Monday at the Widder, Tuesday at the Dentist

I have a confession to make. The place that stood out the most during my trip to Zurich last week was a cocktail bar. Not the museum, or the lake, just the bar. Typical of a wine journalist I know. The Widder Hotel in Zurich houses possibly the most impressive and snazzy cocktail bar in Europe I have ever been to. It is worth the price of a room alone. With over 500 types of drink available, a beautiful lounge area, live music and dangerously friendly and talented staff it was the highlight of my trip. The rest of the city is quite impressive too, even on a wet Monday!

Mondays, I must admit, are usually a day I try to forget about, like birthdays or tax return days. However, this was a Monday with a difference, as I found myself in Zurich attending a Villa D’Este sponsored Italian food and wine evening at the Widder Hotel. A group of European journalists had gathered to celebrate what Italy does best; not overcomplicated, delicious fresh fare and delectable red wines from Tuscany and Piedmont in Northern Italy. Having visited Villa D’Este in Lake Como last year I needed no excuse to see the lovely and very hospitable staff again. I had become very smitten with the place, but then it’s hard for anyone not to fall in love in such a location. Nestled on the shores of Lake Como, it has to be the grandest and yet most relaxed hotel in Italy. I can think of no better place for a romantic break.

Having been fortunate enough to stay at some very plush hotels in the world I was interested to see how the Widder measured up, especially as they are a member of the Leading Hotels of the World group and claim to be one of the best in Zurich. Arriving at the airport I was whisked away to the hotel, which could make a fortune on location alone. The Widder is situated in the picturesque old town of Zurich, minutes away from the shopping district but also close to the Lake and plentiful bars and cafes.

It’s easy to rate a hotel, just look at the check-in process as it often all goes up or downhill from there. The Widder got top marks on that point, the staff were extremely polite and helpful and check-in was quick–they even brought a bottle of wine to the room minutes after–a thoughtful touch. My room was large and comfortable with some attractive extras, the Bang and Olufsen stereo system and chocolates went down nicely. The hotel was a residential townhouse that has been renovated and modernised to present a nice contrast between the traditional and bang up to date. The Widder certainly comes highly recommended, especially for a long weekend.

You have got to love event organizers who give you an afternoon in Zurich. The dinner was not for five hours so I was able to spend the day exploring the city center, which is extremely compact and has an excellent transport system, although I was almost run over by one of the trams. Not to be stereotypical but the city is quintessentially Swiss; well organized, clean, polished and full of chocolate shops. I have never been anywhere so meticulously spotless in my entire life. I was not really in Zurich long enough to do the city justice, but I will say that you should visit the cafes along the canal side feeding into the lake. I spent a lovely afternoon watching the world go by with a friend I met in Italy last year. Make sure also the take a tour of the lake, in the sunshine which appeared late afternoon it was stunningly beautiful. Shopaholics are well catered for in the center, fans of designer clothes especially so.

In typical fashion I lost track of time and rushed back early evening to get ready. Everyone had convened in the reading room of the hotel, a great spot for meeting friends and relaxing. There was an interesting variety of journalists on show, mainly German and Swiss who all spoke impeccable English. My pidgin German is so bad I didn’t even try, or thankfully have to attempt conversation in their mother tongue. I really must unwrap that Michel Thomas language CD.

We started the event with Champagne, our one concession to French culture and canapes. The starter then swiftly followed, divine veal carpaccio paired with Antinori Chianti Classico 2005. I have always admired Antinori, who bravely annoyed the Tuscan establishment by changing and arguably improving the Chianti formulae with French grape varieties and new oak. The wine was excellent, oaky to be sure but great fruit and length of flavor. It reminded me that the old, paler style of Chianti is getting quite rare.

The main course was monkfish served with Barbera D’Alba. Monkfish, which is often roasted, needs fuller rather than leaner wines so I elected to drink red, not white, despite some protests. I felt a little bad, as two journalist didn’t drink red and ordered a bottle of Italian Sauvignon Blanc (heresy) but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. Barbera produces succulent, soft reds with good acidity and lovely plump fruit. With less oak than the Chianti it was the favorite wine of the evening. The Vin Santo finished us off nicely, as did the chocolate fondant. I wondered, is it rude to ask for fifths?

After raving about the charms of Villa D’Este and Lake Como, we ended up where I had started, the bar. Undoubtedly my favorite spot in Zurich, the knowledegable cocktail staff served us flawless Manhattans. The atmosphere is so warm and inviting that we could have stayed there for hours. Not wanting to be thrown out I left about 1-ish, ‘slightly’ worse for wear.

Kudos to Villa D’este for organizing such a successful event, but it was now time to pay for my indulgences. I arrived back in London on Tuesday just in time to make my dentist appointment. They say no pleasure without pain, but what a contrast!


Further Information:

The Widder Hotel

Rennweg 7

CH – 8001 Zurich


0041 44 224 25 26

Villa D’Este

Via Regina, 40
22012 Cernobbio


0039 031 3481

James Lawrence

James Lawrence is a self confessed wine obsessive, passionate about discovering and promoting the lesser known wines and wine regions of the world. He is a frequent contributor to and runs an interactive, community led wine forum, In 2004, he went to study in Bilbao, Northern Spain. Luckily for him, the famous wine region of Rioja was just over an hour away by car. He began to spend a great deal of time there, visiting the wineries in Rioja and speaking to local wine makers. Their passion for the subject and their pride in the wines was infectious. He began to realise what an amazing subject wine is and how wide and complex the world of wine could be. Subsequently James moved into wine retail while finishing his degree, and was hooked. James also enjoys food and travel writing - he lives for Italian and Thai cuisine!

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