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Checking in: Widder Hotel

A Lifelong Berliner Arrives in Zurich
  • Widder Hotel

    The nine medieval houses that comprise the Widder Hotel

  • Widder Hotel

    On the terrace of the penthouse

  • Widder Hotel

    The hotel’s bar

  • Widder Hotel

    A 700-year-old fresco in a guest room

  • Widder Hotel

    Pop art in a suite and a modern fireplace

  • Widder Hotel

    A guest room

  • Widder Hotel

    A living room in one of the suites

  • Widder Hotel

    A fresco and a guest room with a balcony

  • Widder Hotel

    The cellar

CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

Framed by the Alps and set on the northern banks of Lake Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city sits near the country’s northern border with Germany.

WHY GO

Because in Zurich, hospitality is treated like an art — and that goes for more than just the hotels. Zurich’s population seems eager to show a visitor how to slow down and enjoy a glass of rosé in the middle of a work day.

HOW

Zurich’s central train station is the largest in Switzerland, with direct connections to nearly every major city in Western Europe. Zurich’s airport is the largest in Switzerland, and is the hub for Swiss Air.

TABLET TIP

Zurich is notoriously expensive, and all the more so when it comes to taking a taxi. Fortunately the public transportation system is clean, fast and efficient — so skip the cabs and opt for a day pass.

Zurich, January, 2014

Set on a narrow cobblestone sidewalk amidst a row of century-old buildings, the quiet sliding glass door of the Widder Hotel feels a bit like a portal to the 21st century. Step inside and it’s a world of post-modern era-mashing, where chairs printed with bold graphics stand against an exposed seven-hundred-year-old wall, and bright LED lights illuminate a medieval fresco. To say it’s a hotel of contrasts, however, doesn’t quite capture it — nearly every hotel and city contains contrasting elements. What makes the Widder so compelling is its overriding Swiss-ness — its happy blend of practically everything the Swiss do best, both old and new.

It’s a little embarrassing when I admit at check-in that it’s my first time in Zurich — embarrassing because I’ve lived nearly all my life in Berlin, an hour and a half away by plane, and yet somehow I’ve never bothered to make the trip. Worse yet, the Swiss dialect of German is so foreign to me that, before the receptionist and I get past our hellos, I’m lost, and my host is forced to switch to the German dialect. It would be a bit like a Londoner arriving at a New York hotel and needing everyone to talk to her in their best British accents. But as they give me a glass of homemade herbal iced tea, I’m assured that they’re not taking my difficulty with the dialect as a Berliner’s snobbery. Nor is it just the expected five-star politeness on display; it feels like good, honest, Swiss hospitality.

Seven hundred years ago, this hotel consisted of nine separate houses, now joined together through small passages, hidden stairs and bridges. On the way to my room I wonder if guests sometimes get lost here and if — this being the most Swiss of Swiss hotels — a herd of cuddly Bernese mountain dogs might then be sent to their rescue. Not that getting lost is so bad. As I wander around, I make small, unexpected discoveries everywhere: a tranquil wine cellar, an ancient water well and, behind a corner, an apparently forgotten antique chair and chest. There’s also a pop-up Ruinart champagne bar and a library with a shelf full of candy in pretty jars; maybe they’re just thoughtfully placed rations to fortify lost wanderers like myself.

The maze-like layout is just one reason it’s hard to leave. You could easily spend the day with a long and unspeakably delicious breakfast (Swiss cheese bar — need I say more?), a walk through the hotel and a visit to the hotel’s own jazz bar. Still, with the glass windows of the church on view from my room reflecting the late-fall sun, the world outside starts to beckon. It would be a shame not to make the five-minute walk to Lake Zurich and have a glass of rosé with a mellow crowd of fellow park-goers. And then of course there’s the chocolate. On the way back from the lake there are no less than four chocolate shops. Perhaps loading up on Swiss chocolate isn’t the most original activity for a German on holiday in Zurich, but who cares? It’s irresistible.

Ela Marx

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CHEAT SHEET
WHERE

Framed by the Alps and set on the northern banks of Lake Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city sits near the country’s northern border with Germany.

WHY GO

Because in Zurich, hospitality is treated like an art — and that goes for more than just the hotels. Zurich’s population seems eager to show a visitor how to slow down and enjoy a glass of rosé in the middle of a work day.

HOW

Zurich’s central train station is the largest in Switzerland, with direct connections to nearly every major city in Western Europe. Zurich’s airport is the largest in Switzerland, and is the hub for Swiss Air.

TABLET TIP

Zurich is notoriously expensive, and all the more so when it comes to taking a taxi. Fortunately the public transportation system is clean, fast and efficient — so skip the cabs and opt for a day pass.


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