Business trip: Zurich
After a hard day at work, visit Zurich's Huerlimann Thermalbad and Spa around sunset, when the open-air terrace views are at their best. (Huerlimann Thermalbad)
One third of all passengers arriving at Zurich Airport are business travellers – a clear indication that this city, located in Switzerland’s German-speaking northeastern region, is the country’s capital of commerce. The Swiss economy has weathered the European financial zigzags, a feat that is partly due to its steadfast efficiency in all areas. With low unemployment and a highly skilled workforce, it comes as no surprise that the country's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 0.20% in the fourth quarter of 2012. As a result, new hotels and restaurants are sprouting up as if this were the best of times.
Zurich Airport is an easy, manageable European hub with an enviable record for punctuality that is typically Swiss. Swiss International Airlines, the reincarnation of the famous Swissair brand, is responsible for more than half of the airport's traffic, and first, business, and elite frequent flyer members can round out a long-haul flight with breakfast and a shower in the new Swiss International Airlines arrivals lounge, opened in April 2012 near baggage claim. The airport saw a 4% increase in both passenger numbers and flights in each of the past five years.
Due to high taxi fares (almost 70 francs in one direction), the speediest and most affordable way into town is via a 10-minute train journey from the airport (roughly four francs one way). Trains depart six times an hour to Zurich Central Station, making this the obvious choice, especially if your office or hotel is located in the city centre. When you arrive, visit any tourist information desk or train-ticket outpost to purchase a ZürichCARD, which grants multi-day access to the city's public transport network including trains, buses, and trams.
While the city's paramount business-class hotels continue to be the elegant 120-room Baur au Lac facing Lake Zurich and the quieter 173-room Dolder Grand nestled in the hills overlooking the city centre, there are other, newer choices.
For example, the 300-room Renaissance Zurich Tower, opened in August 2011, is a central landmark in the blossoming Zurich West district, a former industrial centre now known as the city's zone for artists, designers and musicians. Scoring a room on the hotel’s executive level insures boxes of regional chocolate delivered nightly, bathrooms stocked with Bulgari toiletries and an ample breakfast and evening snack spread in the top-floor club lounge, complemented by wine, beer and soft drinks.
The hotel's one-block proximity to the Technopark tram station puts it within a half-hour ride of the airport and within steps of the nightclubs, cafes and corporate towers sprouting up on every corner. Be sure to "pimp your burger" (as the hotel's signature Equinox restaurant instructs) with your favourite accoutrements, be it blue cheese crusts or béarnaise sauce. Or, tuck into the Australian-Swiss chef Mark Thommen's interpretation of spaetzle: Swiss noodles topped with a poached egg.
Closer to the lake sits the 142-room Park Hyatt Zurich, frequently named a business traveller favourite on Trip Advisor thanks to its blend of contemporary furnishings and swanky features, including electronically controlled window blinds and specially blended Blaise Mautin toiletries. Its location in Zurich’s Enge neighbourhood puts it smack dab amid the city's banking and financial institution hub. After a day negotiating deals, nuzzle up to the lobby's modern fireplace with a vintage wine or hand-rolled cigar from ONYX bar.
Like the Renaissance, the 126-room 25Hours Hotel has been a catalyst for growth in hip Zurich West. Its playful Alfredo Haeberli-designed interior is startlingly modern and fresh. Rooms feature vibrant colours with open-plan, glassed-in bathrooms and unique, whimsical paintings. In the hotel’s lobby, DJs spin tunes on the weekend while guests sip cocktails around tables topped with glass-enclosed models of the city's famous sights. Two cherry red Mini Cooper cars sit at the front entrance, waiting to shuttle guests around town as they wish.
On the other side of town in the Enge neighbourhood is one of the city's most unique and history-packed hotels, the 60-room B2 Boutique Hotel and Spa, located in the former Huerlimann brewery building, which dates from the 19th Century. Perched atop a small hill, the hotel’s conversation-spurring interiors make use of antique or unwanted items such as old lamps and chairs that have been repurposed for the modern era. Also on offer is an organic menu of hyper-local products including Swiss wine from a nearby vineyard. The lobby and Library Lounge is packed with nearly 30,000 books stacked in four-storey shelves; chandeliers fashioned out of old beer bottles hang on cylindrical racks (once used for drying bottles) suspended from the ceiling.