Shaded by a tall Mammut tree that is almost as old as the hotel, in Baur au Lac park, there is a miniature model of the hotel that may be the world’s only 5-Star beehive. Relatively new, the bees are still getting settled. In time, the honey will be sold to hotel guests.
Built in 1844, the hotel is privately owned. Over the generations, the hotel has expanded to include 120 rooms. In the last decade, the family completed a two hundred million Swiss Francs renovation. Walking around the property you will see the attention the family lavishes on the hotel.
Floral arrangements are such an important feature of Baur au Lac, two full time florists attend to the flowers that decorate the public spaces and all the private rooms.
The lounge adjacent to the front desk was an important feature of the hotel’s renovation. Called the Hall, the space is the hotel’s elegant living room.
Besides the flowers and plush arm chairs and sofas, you will notice the art. Bottero’s “Watermelon” is prominently displayed in the Hall along with an oil painting of Johannes Baur, the founder of the hotel.
As you walk around the hotel, you will notice that the many paintings and sculptures create an air of tasteful luxury.
Baur au Lac is a modern hotel with a gracious soul.
Before you settle into the comfortable easy chair in your room, you will visit the mini-bar in search of a beverage and a snack. You like the looks of the aluminum tin of salted nuts and a small bottle of Chivas Regal.
As you read the novel you brought with you and you sip your cocktail, you will enjoy the moment even more because you know that there is no fee for what is placed in the mini-bar.
Baur au Lac believes that charging for the mini-bar would be ungracious. As you finish your Chivas Regal, you couldn’t agree more.
Use the hotel to explore the city
You will be tempted to spend a good deal of time in the hotel and you will. But Zurich is an exciting city and you will want to make time to do some exploring.
You will have a conversation with the concierge and talk about your interests, your likes and dislikes. In short order you will be presented with an itinerary and a map.
You will be given a list of the nearby museums and because the hotel faces Lake Zurich, you will be advised to walk along the water front promenade where swimming clubs pop up during the summer. Constructed on floating piers, the clubs have sun decks and cafes. Continue walking south along the eastern side of the lake and you will see more people sun bathing on the grassy slopes and sitting in the outdoor cafes that face the water.
While you are exploring the lake, the concierge will suggest you cross the Quaibrücke to have a drink at Kronehalle Bar. You will want to find a seat with a view of the paintings on the forest green walls. In this intimate bar, there are original paintings by Miró, Braque, Chagall and Matisse. There are few galleries where you can admire great art and sip a Cosmopolitan at the same time.
If you want to do some shopping, walk toward the city and within a block of the hotel on Bahnhofstrasse, you will pass upscale branded shops like Tiffany & Co., Prada and Patek Phillipe.
Once you have explored the area around the lake and you have window shopped on Bahnhofstrasse, you will certainly want to visit the city’s newest and most energized neighborhood, Zurich West. The neighborhood of factory buildings and warehouses is home to art galleries, cafes, bookstores, craft stores, technology incubators, clubs, bars and music venues.
The concierge desk can give you directions. Take a taxi, a tram or the train. From the hotel many trams stop at Schiffbau, named for a football sized building used for ship building that was redeveloped into a performance venue. That transformation in 2000 began the revitalization of the neighborhood.
If you take the train, exit at the Hardbrücke stop. Walk underneath the expressway until you reach Geroldstrasse. In the evening you will want to walk to the left toward the glass and steel Prime Tower, Zurich’s tallest building. The art galleries, bars, restaurants and clubs that surround the Schiffbau are in that direction. The neighborhood is still an active industrial area, so walk carefully across the train tracks and look both ways to avoid the truck and rail traffic.
In warm weather, you will want to turn right on Geroldstrasse so you can experience Frau Gerold’s Garden (Frau Gerolds Lageplan).
The Garden is a playful destination constructed entirely out of recycled materials. What has been discarded by the city has found a second life at Frau Gerold’s. Only open when the weather is good, the Garden is thoroughly engaging, with a large outdoor space and small shops selling clothing, jewelry and bicycles.
I visited on a warm summer day. The sky was bright blue. The flowers were in bloom and people gathered in the sun and under canvas tenting to enjoy the good Swiss weather.
Calling it a garden, is no marketing ploy. In makeshift planters, raised vegetable beds and pots there were herbs, flowers, tomatoes and leafy greens growing in profusion. While I was enjoying an espresso, a chef and assistants harvested dill, Italian parsley and oregano before walking back into the kitchen.
Sandwiches and salads are served from the outdoor café counter. There are dozens of beers to choose from as well as coffee beverages and wine. Scattered around the ground level and on the terrace above the café are a dozen flat screen TVs to watch movies or videos from local artists.
Eating well is the best revenge
Zurich is a city of many fine restaurants. In the hotel there are two that you will want to enjoy.
Rive Gauche is a casual dining restaurant. Originally a grill room, today Rive Gauche throws a wider culinary net. In addition to expertly prepared cuts of beef that come sizzling out of the kitchen’s 800 F broiler, chef Olivier Rais serves delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes that are beautifully plated.
On my visit I had the best of both worlds.
Sous vide carrots, seared in a hot sauté pan, were finished with a delicate tofu sauce spiced with cumin and caraway seeds. Vegan ravioli were filled with dried tomatoes and zucchini on a watercress coulis. The vegetables were excellent and so was the perfectly charred Black Angus boneless rib eye steak.
When you stay at Baur au Lac, you will certainly want to reserve one evening for a meal at the fine dining restaurant, Pavilion.
You will have enjoyed the room during the day because breakfast and lunch are served in Pavilion. The large circular dining room has views of the Terrasse, the patio for summer service, and Baur au Lac park, with its expansive lawn and outdoor sculpture garden.
At night, the room has a modern elegance defined by subdued lighting, exquisite furnishings and massive floral displays.
Chef Laurent Eperon serves dishes that reflect Old World elegance with a modern sensibility. Of course there will be foie gras and you will be pleased with its clean taste and delicate flavors. To compliment the rich meat, the plate will be decorated with a stalk of asparagus and daubs of Meyer lemon coulee, Cambodian pepper powder, sea salt and a fine crumble of Sablé Breton, a cookie found on dessert plates that was a refreshing contrast to the foie gras.
If you enjoy wine, Aurélien Blanc, Pavilion’s restaurant manager, will help you navigate the tasting menu with suggestions.
To pair with the foie gras, he may suggest a locally produced Charles Bonvin Cuvée Or, Switzerland, 2012. With an effervescent lobster bisque, he might offer another Charles Bonvin wine, a Petite Arvine du Valais, Switzerland, 2015. The briny dry white wine will cut across the richness of the broth.
A very satisfying tasting could include lobster medallions with grapefruit gelée and avocado. A gastronomic version of a gin and tonic. Sea bass with squid in its own ink. To conclude the meal, you will certainly want to see the cheese trolley with a selection of Swiss and French cheeses that go very well with a Guido Brivio Merlot Due Amici, Ticino, Switzerland, 2012.
At the end of the meal, after such delicious food and so many lovely Swiss wines, you will be struck with a philosophic thought.
As human beings we must eat to live. That is a given.
Chef Eperon is one of those chefs who will remind you that eating is also an act of the senses. When we are fully engaged in a meal, food speaks to us in many ways. We are moved by contrasts of texture and seasoning, by the play of sweetness and acidity and by the beauty of shapes and colors.
In the morning before you check out, you will walk into Baur au Lac park to enjoy the fresh, cool air coming off the lake. The quiet elegance of the hotel has refreshed you. In the distance you can hear the city waking up. It is time to go.
But you linger a moment longer. You may even hear the faint buzzing of the 5-Star bees in their hive, hidden under the Mammut tree. Maybe next time you visit, you can buy a jar of their honey to bring home to share with your loved ones. That would be nice.
WHEN YOU GO:
Baur au Lac, Talstrasse 1, CH – 8001 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0) 44 220 50 20, +41 (0) 44 220 50 44 (fax), firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bauraulac.ch