Finance takes a back seat to culture as Zurich celebrates a century of the weird and wonderful avant-garde art movement
For more than five months, at 6.30am daily, Adrian Notz conducted a sermon-like homage at the famed Cabaret Voltaire in the heart of Zurich’s Old Town. This ceremony at the birthplace of Dadaism became something of an obsession for the venerable venue’s director as each one honoured one of the avant-garde art movement’s 165 founding artists.
For the art-obsessed, or merely curious, the unsociably early start was made more palatable if you were waking up in a super-comfortable Schramm handmade bed at the Marktgasse Hotel, just a few minutes’ walk away. Opened last November after a meticulous two-year renovation, Zurich’s newest boutique hotel makes an ideal base from which to explore the Old Town’s picture-pretty cobbled streets, galleries, shops and restaurants.
Set over two historic listed buildings dating back to 1291, the Marktgasse has always been an inn of some sort. Most recently a backpackers’ hostel of dubious reputation, its pared-back-luxe current incarnation now attracts discerning business travellers and city-breakers looking for contemporary design with warm, boutique-style hospitality.
Including two suites and six junior suites, the Marktgasse’s 39 rooms share an elegantly Scandi aesthetic but are all slightly different in size, layout and decorative detail. Some even feature ancient tiled Swiss ovens – a delightfully quirky reminder of the building’s history amid the minimalist-modernist furniture and monochrome bathrooms kitted out with Aesop toiletries.
Likewise the Library (a light corner room ideal for business meetings or workshops for up to 14, its shelves heavy with art books) and adjacent Salon (a quiet space for reading or working) respect the bones of this grand old address while catering for a modern clientele with good furniture, self-serve coffee and water stations and – crucially – good, strong free WiFi.
The contemporary furniture by &Tradition, Italian designer Cassina and Swiss brand Vitra give guest rooms and working spaces a casual urban vibe that will feel reassuringly familiar to fans of New York or London design hotels. General manager Olivier Gerber and his staff bring an instinctive attention to detail to match the heritage property.
Another big part of the Marktgasse’s contemporary creds is the onsite Baltho Küche & Bar. The latter, in particular, impresses with a menu of inventive cocktails and updated classics using local spirits and house-made ingredients, including a superb ginger-beer cordial. The restaurant is gently lit and stylish with a seasonal menu of international favourites.
If you fancy the city’s Fourth Quarter, try dinner at the recently opened Bank, a former bank and post office, on Helvetiaplatz. With a menu of hearty sharing plates, a buzzy bar and on-site bakery, it would be at home in Shoreditch or Copenhagen’s Nørrebro.
Visitors should, though, experience the truly traditional while in Switzerland’s financial capital. It doesn’t get more Swiss than lunch at the old-school Kindli restaurant, where schnitzels and the perfect rösti reign. And for a glimpse of Zurich’s ladies and gents who lunch, try Sprüngli for coffee, cake and a decadent detour through the chocolate brand’s shop.
Suitably fuelled, art-loving visitors can get a further dose of Dada at the Kunsthaus Zurich, with its impressive permanent collection and programme of exhibitions, notably a recent retrospective of Swiss video and installation artist Pipilotti Rist, displayed over nearly 1,000sqm and regularly attracting queues out the door. Due to almost double in size by 2020 with a David Chipperfield Architects–designed extension, the Kunsthaus is a cultural focal point just a few minutes from the Marktgasse. And there’s still time to visit Manifesta, the 11th European Biennial of Contemporary Art, which runs until 18 September.
If leisurely shopping is more your thing, hop on the excellent tram service to trendy Zurich West. Home to bag brand Freitag, the formerly industrial area has recently been transformed, now attracting a mix of vintage stores, such as the eclectic Bogen33 for mid-century furniture and accessories, and the tiny but perfectly curated homeware and accessories at Soeder on Geroldstrasse. The district has a bohemian vibe, nowhere more evident than at Frau Gerolds Garten, a big open-air space filled with wild planting and casual seating, which on sunny days fills with locals breaking up their browsing with a quick beer or glass of rosé in the sunshine.
Zurich’s outdoor culture is strong, and particularly alive in summer, when the lake fills with sailing boats and the riverside lidos are a mecca for bathers during the day and cocktail lovers at dusk. Locals also regularly flock to the Thermalbad & Spa all year round for an invigorating soak with a view from the rooftop pool on the site of a former brewery. It may not be very Dada, but it is a delightful surprise in a city bursting with them.
Zurich: Getting there
To plan your trip to Zurich, visit myswitzerland.com
Rooms at the Marktgasse Hotel start from CHF274 (£210) per room per night, based on two sharing (room only). Breakfast packages are at the onsite Delish café. All guests enjoy free access to the nearby Fitnesspark Hamam Münstergasse, with spa and fitness facilities/classes.