I am always taken aback when I see the Limmat River, which runs from Lake Zurich through the center of Switzerland’s most populous city. It’s crystal clear and looks clean enough to drink. According to Zurich’s detractors, the city’s cleanliness can verge on sterility, but I never fail to enjoy myself there. The surprisingly friendly town — despite its population of nearly 1.5 million, it often feels more like a large town than a city — has a hilly medieval center of winding lanes, a thriving restaurant scene and a picturesque lakeside setting backdropped by snowy Alpine peaks.
Pleasurable though Zurich may be for me, my accountant is never happy to see it appear in an itinerary. Zurich is an undeniably expensive city. A local shop replaced my watch battery while I was there, for example, and it charged precisely double what the shop in my home city does. As both a world banking center and a tourist destination, Zurich can command high prices. What visitors gain in return is some time in one of Europe’s prettiest and most relaxed signature cities, and one that has thus far escaped the curse of overtourism.
In fact, some of Zurich’s greatest pleasures are free, including exploring the old city’s rambling lanes and cozy squares and strolling along the Limmatquai. Another favorite Zurich activity of mine, a scenic cruise of the Limmat and lake, costs less than $5 per person.
One of the stops of the Limmat River’s cruise boats stands directly in front of the freshly renovated Storchen Zürich hotel. The hotel itself is one of the city’s oldest — records as far back as the 15th century describe the property as an inn — but within recent memory, the Storchen has not ranked among the city’s notable properties. Not content with its four-star rating, the hotel closed for a major renovation in 2017, refurbishing its public areas and refreshing its 66 rooms. So I decided to find out whether the Storchen could now compete with the likes of the Baur Au Lac and the Widder Hotel.
Because of a flight delay, we arrived much later than we had planned. But even though we pulled up to the entrance at about 11 p.m., a doorman approached our taxi immediately. The small, contemporary lobby had a sofa, but it was essentially a functional space. A friendly man at the front desk welcomed us warmly and checked us in swiftly. As the bellman walked us to our Panorama Corner Room with River and Lake View, he remarked, “You have one of the nicest rooms in the hotel!”
The view was especially compelling in the golden sunshine of the early evening and at night, when reflections of the illuminated buildings sparkled in the river.
Our room on the fourth floor, one below the top, had sensational views of the Limmat, the late-Renaissance city hall built on arches over the river, the twin towers of the 12th-century Grossmünster cathedral and, in the distance, Lake Zurich and the Alps. The view was especially compelling in the golden sunshine of the early evening and at night, when reflections of the illuminated buildings sparkled in the river. Opening the French doors facing east and south allowed us to turn one corner of the room into a sort of indoor terrace (outside were railings but no balconies). Watching the play of light on the river, city and mountains on the horizon was mesmerizing.
This traditionally styled junior suite-like room had been refreshed rather than fully redecorated, but it was nevertheless immaculate. It came with regal blue carpeting and powder-blue toile de Jouy drapes. A similar toile de Jouy skirt surrounded the bed (actually two twins pushed together, each with its own duvet, in the unromantic style favored in Central Europe), and original framed oil paintings hung on the walls. I appreciated the big walk-in closet, home to the espresso machine, but I didn’t care for the bath’s shower-tub combination. A white inlaid stork appeared in the brown marble of the dual vanities — “störchen” means “storks” in German — and I also spotted storks carved into the wood frame of the Empire-style armchair.
For those who enjoy traditional décor, the Panorama Corner Room With River and Lake View and the Elegant Junior Suite With River View are the best categories to book. Those who prefer a more contemporary décor should opt instead for a top-floor Lifestyle Suite With River View or a Contemporary Deluxe Double Room With River View, though this latter category is rather small. The best accommodation is the Signature Two Bedroom Suite With River and Lake View.
The Storchen has a fitness center, but the hotel’s main amenities are its bars and restaurant. Barchetta, the main bar-lounge, has a chic art deco style and comfortable seating. But its most sought-after real estate is the row of highboy tables under the hotel’s riverfront arcade. After dinner, I sipped a Spirit of the Lake cocktail composed of single-malt Ascona Whisky from southern Switzerland, Bénédictine and apple cider while taking in the view of the opposite riverbank in the warm light of the setting sun. Barchetta is understandably popular with locals, making it harder to get a table for an aperitif when people are enjoying post-workday drinks.
The Storchen’s most spectacular space is its restaurant, La Rôtisserie. The double-height dining room is at once airy and cozy, with tall windows and wood-paneled booths. At breakfast, the buffet flanks a carved stone hearth, tall enough to stand inside. As attractive as the dining room was, we breakfasted on the riverside terrace, shaded by a gray-and-white-striped awning and lined with boxes of pink flowers. Relaxing over coffee and impeccably fresh baked goods, overlooking old Zurich and its sparkling-clean river, it was hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else.
Our view of the Limmat River, old center and distant Lake Zurich; the complimentary plate of Swiss chocolate in our room; the splendid restaurant terrace; the lively riverside bar.
There were no easily accessible outlets by our nightstands; when asked to recommend new and exciting restaurants in Zurich, the otherwise helpful concierge came up with time-worn options.
If it’s not possible to reserve a room with a river view, consider one of our other recommended hotels in Zurich.