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It's Swiss Time!

September 11, 2008 By:
Elyse Glickman, JE Feature
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A typically soothing kind of Swiss restaurant Photos by Elyse Glickman

f you had a month to wander around Switzerland, you would realize there is nothing "neutral" about it when it comes to its appeal as a destination. In fact, it is decidedly fabulous.

Cheese and chocolate notwithstanding (and they are as exquisite as you would expect), well-being and joie-de-vivre are Switzerland's greatest assets -- from museum-grade jewelry and watches to a wealth of cultural institutions to fine dining, alluring fashion and home design, spas and easy access to natural beauty that will have anybody clamoring to buy a new bike or take ski lessons.

Whether you are in bustling Zurich or the historically posh resort area of St. Moritz, there is one thing that will strike you about these places -- nobody seems to be in a rush.

So, what can we learn from the Swiss? They are clearly doing something right, as the streets are spotless, unemployment is low and most locals will graciously help you with heavy suitcases, maps or other travel-related problems at the blink of an eye. Of course, there is also that great international flavor Zurich and St. Moritz share.

This fabled high standard of living, however, does have a price tag. Be forewarned that with a lower U.S. dollar, sticker shock will probably ensue, and you may find yourself wishing you had a Swiss bank account.

Zurich's "Old Town" has everything the fashionista, the foodie and the history buff could want, from panoramic views to quaint one-off shops (they are especially strong with accessories boutiques --Lopardo for great belts and jewelry; Steffi Talman for couture footwear; and Ladenlücke for fun, fashionable items made from a variety of recycled products), to outstanding restaurants such as Zunfthaus zur Waag (or, the Guild House, founded in 1636).

Also worth seeing is the Fraumünster (Minister of Our Lady) church, best known for three stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall during one of its 20th century renovations.

Curving around the old town like a diamond tennis bracelet is Bahnhofstrasse, the most expensive street in the world. It is also home to Carlton (www.carlton.ch), a knock-out restaurant owned by noted sommelier Markus Segmüller.

The nearby opera district is home to both great old school restaurants and fantastic local hotspots such as Du Theatre (www.du-theatre.ch), which on our visit was all about truffles (not the chocolate kind) and artisan ingredients.

And while vegetarian restaurants are once again hip, a visit to Hiltl (www.hiltl.ch), the first vegetarian eatery in Europe, is worth a visit, not only for its history but its fresh take on all things stylishly meatless. (Souvenir tip: Hiltl's cookbook offers great no-brainer kosher-friendly treats and looks great on the coffee table. And, by the way, what better a combination of Jewish interests is represented by the Zurich dairy kosher restaurant Books & Bagels.)

Zurich-West, a former red-light district, takes urban renewal to a stylish extreme with its expanse of art galleries and former factories transformed into sparkling entertainment complexes.

It is also home to Freitag, the ultimate in recycle-chic bags and purses fashioned from canvas truck tarps.

On the other side of Zurich, Sihlcity (located near the apex of two of the city's Jewish neighborhoods) also inspires with the way it has transformed industrial spots into sleek destinations.

Although getting to St. Moritz from Zurich takes effort, it is well worth it. (That view! Those mountains!).

Thanks to the presumed healing powers of its natural spring water (which Hotel Kampinski St. Moritz takes full advantage of), the mountain town was historically a summer destination. Through the efforts of the Hotel Kulm's owner 100 years ago, well-heeled British travelers learned winter could be dazzling.

From that came Switzerland's first tourism board, a ski school, and, ultimately, a hub of high fashion and gastronomy.

Bringing St. Moritz's unique cache into the 21st century is the recently revitalized Hotel Carlton (www.carlton-stmoritz.ch). While not affiliated with the Zurich restaurant bearing the same name, it is just as deliciously elegant a fusion of Old World comfort, impeccable service and modern glamour.

Should money be no object, look into the suite dressed up in Rampazzi's Marc Chagall-inspired mural. The spa is also extraordinary, especially the "La Stone" massage, which takes now-familiar hot stone therapy to new Alpine heights.

Whether or not you ski, you'll find fashion literally soars to great heights in St. Mortiz. Every major designer from A(rmani) to Z(egna) is represented, as well as (surprise!) L.A.-based Ed Hardy.

Restaurants around town, meanwhile, make the same kind of fashion statement -- elevated casual chic. The restaurant that epitomizes this is La Marmite (www.mathisfood.ch), a foodie institution launched by Hartley Mathis in 1967 and maintained today by son Reto Mathis.

For more information, visit: www.myswitzerland.com.

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