by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
As my plane descended into Zurich, all I could see was color - green hillsides, blue lakes, and white snowcapped mountains. There's no way to really paint the beauty of this country - for starters, it's clean and lush like a giant park in the middle of Europe, surrounded by four other countries (France, Italy, Germany, and Austria), and it's a safe destination for tourists from every background. It's also sensible; from national politics to public transportation, everything seems to tick and tock flawlessly, and the Swiss people look genuinely happy to be just where they are. The only drawback is the dent to your wallet - all this beauty and a high standard of living come at a price, as in $4 for bottled water or $8 for coffee and a muffin. But it's worth saving up for. Switzerland must be captured with the human eye, not through a camera lens. It should be walked on, swam in, skied down, tasted, smelled, and inhaled. Start planning your trip by visiting www.myswitzerland.com, then click on the 'Gay & Lesbian' option under 'Interests.' This is how you might want to spend a week in Switzerland.
With a population of only 380,000 residents, Zurich is considerably smaller than other principal European cities like London or Paris. This makes getting around a cinch, starting with a 20-minute zip from the airport to its core - downtown is beautifully settled on opposite sides of a canal that runs into Lake Zurich. There's no Gay district, although there is a patch of bars and businesses that cater entirely or mostly to non-hetero folks. If on a budget, riding the streetcars from one neighborhood to the next is a great way to familiarize you with this lovely, tranquil city.
STAY at the Goldenes Schwert (www.gayhotel.ch/d/index.html), or 'Golden Sword' (also referred to as the G-Hotel), an easy-to-find hotel that puts you within arm's reach of restaurants, museums, souvenir shops, Starbucks, the main train station, and a few Gay bars. Be warned, the T&M club on the ground floor pipes loud dance music until 2 a.m. on weekends, but the 22-room hotel does provide guests with earplugs. Standard amenities in a trendy, yet simple setting are included, and my assigned room had a charming view of the courtyard.
EAT / DRINK at Gnusserei (www.gnuesserei.com), an art deco-style restaurant in an historic building inside the city's hip East Zurich district. Its perfection of a staple - roesti (shredded potatoes) with chicken and mushrooms in a thick gravy - and a thoughtful combination of beets, couscous, radicchio, and edible flowers tossed together in a salad earned Gnusserei a pick on my top restaurants list (Best of Travel, 2010). Kantorei (www.restaurant-kantorei.ch) is located in central Zurich and is the recipient of glowing reviews, citing a consistent triumph on traditional favorites like hornli - pasta with meat ragout and house-made apple compote - or its spin on a classic, like blueberry tiramisu with Bailey's. For cocktails, Cranberry (www.cranberry.ch) is a Gay bar that attracts cute men every night of the week. With limited space, it can feel rather snuggly on Fridays and Saturdays, though you'll find more wiggle room upstairs and the front patio. Barfusser Sushi & Bar (www.barfuesser.ch) is a lounge flooded by Gay clientele; it's more chic than Cranberry and offers inventive cocktails, sushi, and nightly specials in an illuminating, peppy environment.
SHOP at Orell Russli (Bahnhofstrasse 70), which carries an assortment of English and Gay-specific books and DVDs, as well as magazines that list local events.
Lausanne is the fourth-largest city in Switzerland and home to a respected Poly Tech college, Olympic Museum, and a famed landmark, The Cathedral of Notre Dame, not to mention being skirted by Lake Geneva. Surprisingly, it felt more alive here than in Zurich, which is under two hours by train - visit www.raileurope.com for Swiss Pass details.
STAY at Alpha Palmiers Hotel (www.fassbindhotels.com), a three-minute walk up a steep hill from the main train terminal. From the exterior it looks to be an itty bitty boutique property, but it boasts 210 rooms on several floors arranged in a circular architecture. Rooms are generous in space and modern in decor with amenities you'd get in American hotels such as widescreen LCD televisions, CD/DVD players, marble counter bathrooms, coffeemakers, and lots of windows to let the light in.
EAT / DRINK at LES ARCHES! (www.lesarches.ch), a cool outdoor restaurant-lounge and good starting point for a night's adventure, located right under a bridge and near other popular hangouts. For dinner, try the smashing Le Pur (www.pur-flon.ch), which turned a simple white fish into a delectable work of art alongside flawless risotto. A hop and skip away is MAD (www.mad.ch), a hot club with three floors uniquely adorned - some in homage to Hollywood royalty and some with a sci-fi vibe. Gay parties are frequent at MAD, so here's where to get your dance on.
VISIT the Olympic Museum (www.olympic.org) in the morning, even if you're sports-challenged. The history of the Olympic Games is told in authentic memorabilia, photos, and a sculpture garden. The educational museum includes a library, autographed basketball from USA's 'Dream Team,' flame torches from every Olympics - summer and winter - from 1936 (Berlin) to 2010 (Vancouver), and an interesting exhibit showing underwear-clad studly athletes with their equipment (um, bats and balls). In the afternoon, rent a car and drive to Domaine du Daley (www.daley.ch), a pristine winery in the Lavaux valley - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - that grows 12 grape varieties and exports 8,000 bottles a year. With terrace views of Lake Geneva and rolling hills below, enjoy a wine tasting with authentic Swiss cheese, cured meats, and fresh bread.
As long as you're in Switzerland, get up close to the Matterhorn, rising 4,478 meters from the ground and both a stunning natural wonder and a reminder of tragedy, as hundreds of climbers have died passionately climbing it. From crepe shops to four-star chalets to rustic pubs, Zermatt is not just for outdoorsy folks; there's plenty to do for everyone. A three-hour trek from Lausanne on two different trains - with a one-minute stop at St. Niklaus - is all it takes to reach this destination.
STAY at Chalet Nepomuk (www.interhome.ch), an amazing chalet with contemporary touches throughout. It feels like a luxury hotel at this multi-floor property that includes a deck whirlpool, sauna, recreation room, and shower stalls with wooden floors. Wake up to a sunset hitting Matterhorn and sink your teeth into fresh croissants with coffee, all in good style.
EAT / DRINK at Chez Heini (www.dandaniell.ch), an award-winning restaurant helmed by notable chef, writer, and entertainer Dan Daniell. The ambiance is cozy and sophisticated, and the food from lamb cutlets to filets of beef is memorable long after you've left Switzerland. If you're fortunate, Mr. Daniell might be there and perform a German standard.
VISIT Gornergrat, not a town or village but a peak high above Zermatt. A cogwheel train will deliver you there in about 20 minutes, and at the top you can enjoy lunch at the 3100 Restaurant (at 3,100 meters high) or just snap photos. If you thought the views of Matterhorn were incredible down in Zermatt, wait until you get to Gornergrat.
If you're looking for nice scenery, Lucerne is surrounded by it. You could spend an entire day on foot or sitting on a bench watching ferry boats come and go - better yet, take a ride yourself. Lucerne should also be explored for its art, home to the Swiss Museum of Transport, the Rosengrat Collection, and Museum of Art Lucerne. An hour's train ride returns you to Zurich.
STAY at Radisson Blu (www.radissonblu.com), a five-minute stroll from the central train station and near the waterfront, museums, and nightlife. It was unexpectedly cool at this corporate hotel with room decor straight out of an IKEA catalog, which was fine by me, and the visibly updated features throughout the hotel took me by surprise.
EAT / DRINK at Hotel zum Rebstock (www.rebstock-luzern.ch), a historic place that goes back several centuries. The restaurant's ratatouille soup with garlic croutons and roesti were flavorful, while the dining room was completely filled - always a good thing - and its walls were brushed in classic white. If you enjoy hikes (see below), the 40-minute climb up the Swiss William Tell Path ascends you to Seelisberg, where breathtaking views of the lake and green hillsides are at your disposal. There, too, is Hotel Bellevue (www.bellevue-seelisberg.ch) and its restaurant with a terrace and more impeccable views, plus a menu of specialties that includes chicken saltimbucca with saffron rice and their version of a banana split.
HIKE up the Swiss William Tell Path to Seelisberg and stay there for lunch, or take one of two paths back down. It's an educational trek and the path itself is paved entirely, but do wear shoes with good traction because it can be slippery. The hiking essentials are also recommended - compass, phone, bottled water, snacks, long pants, coat, etc. - but it's a short trail and you'll reach the top in no time. From the city of Lucerne, board a ferry at the waterfront (information booths are right there) and take a scenic boat ride to the Rutli station. You'll see a small cafe to have coffee or a beer before or after the hike.
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