Zurich - At this time of year, Zurich Hauptbahnhof starts filling up with skiers rushing between trains in the hope of getting to the slopes as quickly as possible. But they’re missing a lot. Switzerland’s biggest city is a great place to get you in the festive mood.
The station lobby is huge, like the trading floor of a stock exchange. Right now, it’s full of Christkindl stalls and an enormous Christmas tree covered in Swarovski crystals. Overhead, Niki de St-Phalle’s flamboyant statue, Flying Angel, is suspended from the ceiling. Follow exit signs to Bahnhofstrasse.
Now window-shop your way up Bahnhoftstrasse until you reach the Singing Christmas Tree at the junction with Werdmühleplatz. These steep wooden stands with carolling children taking the place of Christmas decorations have been a feature of festive Zurich since 1998.
Crossing Uraniastrasse, head south along Lindenhofstrasse to Lindenhof for a view over the snowbound city and the Limmat River that divides it in two.
Heading west along Fortunagasse and turning left into Renweg, call in at the Widder Hotel (widderhotel.ch) for coffee. The Widder is a fascinating hotel created out of nine old Zurich houses while retaining all the original floor levels.
From Renweg cross into Glockengasse and look out for Kaiser’s Reblaube at number 7, one of the oldest houses in Zurich. It’s now a restaurant and includes the poet Goethe among its satisfied customers.
Now head up hill – you can’t miss the clocktower of Peterskirche, which has the biggest face on any church in Europe. The locals claim it’s larger than Big Ben.
Dropping down to the river brings you to Weinplatz. Look at the lobby of Storchen at number 2 – this gorgeous hotel overlooks the Limmat and was briefly home to Richard Wagner, the man who never paid his way. As usual, Wagner left in a hurry, his bills unsettled. Touch the mosaic of a black stork’s egg on the lobby floor. It’s a good luck custom dating back to the 14th century. Cross the Limmat on the broad Rathaus Bridge, taking in the food stalls that have gained it the nickname Gemüsebrücke (Veggie Bridge).
Divert down Niederdorfstrasse on your left to the Old Town Christmas Market on Hirschenplatz. Up ahead, Opfelchammer is a well-known student tavern where they serve wine and all manner of warming aperitifs. Ask to see the graffiti on the wooden ceiling – they’re 200 years old in places.
Loop back down Spiegelgasse towards Münstergasse. You’ll arrive first in Napfgasse where Péclard at number 4 is a lovely frilly cake shop and café restored to its glory at the beginning of the 20th century. For fresh coffee, cross the road to Schwarzenbach which glories in the title Kolonialwaren Kaffeerösterei (colonial goods/coffee roasters). It’s been here since 1864.
Go on down Münstergasse until you reach the brooding Gothic Grossmünster, a twin-towered church founded by Emperor Charlemagne and the starting point of the Swiss Reformation.
Heading back down towards the river via Kirchgasse, make for the Grand Café Odeon which is ideal if you’re thinking of lunch. At different times Lenin, James Joyce and Albert Einstein dined here. Dadaism was invented (so some claim) at the Odeon, as was cüpli – the very civilised notion of champagne by the glass.
After lunch head down to the Lake Zurich via Rämistrasse. You’ve now walked the length of the medieval city, and should be well into the mood for Christmas.
The Migros Museum of Contemporary Art re-opened last month after a lengthy refurbishment. Housed in the Löwenbräu art complex, the Migros displays one of Zurich’s top collections of contemporary art. Rietberg Museum (rietberg.ch) in the beautiful Wesendonck Villa has just opened an exhibition on the Chavin de Huantar archaeological site in Peru.
Staying there: The Widder Hotel, Rennweg 7, Zurich, Switzerland (widderhotel.ch). Doubles start at Sfr775 (about R8 000), room only.
More information: myswitzerland.com – The Independent on Sunday