Slashed by the River Limmat, picturesque Zurich is an eye-catching, belly-pleasing launch-pad into Switzerland.
It felt so good to back be in Zurich, Switzerland, one of the more picturesque, pixel-burning European city destinations. Liberated from the long shadow of Covid, I had made my way to the Swiss financial capital, to commence a week-long romp through Switzerland and Northern Italy with Globus and their new “Alps out Loud” escorted tour product. Choice Touring by Globus is a recent innovation that offers travellers a new and exciting touring style, promising all the wonders of a perfectly planned tour but with an extra level of freedom and flexibility.
Complementing the standard guided sightseeing experiences of the banner attractions, there’s the added bonus of YourChoice Excursions, whereby you can curate your touring itinerary with Globus, by selecting from a range of optional excursions that are more tailored to your own interests and passions. Not only does this add a more mix-and-match customised dimension to guided group touring, but the excursions I plumped to go on were more like personalised, intimate small-group encounters. It was truly fabulous. The biggest challenge was choosing what excursions best suited me – kind of like trying to pick my favourite gelato flavour.
Should I plump for a tour of Swiss chocolate, wine or cheese? What about Milan’s fashion houses or ogling Como’s legendary villas? Yes, the wealth of excursion possibilities made for some tough calls on my week-long Globus trip from Zurich to Como. Kicking off in Zurich, it was a decision-free start, as our convivial tour director, Mike Coulstock, led us on an illuminating 90 minute walkabout across the cobbles of this time-honoured city, before giving us plenty of free time for shopping, noshing and self-exploration. And there is so much to explore. On a moody autumn morning, I was sizing up the largest clock face in Europe, on the edge of the Limmat River. It’s bigger than Big Ben.
Riding the skyline, the historic tower of St Peter Church is imbued with a trusty timepiece, as are the oh-so punctual church bells that loudly reverberate across the Old Town from the four historic churches, including mighty Grossmunster Cathedral. No wonder everything runs to time in Switzerland. According to legend, Zurich’s 13th-century landmark cathedral was founded by Charlemagne, built on the graves of the city’s patron saints, Felix and Regula.
It was also the starting place of the Protestant Reformation in Zurich. Culture is writ large in Zurich and in the Old Town, the narrow-cobbled streets gave rise to the Dada art movement just over a century ago. I popped into Cabaret Voltaire, at Spiegelgasse 1, which was the birthplace of Dada and the avant-garde artistic movement in 1916. Absinthe is the drink of choice here, among Dada’s ghosts.
Strolling along Bahnhofstrasse, flanked by chic designer boutiques and swanky department stores, Café Sprungli deserves a pit-stop. This prized Zurich institution is rightly lauded for its heavenly macaroons. Don’t mind if I do. Further down the street, if feeling a little decadent, make a date with Teuscher for its famed champagne truffles.
In a city of water and stone bridges, another top vantage point, above the twisting lanes of the Old Town is the Lindenhof. This was the site of a former Roman customs house and fourth-century fort, perched above the water. Alongside soaking up the city vistas, this elevated park with its Linden trees and giant chess sets is the pitch-perfect spot for a cheeky picnic.
The vast assortment of guildhalls are central to Zurich’s backstory, and they’re great fun to explore. In 1336, Zurich’s first independent mayor, Rudolf Brun, established the guild laws, effectively shifting power from the abbeys to the merchant nobility.
The handsome guildhalls, with all of their intricate and ornate decorative features, lend themselves to a leisurely inspection. I started at the bakers’ guild, in Oberdorfstrasse, before heading over the river’s east bank to Niederdorf, to admire the guilds of the carpenters, builders, the food and wine dealers, the textiles and spice merchants, all along Limmatquai. Then, on Munsterhof, you’ve got mansions of the weavers, saddlemakers, painters and winemakers.
In German-speaking Zurich, the street food tradition of wurst remains wildly popular – particularly for lunch. In the Old Town, tuck into some great sausage at Wursteria by Hinz and Kunz. This part-butcher shop and part deli serves up super spicy bratwurst in a fluffy bun. So good! As its name suggests, Cafe Conditorei 1842, on Napfgasse, is an old-school establishment of sweet indulgence.
Spanning four floors, food lovers can enjoy patisserie, cakes and hot drinking chocolate – they claim to be Zurich’s best. On the ground floor of this historic confectioner’s store, impressively decorated in neo-baroque style, you’ll struggle to find a finer array of patisserie, cakes and tarts. I could have stayed there all day. And yes – the steaming mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream was magnificent.
Speaking of chocolate, the Lindt and Sprüngli factory has called Zurich home, since 1899. Seven years in the making, Lindt Home of Chocolate, was designed to complement the historic building and serve as a beacon to chocolate lovers everywhere. From cultivation to production, the interactive museum does a sterling job telling the story of Swiss chocolate making, not only about Lindt, but its predecessors. While the maze of white, milk, and dark chocolates is impressive, the Lindt Home of Chocolate also boasts another record: the world’s largest chocolate fountain. Standing at about 30 feet tall, even Willy Wonka would be impressed by this show-stopper.
Zurich has certainly emerged as a tale of two cities. Creating quite a buzz, Zurich-West, which has been spectacularly transformed. This once scruffy industrial district has emerged as a vibrant cultural quarter of trendy eateries and edgy art, where factories have been repurposed as theatres and shipyards reimagined as art galleries. You’ll also find Prime Tower here, a 35-storey skyscraper (Switzerland’s tallest), serving up a panoramic treat across Zurich’s rooftops, gleaming lake and snow-coated peaks beyond. Take in the sweeping scenery over a drink or two at Clouds Bar – and salute your return to Europe.
While in Zurich, my Globus tour also included a sweet little side-trip to the 150-metre-wide Rhine Falls, a stupendous body of cascading water which enjoys top-billing as Europe’s biggest waterfall. If you’ve been to Niagara, Iguazu or Victoria Falls, the Rhine’s waterworks might strike you as a gentle trickle in comparison to those gigantic hydrants – but they still serve up a wondrous sight.
Situated about 45 minutes from Zurich in Schaffhausen, the Rhine Falls are around 15000 years old, shaped by the tectonic shifts during the last Ice Age. An array of architectural confections and daring viewpoints have been constructed around the falls, including some castles. They all compete to serve up the best perspectives on the surging falls, crashing over the limestone terraces.
Schloss Laufen overlooks the thundering water, dating back to 858AD. Adorning this time-worn castle, a panoramic glass elevator has been installed to shoot you up high for the crowning view. Another observation deck is situated in the heart of the powerful water flow. Right in the middle of the falls, a mighty fang of rock, Mittelfelsen, has been equipped with a dramatic lookout platform, which can be reached by taking a quick boat trip across the river, before clambering up 100 steps to the viewing perch. Get amongst it!
Experience Choice Touring by Globus for yourself. 2023 departures on the 8 day The Alps Out Loud: Switzerland & Lake Como by Design tour, are priced at $3,899 per person. That includes touring by private, air-conditioned motorcoach, outstanding excursions, some meals, 7 nights first-class hotel accommodation, hotel taxes, porterage, tips and service charges. www.globustours.co.nz
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