Modernism meets medieval history at the Widder Hotel on the shores of Lake Zurich.
ZURICH — Zurich is having something of a design moment and a foodie moment. So much so that I'd say the Swiss lakes are giving Italy a run for its money. Visitors are in for rare treats in the beautifully preserved city on the shores of Lake Zurich.
I was especially taken on my recent visit when I stayed at the Widder Hotel, a five-star, design-led boutique in the heart of the quaint Old Town. A series of townhouses from the 15th-century have been expertly combined to create a 49-room sanctuary, with two restaurants and one very chic bar scene.
The hotel’s authentic shuttered façade overlooks Rennweg, a pedestrian street in the quiet Augustiner quarter, a perfect jumping-off point for exploration. I loved this neighborhood of medieval church spires and cobblestone walkways, but it was the juxtaposition of styles at The Widder that really won me over. From the intimate library (original stone walls, Eames chairs, state-of-the-art, wood-burning stove) to the sleek glass elevators, the Widder is a wonderful discovery for tourists, foodies, and business travelers alike.
Design Double Rooms start at CHF470 ($480). The penthouse (CHF4,000) has fireplaces, terraces, and bi-level spaces ideal for large groups and long-term stays. Check for availability.
This place is stylish from the minimalist check-in desk. Everyone, from the helpful concierges to the valets, is clad in sleek suits (and appears under low, directional lighting). It feels polished and luxurious. You’ll want to enlist the help of the connected concierge for advice on exploring the surrounding historic neighborhood and for help booking the best tables.
Set in the heart of the Old Town, the location can’t be beat for its proximity to not only the business district, but also to the unspoiled beauty of Lake Zurich, the Limmat River, and the snow-capped Alps. The bustling shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse, is steps away, but it is the peaceful surrounding streets that make the location so special. Tip: Hundreds of church bells on Sunday mornings make for a rare symphony.
Modernism meets medieval history with original, rough-hewn oak beams integrated with glass and chrome walls. It feels less like a hotel and more like a guest lounge. The Igloo, a winter pop-up that runs from November 2 to January 31, 2018, is a glass atrium bar that's been transformed into an all-white winter wonderland serving icy cocktails and traditional Raclette.
This Place Is Perfect For
The Widder is ideal for business travelers (it’s quiet and just steps from the Financial District), curious tourists, and design lovers (the mix of original oak finishes and cutting edge LED TVs and glass elements are just fascinating). The whole place is something of an engineering feat.
But Not So Perfect For
The Widder isn’t as perfect as say, Dolder Grand, for families with young kids. It has a quieter tone — and no swimming pool — and it caters to a slightly older crowd.
What’s on Site
A subterranean fitness center with TechnoGym equipment is excellent for curing jet lag (personal training and nutritional coaching are available), but this isn’t a spa destination. For that, book in at the nearby Dolder Grand for the Norman Foster-designed spa with every state-of-the-art, soothing treatment under the Swiss sun.
Food + Drink
Breakfast is often included in the room rate (subject to booking) and the bright AuGust brasserie offers everything from homemade Bircher muesli to croissants, with a vast selection of teas and frothy coffees. The more formal Widder Bar & Kitchen is a destination for locals and serves a weird mélange of cuisines — Swiss favorites, curries, themed tasting menus focused on a specific ingredient (recent examples include chili, cilantro, basil). The Widder Bar Summer Lounge is a truly special, leafy niche that’s "open in fine weather” from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
There are 49 rooms and suites featuring different design elements and color schemes. No two are the same. Most feature original woodwork and stone finishes, and each feels like light-filled, sumptuous oasis.
Movement-sensitive night lights, adjustable mattresses, bathroom mirrors with integrated TVs, Bang & Olufsen stereos, Nespresso machines, minibars stocked with Swiss chocolates, and excellent, free WiFi are all standard.
I liked everything, but certain rooms are darker than others. (Request the bright Room 403 for energizing blue details and a Le Corbusier couch.)
The service here is lovely — a mix of organized excellence and warmth. The staff makes every effort to over-deliver, and if the hotel car is free and waiting, they will happily take you to nearby sights or even to the airport (as was the case when I departed at 5 a.m.). Personalized business cards for your stay are a nice touch.
The Old Town is a magical part of Zurich — there are no cars or chain stores! (Save one Starbucks that I spotted.) The 15th- and 16th-century buildings, and particularly the churches with their enormous clock faces, make this feel like a blissful, old-fashioned time warp.
What to Do Nearby
For a cultural fix, don’t miss the Kunsthaus with its collection of Giacometti, Munch, Picasso, and Matisse, and the contemporary Kunsthalle gallery. But it is the surrounding streets — and natural beauty — that are most special. St. Peter’s Church, with the largest church clock in Europe, is a one-minute walk from the hotel. The stained glass windows by Marc Chagall at the Fraumünster Church are definitely worth a detour.
Don’t miss the concierge’s recommendations that cover everything from food to nearby walks. One of my favorites is Schwarzenbach, a must for foodie delights of all kinds — global teas, chocolates, and every kind of dried fruit imaginable. Spitzenhaus is more than just a parfumerie; the owners have curated a luxurious mini scent museum that provides an incredible education. Limited Stock is a spare, tasteful design store full of artisanal things from Europe and Japan set in an old blacksmith’s atelier.
Good to Know
This is a walking city, so pack shoes accordingly. If possible, don’t miss a Sunday morning in the Old Town. I had no idea how special this would be.
Plan Your Trip
The airport is about 30 minutes from the hotel in traffic, and the train station is just minutes away. Before leaving the airport, get a ZürichCARD travel and discount pass for access to all public transport, including trams, trolley buses, and trains that run in the most timely Swiss fashion. The pass also covers admission to many museums.
The city is largely free of cars, making it perfect for exploring on foot. Taxis are widely available as well.