Swiss style

Having flown over the Danube River winding through Hungary, past the Italian Dolomites with just the occasional glimpse of the Swiss Alps, I touch down in Zurich. As the plane taxis to the gate, I’m greeted by scenes that conjure up memories of Heidi – chalets, flower-filled meadows, snow-capped mountains, hills dense with trees. 

It’s not a high-rise city, but more a jumble of churches, quaint houses and public spaces that give way to the rivers and lakes that make up a large part of the city’s character. I’m in Zurich as a guest of Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, to see first-hand how their claims of weaving Swiss culture into their hotels translates into the guest experience. Swissôtel now operates in more than 30 countries under Canadian-based hotel group FRHI, which also owns Fairmont- and Raffles-branded properties.

From the airport, it’s a short drive to Swissôtel Zurich in the Oerlikon District. This is the brand’s flagship hotel and has just undergone a renovation of its common spaces (refurbishment of its 347 rooms and suites is scheduled for late 2015). One of the highlights is Le Muh restaurant, serving contemporary European cuisine. Swissôtel sources products from local artisans, with the aim of giving guests a glimpse into the Swiss way of life.

I visit John Baker bakery in Zurich, which provides Le Muh with its daily bread, including the intricate Swiss plaited loaves. Later, an outdoor dinner party in the Old Botanical Garden allows me to sample honey from one of the hotel’s suppliers: an ‘urban bee garden’, with hives kept on rooftops around Zurich. A taste of the honey atop a slice of creamy Jersey blue cheese from renowned cheesemaker Willi Schmid confirms my belief in the superiority of Swiss cheese. Schmid’s factory is the size of an average living room and he can determine what type of grass a cow has eaten by tasting its milk.

I get a more rural insight into how the Swiss live the following day en route to Geneva. Stopping in Wangen an der Aare, we’re shown farms where mint, lemon balm and lavender are grown – to be distilled into essential oils, which are then infused into the hotel’s Pürovel amenities brand. These products are found in Swissôtel’s rooms and spas around the world. One farmer explains the process of growing mint while I run my fingers through the leaves. A delightfully potent scent on my skin remains with me for the rest of the morning. In the next field, a sea of bee balm (bergamot) is a blanket of pink, contrasting perfectly with the blue sky.

The scent of fresh mint, which is used in Swissôtel’s Purovel products

Sunflower meadows and vineyards soon give way to the lakefront buildings of Geneva, their façades splashed with advertising for luxury Swiss watch brands. I’m checking into Swissôtel Mètropole Geneva on the lakefront in the Old Town, opposite the Jardin Anglais, or English Garden, and its l’horloge fleurie (floral clock). The cool lobby is refreshing after a hot day in the fields – and the service equally as impeccable as in Zurich.

On entering my room, zesty raspberry cocktail in hand, I am taken by the colourful silk wallpaper crafted for the hotel by Jakob Schlaepfer, whose bespoke fabric creations have been utilised by the likes of Louis Vuitton, Vivienne Westwood and Chanel. The blurry floral print is designed to evoke alpine fields and honours Switzerland’s silk-making heritage.

Swissôtel’s artisanal partnerships extend to century-old luxury stationers Caran d’Ache. At its factory, I hear about the most extravagant pen they’ve crafted – made of solid gold and encrusted with diamonds, it was picked up by a collector for about €1 million (about A$1.5m).

Swissôtel’s partnership with Caran d’Ache is somewhat more practical, the stationer crafting special-edition pens to be gifted to members of its Swissôtel Circle loyalty program who reach the top-tier Zenit level.

At the end of a busy day, I head to the rooftop bar, 5 Lounge. Sipping Laurent-Perrier with a panoramic view of Lake Geneva and the Jet d’Eau fountain is an unbeatable way to greet the sunset.

Sampling the produce of Switzerland in Zurich’s Old Botanic Garden

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