I’ve been to a lot of European countries, but somehow I had never made it to Switzerland. In August, I changed that as my mum’s best friend from school (who she hadn’t seen for about 20 years!) invited us out for a couple of days over Bank Holiday weekend to catch up and explore the area around Lake Zurich a little bit.
We flew from Heathrow to Zurich on Swiss Air, arriving mid-afternoon on the Friday. It was a very sweet reunion for my mum and her friend Maggi, before a long drive to her new home in Hirzel. It’s not actually a long drive, it just was that day with a bit of Friday traffic!. Friday night started with a glass of champagne and more catching up with the addition of Maggi’s husband, Nick, on their terrace before heading down to a little place called Zug, who were holding their annual Jazz Festival. We had a lovely dinner on the edge of the lake before wandering around the town enjoying all of the live pop-up music acts. I loved the party atmosphere. It was a great welcome to the country.
Now, obviously when you think of Switzerland, you think log cabins, mountains and cheese, right? Right. So, on Saturday we fulfilled all of those cliches in one fell swoop. After a lazy morning chat over coffee (it takes a long time to catch up on 20years!), we headed to a nearby cable car (yes, cable car!) and headed up to the Felsenegg vantage point, just a few minutes’ drive from Hirzel. Once we got to the top, I loved it. The views were amazing and there was a variety of rambling and cycle paths for people to get out and about, plus directions and average times to the nearest bar – for each track. Brilliant! As we meandered along a simple walk to a beautiful spot for lunch, where we sat listening to cow bells (only half as annoying as it could have been due to the authenticity of the sound in such a location) and enjoying the spectacular scenery, families passed us on weekend strolls, dog-walkers tipped their hats and cyclists buzzed by. It gave such a great impression of living an outdoorsy, active life. I was somewhat disappointed that I had a bad ankle and was barely managing the slow walk, let alone a country run which I would have absolutely loved.
After an afternoon of outdoor activity, we felt justified enough to eat our body weights in cheese, so out came the Raclette equipment and on went the loose clothing. Raclette is both the name of the dish and the cheese used to create it. You melt cheese under a hot grill in the middle of the table before scraping it off over potatoes. You can add onions, garlic, pickles, paprika, cumin or other spices to the cheese to flavour your meal. It was actually heaven, on a big cheesy plate. We finished the meal off with a bit of Swiss chocolate – obviously.
As is the general pattern for weekends away, the next morning involved more eating as we headed to visit Maggi’s daughter, Kathy, and her kids in nearby Liechtenstein for a big, homemade brunch. This was, again, very strange for my mum to realise how long it had been since she had seen Maggi, as when Kathy was seven, she was my mum’s bridesmaid and now she had a little girl of almost that age herself!
After brunch, we took a short stroll up to see Vaduz Castle. It isn’t open to the public, as it houses a still-very active royal family, but it’s still a great place to walk up to and see the manicured gardens from the outside, plus it has more great views. We then made our way down into the town where we encountered a full-on vintage car rally happening, before heading back to Kathy’s for some homemade cake and tea. And as if a visit to another principality wasn’t enough, after this we kept going and headed into Austria for a quick aperitif before driving back to Hirzel for dinner – more cheese and wine in case you were in any doubt.
Monday was our last day in the country and we still hadn’t been in to the city of Zurich itself, so as Maggi had to get to work (it wasn’t a bank holiday in Switzerland!), Mum and I caught the train into the centre of a quick wander around the shops on Bahnhofstrasse (window shopping only for those labels at Swiss prices!). We had lunch at Zeughauskeller, a shockingly typical Swiss restaurant filled with tourists and businessmen alike, where we ordered schnitzel and cordon bleu with rosti and some local Swiss wine, before catching the boat back to the house across Lake Zurich. That was fun and we were glad the weather held up for us to experience that.
Monday night was a quiet dinner in a local Italian (where Nick and Maggi had their first date over 20 years ago!). Italian food is what the Swiss have when they go out. The schnitzel/raclette/rosti typical-style food is usually reserved for home cooking and old taverns, whereas most Swiss families tend to go to Italian restaurants when they eat out. It was a lovely evening to end a lovely weekend. Maybe next time I go back, I need to get my skis on?
Have you been to Zurich?