Zurich is better known for gnomes than elves but the city still knows how to celebrate Christmas in style. Beneath the obsession with stocks, bonds and Swiss bank accounts, Switzerland's financial centre has a heart of pure Christmas marshmallow. Amongst the Mercedes, Porsches and limos with smoked windows I even spot a Santa on a motorbike. Then as I walk towards the lake I spot Santa again, this time driving the red Jelmoli Christmas tram while inside angels tell stories to children on the twenty-minute ride around town.
The Altstadt (old town) is just made for the festive season with historic buildings as pretty as gingerbread houses, cobbled streets and fairy lights strung across the narrow laneways. In the old town Somea is the place to buy your up-market Christmas decorations: little wooden trees frosted with snow, carved red Samichlaus (Santa Claus) and advent calendars. Cards with a difference or jewel-coloured journals can be found at Bookbinder, while at the pop-up under café Voltaire, (where the Da-Da movement began) artistic gifts and designer bags are on display. There a queue outside the historic bakerei (a bakery since 1626) where smart Swiss in cashmere coats line up for traditional cinnamon cookies and magenbrot. More charity cookies are being sold from baskets on street corners.
I stop for creamy hot chocolate at the famous Conditorei Schober, its windows so crammed with Christmas trees and coloured baubles it is hard to see inside. In the evening the tiny Christmas market in the heart of the old town is gliittery with fairy-lights.Not to be missed is the giant Swarovski tree in the middle of the Christkindli market in the old Zurich station sparkling with over 7000 crystal ornaments. A boat trip across the lake will take you to the medieval town or Rapperswil with over 200 festive stalls. The most impressive Christmas backdrop is in the town of Einsiedelin where the baroque Benedictine monastry is spotlighted behind the market stalls. Those looking for less strudel, more style should head to the trendy Zurich-West district where around 50 designer outlets set up stalls in the Heiliger Bimbam! Market.
In Werdmuhleplatz I join the locals and sip gluhwein in the open air under a tree hung with stars. A human pyramid of children in red beanies are the famous Singing Christmas tree serenading shoppers and proud parents with a rendition of Silent Night. If the children are lucky they'll be taken to the Conelli Christmas circus which has performed on the Bauschanzli for decades or to watch on the 18 December when 800 little boats with a candle inside will be floating down Zurich’s River Limmat while watchers on the bank enjoy a hot orange punch and Christmas cookies.
For luxury-lovers the place to be if you want to know Christmas has begun is in the gardens of the historic and opulent Hotel Baur au lac where each year Zurich's finest gather to watch the lighting–up of the silver fir in the hotel's garden on the edge of the lake. This year the tree's 46,060 electric bulbs, mean it is illuminated with more lights than the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center, New York. Zurich's elite will then eat in chef Laurent Eperon's Michelin starred Pavillon restaurant with a view of the garden . The hotel also has a giant gingerbread house. Up on the hill above Zurich the Turreted Dolder Grand hotel has a giant Christmas tree in its foyer and afternoon tea accompanied by a harpest. It's bar is always lit by dozens of Swarovskicandles hung from the ceiling - so there is a festive feel all year round.
For art lovers the ultimate Christmas experience would be attending a carol service in Fraumunster church with its divinely colourful stained glass window created by Marc Chagall.
Hilary Doling 12/12/14