Express News Service

Switzerland’s most populous city and its economic centre—Zurich—is best known for banking and business. Most travellers whizz in and out of Zurich Airport, but linger a little longer and you’ll find that the city goes from work to play faster than a Swiss train.  

Sitting on the northern tip of Lake Zurich and bound by the River Limmat, the city offers easy access to nature right within urban limits. It’s not just the lively waterfronts and green spaces that buzz with activity, it’s the water bodies themselves. Zurich locals love to swim. So much so, that, during office lunch breaks, right after work, on weekends and holidays, you’ll find the lake and the river filled with people taking a dip. It’s not unusual to see people casually jump into the river for a mid-afternoon swim. A common pastime for locals, the water quality is of a standard good enough to drink. In fact, Lake Zurich is the source of 70 per cent of tap water in the city.

The bathhouses

The Swiss culture of public bathing dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Romans set up public baths. In the early 1800s, bathhouses came into fashion as many homes did not have running water. Wooden bathhouses gradually evolved into more modern spaces, and today these badis are popular recreational spaces.

The beautiful art nouveau Frauenbad—a women’s -only bathhouse—still stands on the banks of the Limmat, with a view of the Old Town. The bathhouse culture, in fact, has extended into a way of life in Zurich, where there’s a strong focus on an outdoor lifestyle. In the long and increasingly hot European summer, both the river and lake transform into lively spots to swim and sunbathe.

The focus on water isn’t limited only to nature. Walk along city streets, and one can find a profusion of fountains. There are ornate medieval designs dating back to the 15th century and sleek modern pieces that could be straight out of an art gallery. There are large fountains gushing over pools of water and blink-and-miss small structures. Beautiful design pieces, a meeting spot for friends and a sustainable source of drinking water, these fountains serve multiple purposes. 

At the Lindenhof Square, perched high above the River Limmat and under the shade of Linden trees that give the square its name, there is a sleek, minimalist bronze fountain. It features a hollow sink at waist level, and a smaller water jet at ground level for animals to drink from.

An ornate fountain

These ingenious human-and-pet structures were designed by Alf Aebersold in the 1970s as ‘emergency fountains’. Operating independently of the city’s water supply system and fed by natural spring water, there are 85 such spots around Zurich. Beside the grand Fraumünster Church, the Münsterhof fountain is a contemporary piece of art arching above a 20-foot-wide bowl, standing next to al fresco cafes and bars. Believe it or not, on special occasions, the water in this fountain turns to wine. All it takes is the touch of a button.

The best way to see the city is not on a motorised vehicle, but by water. Head out to Strandbad Mythenquai beach on Lake Zurich early on a weekday morning to hit the water on a paddle board. This is a fantastic way to take in the city sights—out in the warm morning sun with gulls circling overhead, engaging with nature, and getting in a good arm workout as well.

Wind around early-morning swimmers, past patrolling water police boats, and around the striking Fountain Aquaretum, which pumps 35-metre-high jets of water into the air. Go beyond the serene Arboretum Botanical Garden and the grand Opera House, and turn off into the quaint Schanzengrabben Canal. The narrow channel has aquamarine water so clear that one can see the river stones and swaying underwater plants. It’s the perfect start to the day, and a great way to experience a slice of local city life.

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