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Roadside Attractions: 3 Architectural Drives in Central Europe


Swiss Minimalism



Some of the most striking buildings in recent years have been going up in Switzerland—a stark rebuke to any lingering clichés about Alpine chalets. The Swiss have always been serious about minimalism: that simple Helvetica typeface, even the national flag. Now their architecture echoes that smart graphic sensibility.

THE ITINERARY | DAY 1 Head west from Zurich toward Basel on A1 to A3/E60, a quick 55-mile drive. The Schaulager (19 Ruchfeldstrasse; 41-61/335-3232; www.schaulager.org) is a Basel exhibition and art-research center designed by hometown firm (and Pritzker Prize winner) Herzog & de Meuron for the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation. Renzo Piano's Beyeler Foundation (101 Baselstrasse; 41-61/645-9700; www.beyeler.com) houses Hildy and Ernst Beyeler's impeccable Modernist collection. Just over the German border, across the Rhine, is Weil-am-Rhein, home to the corporate campus of the Swiss furniture giant Vitra and its museum (1 Charles-Eames-Strasse; 49-7621/702-3200; www.design-museum.de), designed by Frank Gehry. Zaha Hadid's first-ever building (1993) is also here; originally a fire station, it's now an exhibition gallery filled with Vitra's chairs.

DAY 2 Leaving Basel, head south on N3 (to A2/E35; 60 miles) to Lucerne. That's where the Parisian minimalist Jean Nouvel built a striking concert hall, which opened in 2000 on the shore of Lake Lucerne (1 Europaplatz; 41-41/226-7070; www.kkl-luzern.ch). After wandering the fairy tale–like streets, spend the night in modern style at Nouvel's Hotel (14 Sempacherstrasse; 41-41/226-8686; www.the-hotel.ch; doubles from $343).

DAY 3 From Lucerne, head south on A2/E35 to Vals (via Oberalp Pass to Valserstrasse; 96 miles), in the mountainous Graubünden region, home to the reclusive Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. (En route, stop in Sumvitg to see Zumthor's St. Benedict chapel.) At the end of the Valserstrasse, in a narrow valley surrounded by nearly vertical mountain faces, is the renowned Zumthor-designed hotel and spa Hotel Therme (41-81/926-8080; www.therme-vals.ch; doubles from $200, Zumthor-designed rooms from $380). Next, head back to Ilanz going east on A13 toward Chur. Continue on A13 to Bregenz, just over the Austrian border (via A13/E43 to A1/E60; 91 miles), to Zumthor's glass-shingled Kunsthaus (Karl Tizian Platz; 43-5574/485-940; www.kunsthaus-bregenz.at), which overlooks Lake Constance.

DAY 4 On the way back to Zurich (via A14/E60 to A13/E43 to A1/E60; 91 miles), there are two buildings by über-minimalists Annette Gigon and Mike Guyer: the Museum Liner (5 Unterrainstrasse, Appenzell; 41-71/788-1800; www.museumliner.ch) and their glass-covered addition to the Winterthur Museum of Art (52 Museumstrasse, Winterthur; 41-52/267-5162; www.kmw.ch).

READING LIST The best of the new generation is on view in Thames & Hudson's Swiss Made, by Stephen Spier, Martin Schanz, and photographer Christian Richters.


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