Passion Points: Escape
There are some hotels that deliver such a sense of place that even less than twenty-four hours in a city can feel like a concentrated dose of escape. I recently flew through Zürich on my way back to New York and tried a hotel that I had heard raves about from friends and Indagare members—the Widder.
Located in the heart of the Augustiner, the medieval quarter of the Old Town, the Widder is a collection of nine historic townhouses that have been transformed into one of the best boutique hotels in Europe. The five-star property manages to mix old and new, art and comfort and service and intimacy—no small feat. It took more than four years and evident feats of engineering to transform the nine houses into an elegant puzzle of rooms.
As soon as you enter the lobby, you can see the elaborate architectural finesse that went into combining spaces. Giant glass windows reveal an interior courtyard, where one stone building dates from 1200. To reach the guest rooms, you pass through corridors where the different colored walls delineate the various buildings that have been joined. Wooden window frames remain, though sealed, to retain exterior facades that are now part of the interiors. Sleek, all-glass elevator cabins whir up and down with a wall of windows facing the garden on one side and an exposed medieval wall of piled stones on the other. The Widder Bar, a popular watering hole, contains wooden beams dating back to 1291 and tufted red leather booths.
An incredible collection of modern art is displayed throughout the hotel, which may be one reason that collectors on their way to Art Basel tend to hole up here. Among the artists exhibited are Andy Warhol, Alberto Giacometti, Serge Poliakoff, Adolf Loos, Jean Arp and Robert Rauschenberg. The preponderance of ram images (a silkscreen by Warhol and a six-foot tall wooden Picassoesque sculpture among them) pays tribute to one of the building’s past as the Guild of the Ram, as the society of local butchers’ was named.
Everyone of the forty-two guest rooms and nine suites is different. Some feature 16th century frescoes and Mies van der Rohe furniture; others blend Eames chairs and beamed ceilings; the penthouse has a sleek terrace with views of church spires and its own original Robert Rauschenberg. Mine felt like a modernist’s attic apartment with steel and glass tables and lamps accenting Biedermeier pieces; a Baroque console fit for an Italian church hid the minibar.
Thoughtful technological details have been incorporated, such as both portable and landline phones (we all have preferences) and broadband connections by the desks. (Kudos for the management recognizing that Wifi can be slow.) Bathrooms have gorgeous but not predictable marble floors. Mine had black squares framed with small interchanging mosaics of blue and white. Even the amenities included extra touches such as talcum powder to complement the body lotion.
Because all the details are genuine, artistic and at home, the mingling of old and new feels considered not contrived—just like the surrounding area. The streets ringing the hotel (Rennweg, Augustiner Gasse, Widder and Kuttel Gasse) feature centuries old gabled houses with painted facades, wooden shutters and wrought-iron detailing that now contain stylish shops and trendy eateries. (For favorites see Zurich restaurants and shops).
Many in Zürich consider the Widder the hotel of choice for art collectors and bankers as retreat because so many UBS bankers make it a home away from home. But I would put it in an elite category: one of those rare hotels that can deliver an instant fix on a place. The kind that is perfect for those who don’t have much time but want to be quickly immersed in the heart and soul of a special city.
Who it’s right for: Art and style lovers and 21st century bankers and people who prefer sophisticated elegance to formality. For a grand, Old World palace type hotel, the Baur au Lac is a better choice.
Who it’s wrong for: As there are lots of stairways linking the houses, it is important that anyone who has a tough time with steps should specify that at the time of reservation. Some rooms can be accessed without any steps, but you would want to be sure to book one of them specifically.
Read A Letter From Zürich: Follow the Google Guys by our founder on why it deserves its top ranking for highest quality of life.
Read more suggestions on Zürich Highlights.
Read our insider’s guide to St. Moritz.
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