Discover two of Europe’s cultural capitals back to back in our guide to the highlights and must-sees of Paris and Zurich
Words Helen Brown
With its timeless familiarity, inspiring grandeur and instantly recognisable architecture, Paris has always been a destination favourite. Its illustrious artistic pedigree – Picasso, Monet, Manet and Van Gogh are but just a few of the city’s past resident masters – means it’s home to an endless treasure trove of cultural gems for visitors. But hot on Paris’ learned heels is Zurich. It is one of the world’s leading art trading cities with over 50 museums and 100+ galleries.
Around every corner in each city, you’ll discover something unmissable; an ancient church, an exhibition of modern art, a quirky museum or a perfectly dingy jazz bar. There are some sights that every visitor must see, and with just a four-hour train ride linking the two, it’s easy to tick them off in a week-long excursion to these two cultural capitals of Europe.
The Kameha Grand Zurich draws many an art-lover with its unique architecture and exceptionally designed interiors. Surrounding the hotel in its prime location within the beautiful recreation area of the Glattpark, are forests, meadows and ponds. It’s within a 30-minute tram-ride of Zurich’s many cultural offerings. A stay here in itself affords much; ping pong tables, beach volleyball courts, basketball and football facilities, grill areas and a bike park invite you to stay and play. Pop your bags down, marvel at your stylish room and the bathroom’s rain shower, then hop on the tram just five minutes from the hotel into Zurich’s centre.
The guardian angel in Zurich’s central station is check-point one in a trip to the city’s centre. Designed by the French-Swiss painter and sculptor Niki de St. Phalle as a gift on the station’s 150th anniversary, the angel has been hovering over passers-by since 1997. From here, the next stop is the National Museum. Located mere minutes from the station, it houses the largest collection of cultural-historical objects in the country. The building itself is over 100 years old and resembles a fairytale castle. History comes alive behind its walls with a vast collection of material heritage from Switzerland’s past generations.
From there, history-buffs will want to continue with a tour of Zurich’s Old Town. This guided walk weaves it’s way around Medieval houses, narrow lanes and town halls from the Renaissance period. Niederdorf is part of Zurich’s old town – fondly referred to by locals as “Dörfli”.
During the day, this pedestrian zone attracts visitors for its interesting sights, culinary delights and shopping. In the evening, Niederdorf changes into a nightlife district. Here you will experience a wealth of bars and street artists.
Zurich’s Haus Konstruktiv is one of Europe’s leading modern art museums. An absolute must for culture lovers, the museum provides a space for concrete art. The space is dedicated to the exploration of constructive and conceptual art and focuses on international trends in contemporary art. Filling five floors of the former Selnau electricity sub-station, works explore art in the context of their historical background. Also on permanent display are treasures from the museum’s own collection.
Of course, when it comes to art, there is no collection large enough to rival that of Paris’ Louvre. Home to hundreds of thousands of classic and modern masterpieces, the Louvre is the icing on the cake of French culture. Stationed at the eastern end of the Tuileries Gardens, strolling to the Louvre grants a pass-by one of Napoleon’s arches and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
A 15-minute subway ride from here will take you to the one of Paris’ newest cultural offerings, Le Grand Musée du Parfum. This immersive perfume museum is set inside a 19th-century mansion and is the first scent-centric attraction of its kind in the world. Journey through the history and science of scent and perfumery, via a host of hi-tech graphic, video and sound installations.
Your olfactory journey begins in antiquity, before travelling via some rather objectionable medieval odours to the Industrial Revolution. The tour ends with the rosier notes of the 20th century. A space devoted unashamedly to sensory pleasure could only occur in France.
In keeping with things decidedly French, a trip to Ecole Lesage promises glimpses into the worlds of France’s most highly esteemed fashion favourites. Lesage has been creating opulent embroidery for Haute Couture and Ready-to-Wear since 1924. It became part of Chanel’s Métiers d’art in 2002. Here you will find the creations that highlighted the most beautiful fashion shows of Yves Saint-Laurent and Christian Lacroix, to name a few.
A visit to this esteemed school can be organised from the Mandarin Oriental, situated on rue Saint-Honoré and just steps from the Louvre. This impressive venue is our stay de choix in Paris. The elegant hotel enjoys a wonderfully chic location. The hotel’s interiors match Paris’ thriving art scene and the dining – from acclaimed chef Thierry Marx – is some of the best in the city. Combining art deco details and Asian influences, Mandarin Oriental is a haven of elegance and understated luxury. The journey from Gard du Nord to the hotel is either 30 minutes on foot or half that in a taxi.
Before leaving this iconic station, a meal at Thierry Marx’s l’Etoile du Nord is a must. Patrick Bouchain, a pioneer in the conversion of industrial places into cultural centres, has turned l’Etoile du Nord into an architectural sight to behold. It has a roof that glimmers and an intimate space that allows visitors to watch life Parisian life pass by.
Paris: Rates for Mandarin Oriental, Paris start from EUR 875 per room per night. For more information or to make a booking, please call +33 (0)1 70 98 78 88 or visit mandarinoriental.com/paris
Zurich: Rates for Kameha Grand Zurich start from CHF 293 per room per night. For more information or to make a booking, please call +41 44 525 5000 or visit kamehagrandzurich.com
SWISS offers over 180 weekly flights, from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick to either Zurich or Geneva. Fares start from £49 one-way. For more information visit swiss.com or call +44 345 601 0956
Zurich Tourism: For more information visit zuerich.com or call +41 44 215 40 00
Eurostar: The new Eurostar Business Premier delivers the very highest standards in long-distance train travel. Eurostar offers 14 trains a day to Paris from London St Pancras International. Fares start from £134 one-way. For more information visit eurostar.com/uk or call +44 3448 117 117