Adventure, enjoyment, natural wonders, a rich culture and heritage… the famed Swiss hospitality and plenty of snow. These were enough reasons for me to embark on a trip to Switzerland in the height of winter.
Having never had to brave weather below 12 degrees, I was all set to land in sub-zero temperatures, armed with all the warm clothing I could lay hands on in, well, a warm country like Oman.
The flight to Zurich was a breeze, literally! I slept like a baby and so I was well and truly rested upon my touchdown in Zurich. In an hour, armed with a 72-hour Zurich pass, which would enable me to skip around the city in the transport of my choice and also offer me access to a number of museums, I was ready to explore. Having a friend who was a local resident join me in the day tour added to the excitement and fun.
Before you see Zurich for what it is, I suggest you throw some preconceived notions out of your mind. It may be the financial capital of Switzerland, home to one of the world’s biggest stock exchanges and big banks, but this bustling city is also a tourist delight in every sense.
The best way to explore Zurich is to take the trams and trains whenever needed and then keep walking. The city has a wonderful transport system, and using our trusted iPhones for navigation, we hit the city’s hotspots without any problem.
If you love old-world charm, Augustinergasse, with its beautiful old, narrow streets with many colourfully painted oriel windows, takes you back in time. In total contrast is Bahnhofstrasse, the world-famous shopping precinct where we window-shopped to our hearts’ content. Here’s where the affluent come to indulge their luxurious tastes. Luxury shops sell the best Switzerland can offer: watches, clothes, chocolates, porcelain and fashion labels, you name it.
As I walked towards Lake Zurich, I saw the shops becoming more exclusive and trendy. The view of the lake itself is lovely and, in summer, the lakeside promenade is a beehive of activity. Cruises are available on the lake and a visit to the medieval town of Rapperswil should be a must on your Zurich itinerary.
I also enjoyed some moments of relaxation at the Burklitrrasse, a culmination of the Bahnhofstrasse and a part of the lakeside park area. It was also a moment of rejoicing, as the sun peeped out from the clouds for just a few seconds before the weather went back to its dark, cloudy state. It also drizzled intermittently making me duck into little shops for cover while cups of steaming coffee provided some feelings of warmth.
Another tourist attraction is Grossmunster Church that was the starting point of the Swiss-German Reformation and which, according to legend, was founded by Charlemagne. The Karlsturm (Charles Tower) is one of the two towers of this famous landmark. If you climb the 187 stairs, spectacular views of the panorama platform over the Old Town and the lake.
The city is also dotted with a number of museums though I could only make it to two: The Franz Carl Weber museum and the Clock and Watch Museum; quick-sees on our whirlwind tour of the city. I was told that the Swiss National Museum, located near the main railway station, tops the list… and if you’re museum aficionado, there are more than 50 others for you to explore!
Do not also forget to take a round of the Langstrasse quarter, Zurich’s most colourful and varied district that oozes elegance and metropolitan charm.
With the early setting of the winter sun, I bid goodbye to my friend and took off to Zurich-West, which told its own Westside Story. Factory buildings in the former industrial district have been converted to offer the best in Swiss culture, shopping, gastronomy, wellness and accommodation while still retaining its industrial charm.
The culture centre built in the ship-building halls here incorporate a branch of Zurich’s Playhouse Theatre, a restaurant and the jazz club is breath-taking. It’s here we also sampled traditional Swiss delicacies at Gnusserei, a restaurant located in a former foundry building.
Please note that the Swiss are a charming, friendly people and very polite. So always smile and don’t forget to say Danke (thank you)!
After a day spent in official engagements and a visit to the famed Gate Gourmet, the airline catering facility, I was ready to hit the famous Swiss Alps at last. My destination was the Lenkerhof Alpine Resort, a five-star luxury haven in Lenk im Simmental, the southerly village in the canton of Berne that lies at the end of a valley before Gstaad. It was a scenic three-hour drive from Zurich to Lenk with a huge cover of snow everywhere. For a person who hasn’t seen snow in her life, it was wonderful to feel the snowflakes on my face and I just stopped short of throwing snowballs into the air.
At the resort, I chose to go to the ski slopes by cable car to take in the incredible views while the intrepid skiers showed off their skills. Later in the evening, a horse carriage took us across the woods and the frozen lake to a little clearing where a fire was lit and Swiss musician played traditional songs on his ‘box’. It was a magical experience… a memory that will last a lifetime.
Seventy-two hours in Switzerland passed by like a dream. Huge doses of culture, entertainment, culture, gastronomic delights and some great company. I know there are many more magical moments to unravel. Switzerland’s charm is that it both entices and enthrals… making you promise to be back… and soon!