Let design shape your Zurich adventure

After chocolate and watches, one of the things most closely associated with Switzerland is clean living. On the one hand there is the clear alpine air, healthy hikes and crystal blue lakes and then there is its design.

A traditional view of Zurich, the Swiss capital
A traditional view of Zurich, the Swiss capital

From the “blow-up” metal chairs to the iconic station clocks, Swiss design can easily shape a day or two in Zurich, the country’s largest city.

A former yogurt factory at Toni-Areal is now home to the city’s arts university and the Museum für Gestaltung Zurich.

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Here in this monster of a building we are guided through the design museum’s Schaudepot (viewing depot) where banks of objects capture changing taste and practise.

The exercise cupboard in a Vitality Suite at Swissôtel Zurich

There are posters in drawers, chairs and kitchen appliances on shelves, each with a story to tell. As it’s a working museum collection, there is a sense of privilege as our guide picks – seemingly at random – an item to explain. It all cleverly builds into a picture of Swiss design.

It’s the Swiss Railways’ station clocks which capture my imagination. These bold black and white pieces were designed by Hans Hilfiker in 1944, but they have a quirk.

On platforms across the country, when the distinctive red second hand reaches the 12, it stops for two seconds, then the minute hand moves to the next minute, and the second hand jumps forward two seconds.

We learn it was designed as a way to synchronise all the railway clocks in Switzerland via a centrally-generated electrical impulse – no wonder the trains are so efficient.

The exercise cupboard in a Vitality Suite at Swissôtel Zurich

And that is no bad thing as this short break in Zurich is making good use of them. Our base, Swissôtel Zurich, stands opposite Oerlikon train station, five minutes from the airport and seven from the city centre.

We take a short train ride to go for a guided walk in Zurich West. Gone are the factories and their workers – in their place are trendy hang-outs, designer housing, art galleries and under the arches of the long railway viaduct, chic boutiques.

We visit Freitag’s factory shop – the tallest container building in the world. This stack of shipping containers is most appropriate for the company that recycles the tarpaulin side curtains from lorries into must-have messenger bags.

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In the area where once heavy engineering ruled, now it’s the realm of vintage design. At Bogen 33, 20th century furniture, airline paraphernalia (serving trolleys, cutlery) lighting and even toys fill a former bomb shelter.

Built on another former industrial site, the Prime Tower’s 35 floors make it something of a landmark on the predominantly low-rise skyline of Zurich and in fact it was the tallest building in Switzerland until 2015.

Above offices of some of the biggest names in international business and banking, Clouds is a chic restaurant and bar and a good place to check out the cityscape.

Our hotel is another landmark, but it is only 22 storeys with a top-floor spa and dramatic infinity pool.

Swissôtel Zurich’s fitness floor certainly makes the most of its location. In fact, our wellbeing is something that the 30-hotel group takes seriously. Its Vitality programme is designed to help guests “live it well”, embracing natural energy and healthy lifestyles in its food and drink.

The Zurich hotel recently unveiled the group’s first Vitality suite. This swanky room combines not only health and wellbeing features but is also testament to Swiss style. It is a beautifully presented room, with calm shades, well-chosen furnishings and a super-luxury bathroom.

What immediately sets it apart from the usual top-end international hotel bedroom is its exercise “cupboard”.

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Open the sleek panel to reveal a “wellbeing wall” of gym equipment – weights, wallbars, cable pulls – together with a touchscreen cyber training system to get the most out of it. Further investigation reveals an air purifying system, electronic scent machine and mood lighting.

Specially designed colouring cards offer the chance to take time out of our busy lives.

We are invited to visit the local urban park to experience mindfulness with one of the creators of the cards, Myriam Zumbühl.

The MFO park looks like some abandoned industrial site - a metal steel structure left for nature to colonise, but with a closer inspection staircases, walkways and platforms become apparent behind the creepers and hanging plants.

It is truly an oasis of calm in the business landscape as the sunlight dapples through the rust-coloured autumn leaves.

Climbing to the rooftop level viewing platform burns some calories and takes us to an ideal place to clear our minds and focus on adding colour to the cards.

Our wellbeing taken care of, it’s time to hop on a train to explore the historic city centre. n

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The Vitality Room at Swissôtel Zurich (Schulstrasse 44, 8050 Zurich) starts from £389 per night on a room only basis and can only be booked by phone, tel: +41 44 317 3111. A classic room starts from £155, 
www.swissotel.com

Museum für Gestaltung, www.museum-gestaltung.ch;​ guided tours of the collections in English take place on Wednesdays, CHF12 (£9.70)