Zurich: Exploring Uetliberg

Zurich from Uetliberg

Sunday dawned bright and sunny in Zurich, a perfect day for visiting the city’s mountain.

I’d slept poorly thanks to the people upstairs crashing around at 4.30am, the wailing of police sirens at some point in the night and the crunching of a dustcart at dawn. So I didn’t have the energy to climb up Uetliberg, even thought it’s not particularly Alp-like at 871m. On our first day in the city, Uetliberg had been drowned in mist and low cloud but today it looked clear, crowned by a giant TV mast that stood inelegantly above the trees.

Looking down on Lake Zurich
Looking down on Lake Zurich

We walked through the old town to the main train station and the city looked so much brighter and cheerier in the sunshine than it had the day before. The S10 service took 20 minutes to carry us up the mountain, climbing amid the city’s western suburbs, across meadows and through the woods.

In a normal January, the hill would be covered in snow and the preserve of tobogganists and skiers but there wasn’t even a dusting of the white stuff during our visit and hikers had taken their place, some climbing uphill to the peak. The hardier (or more foolhardy) were jogging or cycling. At the top is a hotel and cafe, ugly TV and phone masts and expansive views of the city and Lake Zurich, which winds its way through the valley towards the Alps.

The TV mast
The TV mast

To the west, the hills and valleys were gentler and greener, marred only by motorways that carve their way through the landscape. Wisps of low cloud bubbled up around us, but not enough to ruin the views.

We debated where we should walk and aimed for one of the stations on the hill, Ringlikon. From there we could walk east to the part of the hill known as Hohenstein and then on to Triemli. Parts of Uetliberg were busy with locals out for their Sunday constitutional, others very quiet. The woods, a mix of evergreens and deciduous, looked drab without the colours of spring and summer or the shapely, snowy dressing of winter. Periodically we caught sight of the bright red train or the city bathed in sunshine at the head of the lake.

The train pulls into Ringlikon station
The train pulls into Ringlikon station

Towards Triemli station, amid denser woods, the route became a lot steeper and a lot more punishing on our knees. Engineers were in the middle of some extensive work designed to shore up the collapsing hillside.

Come lunchtime, we deserved our beers and pizza in the Santa Lucia restaurant in the old town. Then, taking advantage of the good weather, we explored the old town in more depth. Neumarkt was a beautiful district of hilly streets and cobbled alleys, with an historic tower known as the Grimmenturm standing guard at its heart.

The Grimmenturm
The Grimmenturm

It was all very quaint and boasted exquisite boutiques selling exquisite things, although the shops were closed for Sunday. If only London had the variety of independent shops that Zurich offers, rather than the endless chains… We walked back to the lake, where couples and families promenaded. Beyond, we could see the snow-covered peaks of the Alps and felt a chill in the air.

After drinks at The Studio bar again, and a much-needed nap, we went out for the night but couldn’t face a meal after our big lunch.

Boutiques line the alleys of Neumarkt
Boutiques line the alleys of Neumarkt

Bar Andorra was a good stop, with a huge range of beers, a heavenly lager called Hell and a loud American at the bar boring the pants off some poor sod who couldn’t get away. The town was a lot quieter so we went to one of the city’s institutions, the art deco Cafe Odeon, had a small bite to eat and lots more lager. The place was very faded in grandeur, somewhat removed from its glory days when Einstein, Lenin and James Joyce were among its (sometimes) exiled clientele.

A mix of cafe, bar and restaurant, I’d love to get hold of it, do it up and restore it to its heyday. Still, it had an interesting collection of customers and was clearly popular with us gays. There was an old queen dripping in jewellery, as camp as Christmas with handbag in tow. Some folk looked decidedly arty, perhaps late-night escapees from the opera across the square. One chap, with a shock of greyish hair, had the air of a composer about him, a hint of John Barry.

It may not be as grand as it was, but the Odeon sure proved unbeatable for people watching.