The Zurich Film Festival is on for three more days – if you happen to be in this fine city, check out my guide to Zurich below!
Zurich may have once been a victim of its own success, with the financial institution of the same name perhaps being more well-known than its city namesake. Often bypassed for Switzerland’s seemingly more appealing ski slopes and picturesque mountain villages, the city has been gaining new attention for the Zurich West district that has been built out of the hollows of former warehouses and factories.
Zurich West has had the clichéd label of “up and coming” for a few years, but has now now truly come into its own. Despite having just one “official” graffiti wall, West Zurich boasts enough graffiti to rival any former ghetto.
You name it, and it has been converted from old to new in Zurich West. And unlike in London, where Victorian mansion and warehouse conversions have been divided into as many just humanly liveable portions as possible, the Swiss are intent on maintaining both interior and exterior facades, meaning neck-craning high ceilings and windows to match are a recurring architectural framework.
Once a ship making factory, the Schiffbau is now a music hall, bar and restaurant. Looking up at its ceilings, with its original fittings, you can imagine the size of the vessels that were once built here. Steinfel’s, a bustling bar and eatery, was once a soap factory. The Freitag handbag and shoe boutique has been fashioned out of old shipping containers, stacked high like giant Lego.
A former steelworks, the Pulse 5 now houses a fitness centre and modern eateries. Again, the original fittings are ever present, even within the renowned Gnuesserei restaurant, where an old furnace is the centrepiece for your gourmet dining experience. The name Gnuesserei is a play on words – a combination of the Swiss words for steelworks and to enjoy yourself. The joke is kind of lost if you aren’t Swiss but you can appreciate the sentiment.
As you can the food. Gnusserei specialises in traditional dishes from the Zurich area, because surprisingly, even though Zurich is awash with fondue restaurants, the dish originates from another part of Switzerland. But the food is equally rich, as we dig into, and making up for the lack of melted cheese are the butter and cream our “Zurcher Geschnetzeltes” is swathed in, like a rich sea full of veal, carrot and mushroom, lapping a golden yellow potato rosti beach. With this diet I’m not sure how Swiss women are one of the slimmest in the world, as Zurich Tourism claims.
More Swiss specialties are on offer in the Viadukt. Opened in 2010, the Viadukt is a clever conversion of 600 metres of rail bridge arches from an enclave of seediness to an upmarket boutique shopping mall, food hall and restaurant precinct. An expanse of brightly coloured fresh produce, the food hall is Zurich’s first, and a more sophisticated alternative to the popular food market within the city’s central Hauptbanhof train station.
As if Switzerland doesn’t have enough of its own cheese, the Viadukt is also the home of the British Cheese Centre stall, piled high with wheels of Thomas Hoe Aged Red Leicester and wedges of Isle of Mull cheddar. It sounds like the ultimate case of selling ice to the Eskimos, but according to the owner Michael, the Swiss can’t get enough- he sells about a tonne a month of British cheese.
Once you’ve scoffed your cheese, you can take the stairs to the top of the Viadukt, a popular running and walking path for locals. You can peer down into the skylights of the stores, follow the path to the river, or simply take in your surroundings and imagine their industrial past.
Zurich West is definitely the much needed antidote to a city steeped in its finance industry.
Now you’ve seen the West, here’s the rest of the best Zurich has to offer:
– Boutique shopping – the area between Langstrasse and the Wiedikon train station are peppered with interesting little stores, such as the Lux Plus vintage store on Ankerstrasse. Labels include Prada, Chanel, Lanvin and Salvatore Ferragamo.
– Sprungli and Teuscher chocolate cafes – not eating chocolate in Zurich would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel tower. You know it’s something every tourist does yet there’s a good reason for it. Head straight to the Sprungli and Teuscher flagship locations on Paradeplatz and Bellevueplatz respectively. People flock to Sprungli for its Luxemburgerli, colourful cream-filled macaroons, that even come in champagne flavour. You can get them to take away in their signature pink boxes or put your feet up in the cafe upstairs, overlooking the Bahnoffstrasse main shopping street and Paradeplatz square. Their hot chocolate, adorned with flakes of real chocolate is the ultimate accompaniment. Teuscher’s champagne truffles are equally luxurious and the flower filled cafe has the air of an old tea room.
– Old town – in the tradition of most major European cities, Zurich is not without a charming, cobble-stoned old town. The painted bay windows in Augustinegrasse, just off the Bahnoffstrasse, are worth a look. The story has it that the street’s original traders would compete over who had the nicest facade.
– Tips from local bloggers – Style Seeking Zurich recommends the Japanese-themed Les Gourmandise de Miyuko cafe on Beckenhoffstrasse, while My Kugelhopf pays homage to the Hausammann bakery on Universitatstrasse for having the city’s best zopf (Swiss bread).