Entrance to Bad Utoquai, Zurich, with woman cycling past

Zurich: two days of lake views and quality of life

When things go shaky, whether in my personal life or in the world, I seek the comfort of order and structure; and where better to find this than in clean, green Zurich.

This largest of Swiss cities straddles the River Limmat, and then stretches across the River Stihl to the west, and down, either side of Lake Zurich, to the south.

Zurich is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top cities for quality of life by Monocle… the global affairs and lifestyle magazine, 24-hour radio station, retailer and media brand… oh, what a long title!

I was in Zurich last week for the annual Monocle Quality of Life Conference – a fun and informative event held in a different city each year.

My Kyoto-made (Ichizawa) rucksack comes from Monocle (or at least the affiliated Trunk Clothiers) and so do my scarves (Begg & Co in Scotland). Each morning I listen to Radio Monocle24; far more positive and global than BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Two days in Zürich with Monocle

This blog post on Zurich offers no more than a glimpse of the city with the world’s highest purchasing power. Two of the first things that struck me were the sound of sparrows and the fleets of bicycles, many with little children sitting snuggly in trailers behind.

The Swiss must be among the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial people. Maybe the reason is that around 80% of young people do apprenticeships and only 20% go to university. This spirit has helped launch the likes of Zurich running brand On Running … NB. I want a pair of these trainers for Christmas … and made Switzerland the fifth biggest exporter of coffee (Nespresso).

Zurich is also the birthplace of the Dadaism, a satirical and nonsensical art movement started around the time of the First World War. As curator Gianni Jetzer of Hauser & Wirth’s Swiss contemporary art exhibition in London, Spiegelgasse, said: “The milieu of an overly rationalised Swiss society proved a breeding ground for an avant-garde defined by humour, nonsense and subjective realities.”

Arriving on a SWISS flight from London to Zurich (chocolate World Cup footballs much appreciated), I then made the 20-minute train journey to Winterthur to visit Fotostiftung Schweiz, the Swiss photo foundation. At the end of the day, I carried on by train to Zurich Main Station.

Most of what I saw and did in Zurich was inspired by the Monocle Conference and the Monocle Zurich Travel Guide. So thank you Monocle!

View over river Limmat towards Fraumünster, one of Zurich's four main churches.

View across the River Limmat towards Fraumünster, one of Zurich’s four main churches.

Public transport in Zurich

The ability to move around cities is a key urban issue… I learnt that from the Monocle Conference. In Zurich, mobility – people moving around the city – is due to increase by 60% over the next 15 years, as more people commute.

For now, at least, travelling around Zurich by public transport is a delight. All it takes is a SFr8.80 24-hour pass, bought at any bus, tram or train stop. There’s no need to fumble around in your bag to find your ticket for each journey … you walk on; you walk off.  (Be warned: the fine for not having a ticket is SFr90, or around £70/US$100.)

Of course, the ‘Directions’ button on Google Maps is indispensable. What did we do before that!

Zürich Top 10

Here are my top 10 things to do in Zurich …

1. GaiaMotherTree – Zurich Main Station

Zurich loves art. The city has around 1,300 public art installations and more private art collectors than anywhere else in the world.

When I arrived at Zurich Main Station, Fondation Beyeler (one of the names behind the world-famous Art Basel) were putting the finishing touches to the GaiaMotherTree by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto. The work is inspired by the Huni Kuin indigenous people of the Amazonian rainforest. 

The tree will be taken down on July 29. After that you can still marvel at the adjoining Guardian Angel sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle.

Art installation inside Zurich Main Station

GaiaMotherTree: “Take off your shoes and feel free to walk in, lie down, take a nap, dream.”

2.  Bad Utoquai

A morning dip in Lake Zurich at the wooden-slatted Bad Utoquai. If you swim beyond the yellow buoys, you’re advised to wear a fluorescent cap, so that you can be easily picked out by passing boats.

The men’s changing and sunbathing is to the left and the women’s to the right. I went to the left (having taken off my glasses) to find out that all that swimming, hiking, skiing and rowing done by Swiss men (and women) sure do make them one of the most toned nations in Europe. (District – Seefeld)

3. The Monocle Shop & Café

One block down from Bad Utoquai, the Monocle Shop & Café – designed by Swiss architects MACH – offers some of the best coffee, Bircher muesli, pastries, local cured meats and light lunches in town. The green-veined marble bar top extends behind the bar as well as in front… a design detail well noted. The outdoor tables are a great place to quietly watch the world go by. Here is also home to the Zurich studio of Radio Monocle24. (District – Seefeld)

4. Soeder store

You can find the all-natural soap by creative collective Soeder in the Monocle Shop & Café. The Soeder store in the once industrial and now trendy Zurich-West district was on my list to visit, but I was sidetracked by buying bread at John Baker (see later).

Soeder is about ‘wearing’, caring’ and ‘furnishing’. All products are manufactured by craftsmen (and women) in Switzerland and the rest of Europe. I love the concept and the fact that it’s a creative collective – a group of friends doing business. Co-founder Hanna Åkerström spoke at the Monocle Conference. (District – Zurich-West)

5. Hauser & Wirth

The Hauser & Wirth contemporary and modern art gallery is in the old Löwenbräu brewery building in Kreis (District) 4. Since being founded in Zurich, Hauser & Wirth has opened galleries in London, New York, Somerset (UK), Los Angeles, New York, Hong Kong and Gstaad.

We visited both of the current exhibitions, on until 1 September… Jean Dubuffet & the City (post-Second World War French painter and sculptor) and New York-based visual artist & writer Roni Horn. (District – Zurich-West)

Internal entrance to Hauser & Wirth, on the left, Zurich

6. Frau Gerolds Garten

A 20-minute walk from Hauser & Wirth, Frau Gerolds Garten has transformed an industrial wasteland into a vibrant outdoor area. The urban garden provides edible plants and flowers for the restaurant. In winter, the garden hosts Zurich’s largest Christmas market. Near the entrance is the Freitag ‘bag’ Tower (District – Zurich-West)

Containers marking entrance to Frau Gerolds Garten next to Prime Tower, one of the highest buildings in Zurich

The Freitag container tower – four floors of shopping for Freitag bags… it’s the world’s largest collection of ‘individual, recycled freeway bags’, near the entrance to Frau Gerolds Garten and the Prime Tower skyscraper.

Woman gardening in urban garden, Kraut + Quer, Frau Gerolds Garten, Zurich

Picking vegetables for lunch at Frau Gerolds Garten.

Man carrying tray, food, Restaurant, Frau Gerolds Garten, Zurich

Serving lunch at Frau Gerolds Garten.

Sign for Kraut + Quer, Frau Gerolds Garten, Zurich

Kraut + Quer, the urban garden initiative at Frau Gerolds Garten.

7. John Baker

John Baker is said to be the best bakery in Zurich. I could not resist an apricot tart, eaten at a table overlooking Helvetia Square, where there was a demonstration going on – yes, the Swiss demonstrate. I also bought a loaf of sourdough bread to take home. That was how I finished the Monocle Conference.  (District – Zurich-West)

Wooden racks for bread at John Baker, Helvetziaplatz, Zurich

Where I’ll go next time…

8. The Viadukt for lunch & Swiss food shopping

The arches under the railway line in Kreis 4 host a whole range of shops and creative enterprises, including a Made in Zurich covered market and Restaurant Markthalle, for seasonal food and local wine.  The Viadukt is one block from Hauser & Wirth and on the way to Frau Gerolds Garten.  (District – Zurich-West)

Number 21, Viadukt, under the railway arches, Zurich

9. For the evening…

Many of Zurich’s most exciting restaurant are only open in the evening. For dinner, top of my list is Maison Manesse – one Michelin star, ‘fun’ fine dining, with Australian chef and superfood fan Fabian Spiquel at the helm. Maison Manesse is also open for a ‘straightforward’ lunch Mondays to Fridays. (District – Kries 3)

For a more informal evening I pinpointed Gamper – no reservations, simple locally sourced food cooked on wood-fired grill, natural wines. (District – Zurich-West)

I’d also like to try Josef, but it’s not in the Monocle Guide, so I mention it with caution. (District – Zurich-West)

10. Two Zurich institutions with a ‘K’

Two Zurich institutions both beginning with a ‘K’ are on my list for next time. First is the Kunsthaus Zurich museum – called an “art heaven” by Monocle. An extension by David Chipperfield Architects is due to open in 2010.

And then, Kronenhalle, opened in 1924, and where you can drink and dine next to works by Chagall, Miró, Braque, Matisse and Picasso.

Cities with water

I love cities linked to water, whether Barcelona, Hamburg or Zurich. I talked to a Zürcher who told me how he craved the “chaos” of London.  For me, I like the order of Zurich… maybe because I am very fluid.

One key thing I learnt as an aside from the Monocle Conference was the importance of forgiveness in our polarised world so dominated by social media … So for all of you who prefer chaotic cities to Zurich, I forgive you.

Water fountain by River Limmat, Zurich

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