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Zurich, the little big city

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FROM MAY onwards, low-cost airline Helvetic will be operating flights from Faro airport to Zurich – offering an ideal opportunity to explore the largest city in Switzerland.

Known as ‘the little big city’, Zurich is not actually the capital of Switzerland (that is Bern). However, although it is small by international standards, the city has a compact and fascinating historical heart that is well worth exploring – and don’t think you can only travel by foot – you can pick up free bikes, skates and skateboards at several stops throughout town. There is also the Polybahn, a 19th century funicular, which rides up the steep hill from the Central tram station to the ETH (Science and Technology University).

Whichever mode of transport you decide upon, take time to explore the old town’s narrow pedestrianised alleyways that link the picturesque houses, bars and bistros – the perfect places for savouring traditional Swiss food and lazy people watching.

Cultural gems

Most of the interesting sights are also in the old town, around the river and lakefront. The Grossmünster is an old Romanesque church and a symbol of reformed Zurich, Huldrych Zwingli was appointed the people’s priest in 1519 – be sure to climb one of the towers for amazing views over the city. Culture fans should take time to visit the Landesmuseum, the biggest Swiss history museum, the Kunsthaus art museum, where work by Swiss artists, modern sculptor Giacometti and the surrealist 18th century painter Fuesli are on show, and the Rietberg Museum, which houses one of Europe’s best collections of Asian art.

Fabulous shopping

Don’t miss a walk down the city’s famous Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most exclusive and expensive shopping streets in the world. Here you can get anything from diamond rings to chocolate and fur coats, and you’ll find the well-known Swiss banks. Shop-a-holics should also check out Niederdorf, which is lined with luxurious designer shops and trendy boutiques, and Löwenstrasse, which offers a large Migros department store.

Stunning views

Take a walk, ride or skate along the Schanzengraben (a small canal that used to be part of the city fortifications between Limmat and Sihl) to the magnificent lake Zurich and the river that divides the city into two parts. Why not climb aboard a pedalo, cruise ship or steam boat for a tour around the lake? You will be absolutely amazed at the views to the high Alps draped with snow in the background. Alternatively, go for a stroll along the Lake Promenade. Starting from Bellevue, the boardwalk goes for about three kilometres along the lake towards Tiefenbrunnen.

However, for the best overview of Zurich, be sure to take the tiny train up the beautiful Uetliberg mountain, also known as House Mountain. Climb up to the lookout tower for a picturesque 360 degree view of the lake, the city and the amazing Alps (not for vertigo sufferers!). This is also the start of the planetenweg (planetary walk), an eight mile walk along the ridge, complete with models of the planets that are scaled down in true proportion to the solar system.

Chocolate heaven

The Sprüngli chocolate shop is a Zurich institution that offers a variety of sweet and savoury goodies, including a wide variety of chocolates, from hand-made truffles to special chocolate bars. Specialities include the Luxembergerli, a sort of soft macaroon that comes in a variety of flavours, the Truffe du Jour, a chocolate truffle that is made daily from cream and is meant to be consumed immediately and the extraordinary Grand Cru Sauvage truffle, made from wild cacao beans from Bolivia – pricey but worth it!

PDM verdict

Whether it’s fabulous views, delicious chocolate or amazing shopping, we believe you’ll have an unforgettable stay in the ‘little big city’.