There's wellness and then there's wellnessing. Apparently the Swiss use the term wellnessing as a verb... which I am totally down for when it includes the Alps, beautiful architecture, and thermal baths!
Banks (and bankers), watches, chocolate, mountains, Roger Federer, Martina Hingis (I've never even seen a tennis court during my time in Switzerland, how can the Swiss be so good?!?!), and boring. These are all words that come to mind when one thinks of Switzerland, and whilst it's not necessarily the most exciting of holiday destinations (despite the snowsports), "boring" is a little harsh... I prefer "relaxing".
My first experience of Switzerland was as a young uni grad, whilst on a (somewhat architectural) tour of Europe with one of my archi besties. It was (and still is) eye-wateringly expensive, but we were determined to make the pilgrimage from Zurich to a little village in the Alps called Vals, to worship at the altar of Peter Zumthor. Basically, construct a beautiful building in the middle of nowhere, and I will probably travel to see it. I loved it so much, that I made the trip again solo a couple of years ago and enjoyed it just as much (if not more, since I wasn't counting my pennies quite so closely).
I'd love to visit Switzerland again, perhaps for Art Basel, with a visit to Vals thrown in for good measure! My last stay in Vals was probably one of the most relaxing holidays ever. Scroll through the photos for some of my tips! L x
Since I've mainly used Zürich as a base to travel to the Alps, my pick for where to stay is about convenience. On my last visit I stayed in a cute Airbnb close to the station, which was perfect for what I needed. If you're planning a longer stay, try to nab a place with a view of the Lake!
ARCHITECTURE & SIGHTS
One of my favourite things to do when travelling is to get a little bit lost in a place's backstreets, and boy does Zürich have some pretty ones! Pastel coloured buildings, with contrasting shutters, and quaint bay windows, line meandering cobblestone streets.
Lake Zürich is the unmissable sight in Zürich, you really could not miss it if you tried. Stunning blue water; on a clear day you can see the Alps in the distance. Go for a walk around the Lake, the views are beautiful with gardens dotted along the shore in both directions from town.
Santiago Calatrava's Law Library at the University of Zürich, is one library that I could happily study in (I have not been known to sit in a library and study... ever). Completed over ten years ago, I can't believe how well this building has aged; it still looks pristine.
If you visit one gallery or museum whilst in Zürich, make it Kunsthaus Zürich. Yes, I did almost have a heart attack at the CHF23 admission fee (about £18, or A$30), but I wasn't disappointed. The original building by Karl Moser has some gorgeous details: backlit latticed glass ceilings, patterned tonal marble floors, and that stair balustrade. David Chipperfield Architects won a bid to design the museum's new extension, which was due to open this year... but with the foundation stone having only just been laid, I think the revised opening date is some time in 2020.
Getting to Vals is a little bit of mission on public transport, though thankfully the gods that make the timetables have timed the changeover at Ilanz much better than the first time I made the trek (imagine sprinting with 20kg of luggage on your person, frantically waving and screaming as the bus is about to pull away).
It takes about 2.5 hours to get to Vals from Zurich, a little bit less if you choose to drive. If you're taking public transport, you will need to take a train to Chur, change to the train taking you to Ilanz, before getting on a bus at Ilanz that will take you Vals.
Vals is a small village with only a handful of accommodation options. On my last visit I stayed at Hotel Alpina and absolutely loved it (I did also get a free upgrade to one of the Caminada designed rooms from the standard room I booked, so that helped... ha). The hotel is small, with personal service, and they offer some great packages which include entry to the thermal baths.
It is possible to stay at the hotel attached to the baths, though the prices will burn a hole in your pocket. The baths and hotel were purchased by a developer a few years ago, something which Zumthor feels has ruined Vals.
ARCHITECTURE & SIGHTS
Therme Vals or 7132 Thermal Baths and Spa as it is now known, was one of the most memorable of the buildings I studied at architecture school. Designed by Peter Zumthor, Zumthor made the local Valser quartzite the hero of the design. Beautiful clean lines, simple forms, varying textures, and a play of volumes, gives the baths a sense of theatre; each bath or pool has its own personality. I only wish that it was ok to take your camera into the baths... there are just so many details that would have photographed beautifully.
You can spend a whole day luxuriating in the waters; lounging reading a book or admiring the view; not forgetting the treatments on offer. You've made the effort to get to Vals, so why not splurge a little bit (in this case, a lot) on a treatment?! And honestly, I find it difficult to say no to a hot stone massage.
If skiing is your thing and you're visiting during ski season, ski gear is available to hire in the village and there is a gondola to take you up to the ski fields. When there isn't any snow, the area is perfect for walking, and the views are just spectacular.
FOOD & DRINK
Even though I wasn't pinching pennies on my last visit to Switzerland, I did apportion more of my budget to the hotel and the baths, than I did food (shocking for me, I know). A 4 course meal was included with my accommodation package at Hotel Alpina and the typically Swiss meal was delicious.
There isn't a whole lot open at nighttime in Vals, so I found myself eating at Restaurant Gasthaus Edelweiss, just across the square from Hotel Alpina. It's quaint, small, and don't expect fine dining, but it wouldn't be a visit to Switzerland without rösti.
Restaurant Ganni is the premier restaurant in the town, located about an hour's walk up the mountain from the village (or a 10 minute drive). If you are up to it, walk, because the views are way more enjoyable when you've earned it!