Updated: Jun 12, 2020
We’re all fantasising about past trips, adventures, discoveries and places. Scrolling through them on our phones. Daydreaming. Collating lists inspired by social media posts, sparking conversations about wishes and wants. Waiting for the green light, greedy to be able to Go! It’s not necessarily going to be abroad; it might not be through the lens of an airport terminal in which we see our dream destinations hurtling towards us. But eventually, it will be again.
The places which keep cropping up in ‘if only’ chats in our house includes Seville; I try not to let a calendar year flip by without visiting Andalucia’s most charming city. This searing cathedral gem served as a starting point for our matrimonial journey; I can attest first hand that getting down on one Cruzcampo-soaked knee is no mean feat. One of the most attractive things about Seville is that it’s only ever a quick hop away (living in the same county as Gatwick never loses its charm) and is devoid of the usual hustle and bustle tourist swarms that characterise neighbouring parts of Spain and other European sun traps. The same thing can be said about my wishlist destination number two - Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland.
I can’t keep my mind off it when throwing around the holiday tennis ball on travel websites - warming up the muscle memory of my laptop cookies. I first visited it by chance (accompanying my wife there on a work trip) and have since returned by choice. Zurich did in fact serve as a bookend to our aforementioned nuptial journey; we stopped off there for two nights having been stranded on mainland Greece, an airline strike providing a serendipitous but perfect end to a glutinous all inclusive honeymoon. You’ve probably got your own preconceptions about Zurich and Switzerland as a whole - I’m not sure I had any when flying over there for the first time - in fact my head was unusually empty, lacking in assumptions, but that’s in keeping with everything which makes Zurich so special; you’ll come away feeling enchanted, refreshed and eager to return - but you might not have a grip of why you feel that, if indeed you can pinpoint any profound feeling at all.
We’ve returned to a particular hotel in the Langstrasse district of the city a couple of times, charmingly named 25hours, one of a number of outlets that fall under the wider 25hours hotel group, a chain which lightly peppers other European capitals and tourist hotspots (Paris, Florence, Vienna). The Zurich offering is one of the most memorable places I’ve ever had the privilege to overnight in - there’s no other word for it - it’s cool - so very Swiss to dub it that when the word itself is now entirely throwaway, but it is cool. Picture the scene: the exterior of the building doesn’t give much away, particularly from afar, and although it is a stand-alone horizon-disrupting shape which juts out from the end of its block, the foreboding slate-grey panels are wholly unremarkable. Edge a little closer and you are greeted by multicoloured outdoor seating for daytime espressos and nighttime Old Fashioneds, a caravan which has Mary Poppins-esque chic bicycles for hire, as well as large drooping plants and miniature baobab trees which encourage you to take a seat and watch the world go by. And the world and the people passing by are worth watching; what you’ve heard about the natives all resembling Roger Federer or Martina Hingis is true. As easy on the eye as an assortment of Lindt chocolates, off they trot to nearby tech hubs and trendy shared work spaces just a few hundred yards away.
Back inside the hotel, now through the front doors and into the open planned reception, which leads seamlessly to the restaurant, the bar and the hotel shop - a shop which is so full of colourful, modern gadgets, trendy apparel and retro nicknacks that it could double up as a museum of the evolution of the hipster. Then moving past a games room, which houses a pinball machine, and into the elevator (quickly taking note of the location of the spa) to the rooms, because that’s where all places where we trade lots of money for short stays live and die, don’t they? Well here, they don’t disappoint, in fact, they’re the crowning glory. Light oranges and browns mark out the interior design, soft amber lighting makes a sympathetic partner at dusk if you’ve just touched down, and scattered around the pine shelving you will find your own personal polaroid and a decent supply of film, comic books and 80s paraphanellia (a Rubik’s cube, of course). Imagine Willy Wonka setting up home in Silicon Valley and you're not too far away. To top it all off each room is kitted out with a shiny UE BOOM speaker, which makes showering in the walk-in wet room even more of a time-consuming indulgence. We could stay inside here all day admiring the angles, but there’s more to see outside. Time then, to lace up our boots - which have to be practical enough for several thousand steps, but aesthetically pleasing enough to walk to the places where the real steps will count.
An hour’s walk and a nifty uphill train journey will take you into the foothills of the Swiss alps - Uetliberg - where panoramic views leave you with thoughts of the endless Toblerone chunks beyond. Over the first steps towards the heart of wild Switzerland and northern Italy, where ski resorts rule and wolves roam. But for now, snaps taken, with a hot chocolate in hand, our thoughts move from wolves to sheep and we’re ready to return to the city and its inhabitants. Who are all so adorable looking, well groomed and lamb-like that it’s almost incomprehensible. And that’s alright with us. It’s worth saying here that whilst the view from this high up does put you in mind of that well-known but abominable Swiss confectionery, the one which is hastily grabbed at airports all over Europe, there are other desserts at play: a puffy meringue or a block of Vienetta. Jaw-dropping as it is, this section of alpine expanse is so chocolate box sweet that it threatens to overspill and become sarchrine. Best then to return to the tram maze of the city, where cold vases of mediocre, crisp lager await us.
Back to the sleepy streets of the old town, past the colossal scythe-shaped Lake Zurich, whose vividly contrasting shorelines meet at a tip to supersoak the streets with clean-living. If the natives here are not pausing for alfresco breakfast croissants or faux italian brunches, then they're sauntering with one eye on their Breitling or Omega timekeeper, which ticks towards their next highfalutin appointment, spa slot or beers with briefcases. The scent of gilded titanium is palpable in purified air which wafts up and down the clean-as-you-like streets - and the locals drink it in, through upturned, perfectly plucked nostrils.
It’s an odd mix - all of the cliches about Swiss neutrality are half-true. Perhaps for Brits the sanitised aura offers a refreshing alternative to the usual weekend wantaways to the swashbuckling steiner-clinking rowdiness of Berlin, the thrifty yet glutinous getaway vibes in Budapest or the absolutely anything-goes hedonism of Barcelona. We’ve got room to mention confectionary once more before we wrap up, loosen your belt if you’re almost full up; to dispel the overused mountain similie once and for all, the triangular design of Toblerone actually originates from the pyramid-shaped contortions of a traditional Swiss dance, rather than taking inspiration from the massive Matterhorn as the legend suggests. The authentic has been given an unjust dose of the inauthentic to become more palitable, a watering up rather than down. The seductive blandless lulls you in, and because we’re a pair of 30-somethings with a couple of hundred francs to spare, we're willing accomplicies to this notion.