Zurich's Remarkable Widder Hotel
The Widder Hotel, located in Zurich's historic old city, is a treasure. This is how most people would like to live, surrounded by art in bright sunny rooms with magical views furnished with every conceivable comfort. One example: Instead of wheeling a clumsy breakfast cart into your room, push a button at the coffee table and it rises automatically to convenient dining height. The waiter sets the tray on the table which by the way might have a basket of baked breads and pastries still warm from the oven.
Another option for breakfast is the glass-ceilinged pavilion with Harry Bertoia chairs cushioned in white leather. Contrasting with the white white room are two dynamite sculptures --bright blue, red, and yellow - by ceramic artist Elisabeth Langsch.
Recent guests booked a few days at the Widder and for the rest of their trip in Switzerland, yearned to go back in spite of staying at other five-stars. What distinguishes the Widder from just about any other hotel you might have stayed in is a remarkable, harmonious merging of nine town houses, some dating from the Middle Ages. It took ten years, 16 planning applications and hundreds of design plans to accomplish this meticulous restoration which is at once modern and historic. Before one brick could be laid, 18 months of archaeological digging was necessary which not surprisingly led to the discovery of some Roman artifacts. Instead of merely preserving the facades of the old buildings which would have been much less of a challenge, architect and designer Tilla Theus, preserved the old stone interior walls, some original frescoes, wooden beams, and grisaille paintings that probably date from 1401. The name "Widder" or ram refers to the fact that one of the houses belonged to the butcher's guild. Others belonged to weavers, carpenter, tailors --- all rich merchants who built their mansions sparing no expense.
All 42 rooms and seven suites differ from one another and each remains a world of its own. Suite 210 is typical of Theus' ingenuity. In the bedroom, she has placed an antique wardrobe and crowns the bed with a soft -as -saddle- leather coverlet. Theus also designed the contemporary lighting which is stellar in all respects --- pun intended. Her so-called "exclusive Widder lamp" can be bought for about 4,000 Swiss francs. (A dollar is roughly equal to one Swiss franc.) In the suite's living room, a green suede couch, parquet floors, and a wood paneled ceiling blend seamlessly into a harmonious decor. But the standout is a huge Biedermeier breakfront.
A welcome addition is a help-yourself, no charge, well-stocked mini-bar. Other rooms have furniture and lamps by Adolf Loos, Charles and Ray Eames, Josef Hoffman, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe -- all icons of classic modern design. The art collection is also outstanding and includes works by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg among others. Each of the nine houses that makeup the hotel, connected by chrome, steel, and glass corridors, has its own subtle color orientations, its own type of rare wood, and either new or refurbished stone. The Widder has a popular live-jazz bar, a fashionable restaurant, and a lovely garden for dining al fresco in warm weather. www.widderhotel.ch. Reservations: Leading Hotels of the World, www.lhw.com; 800-223-6800.
The writer wishes to thank the Widder Hotel which graciously hosted her visit.