists, knowing the
doorman, and planning every­thing in advance; Zurich is
a place where you can decide to have a night out after
you've folded your napkin at 10:30 P.M. All over various
districts of the city, bars stay open late, are populated
by handsome people, and don't require customers to endure
attitude from a jumped-up kid with a clipboard and
earpiece.

My favorite Zurich activity is one that could happen only
in a city with the best quality of life in the world. On
hot, sunny days in July and August, when the air is heavy
and the work at the office too much to bear, I have a quiet
word with my colleague Andrea and tell her to forward the
phones to London. Andrea smiles, knowing exactly what I
have in mind. We summon our other colleagues, and all of us
make a dash for the wardrobe, dig out our swimsuits, and
make our way down to the Limmat River. Leaving our towels
at the public bathing pavilion, we dive into the river and
swim down along the banks to the lake . They say that in
summer Zurichers never leave, because the lake is so
perfect and the weather's at its best. I've found it
difficult to argue when work and pleasure can be woven
together so seamlessly.


WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Baur au Lac As you sip a glass of chilled
Swiss white on the terrace, one word that will come to mind
is civilized. The people-watching is always fun, and the
steak tartare is top quality.

DOUBLES FROM $550

1 TALSTRASSE; 41-44/220-5020

"_blank">www.bauraulac.ch

Park Hyatt ZürichThe Park Hyatt is the most
recent five-star addition to the city's landscape, and the
most modern. On the plus side, it's as full-service as they
come; on the downside, it's not quite on a par with its
cousin in Tokyo.

DOUBLES FROM $420

21 BEETHOVENSTRASSE; 888/591-1234 OR 41-43/883-1234

"_blank">www.zurich.park.hyatt.com

Hotel Rössli Rössli, in the heart of the
Old Town, has one of the best rooms in the city. Atop the
annex building across from the main hotel is a penthouse
apartment with a wonderful terrace. The place is perfect
for two traveling couples or for families, and with your
own keys you can come and go as you please.

DOUBLES FROM $215; PENTHOUSE FROM $500

7 RÖSSLIGASSE; 41-44/256-7050

"_blank">www.hotelroessli.ch

Hotel Seehof From the same owners as the
Rössli, the Seehof is everything a hotel should be
—with no silly extras. There's a lovely bar in the
lobby, the rooms are simple and modern, , and after 11 P.M.
you let yourself in.

DOUBLES FROM $215

11 SEEHOFSTRASSE; 41-44/254-5757

"_blank">www.hotelseehof.ch

WHERE TO EAT

Bürgli Just down the coast of the lake ,
Bürgli has a beautiful garden, , chirpy staff, does a
wonderful entrecôte with Café de Paris sauce ,
and has a well-chosen wine list .

DINNER FOR TWO $80

15 KILCHBERGSTRASSE; 41-44/482-8100

Café Schober You'll be hard pressed to decide
whether Schober is cozy or just camp. Every season this
café quite literally goes crazy with decorations. At
Christmas, large stuffed bears climb trees; at Easter,
there's a riot of bunnies, eggs, and chicks suspended from
the ceiling. Get in early for breakfast and order a hot
chocolate.

BREAKFAST FOR TWO $10

NAPFGASSE; 41-44/251-8060

Emilio This Spanish restaurant offers a range of
things on its menu, but excels in one dish—roast
chicken and chips.

DINNER FOR TWO $55

9 ZWEIERSTRASSE; 41-44/241-8321

Manta Bar Attached to the side of a men's store,
Manta Bar is an ideal pit stop for those who've headed to
Zurich for a spot of watch shopping. It's just down the
street from Bucherer—the place to buy a
Rolex.

42 BAHNHOFSTRASSE; 41-43/344-8500

Restaurant Kronenhalle It really doesn't get any
better.

DINNER FOR TWO $115

4 RÄMISTRASSE;41-44/251-6669

Restaurant Sonnenberg Have a drink and a snack next
door to the world headquarters of the
Fédération Internationale de Football
Association and take note of what the gardeners have done
with the shape of the shrubs.

HITZIGWEG; 41-44/266-9797

Vorderer Sternen Grill Anytime you feel a little
peckish, you can find perfectly cooked sausages, rustic
rolls, and mustard at this busy stand . Don't be put off by
the queue.

22 THEATERSTRASSE; 41-44/251-4949

WHERE TO SHOP

Brunos Italian men's wear, including a large
selection of hats.

44 BAHNHOFSTRASSE; 41-44/211-029

Confiserie Sprüngli Paris has Ladurée
and its macaroons; Zurich has Sprüngli and its
hamburger shaped Luxemburgerli . The macaroons-in-miniature
are packed in iconic little blue-and-white boxes.

21 BAHNHOFSTRASSE; 41-44/224-4711

Elastique Good furniture dealers. Trades in Swiss
classics and interesting one-offs .

19 GRÜNGASSE; target="_blank">www.elastique.ch

Fidelio If you need a quick fashion fix, Fidelio
covers all the bases —Helmut Lang and the
like—and also throws in some surprises.

1 MÜNZPLATZ; 41-44/211-1311

Globus AG Bellevue The original Globus, tucked just
off the Bahnhofstrasse, has undergone a massive renovation
and is also worth a look, but at its subterranean Bellevue
location the retailer has taken its food hall to new
heights, or depths. The perfect place to pull together a
picnic for an afternoon by the lake.

12 THEATERSTRASSE; 41-44/266-1616

Orell Füssli
A temple for books on art and architecture. The range is
challenging—even exhausting—and always
perfectly curated.

70 BAHNHOFSTRASSE; 41-44/211-0444

Pastorini Spielzeug This toy store specializes in
wooden playthings and is the last of its kind in
Switzerland.

3 WEINPLATZ; 41-44/228-7070

Rämistrasse
Best side street for a quick hit of stationery, meat, or
odd Swiss orthopedic footwear.

SteinhauerUp the road from Kronenhalle, Steinhauer
prides itself on offering a highly edited, top-quality mix
of housewares and fashion basics. Here you can get anything
from Italian glassware and Tidstrand blankers from Verbier
to superiors underwear from Swiss brand Zimmerli.

27 RÄMISTRASSE; 41-44/252-6661

What to Do

Seebad Enge A nice bikini or pair of trunks, two
towels, and a few francs are all you need to have one of
the best days Europe affords. This low-slung bathing
pavilion has both women-only and mixed sides, is built out
over the lake, and provides rafts for sunbathing and
catching your breath. Arrive early for a cappuccino and a
bowl of homemade Birchermuesli, and apply your Piz Buin
liberally .
1 MYTHENQUAI; 41-44/201-3889

"_blank">www.tonttu.ch

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