Searching for Norway — in Switzerland!
From the land of chocolate, cheese, and watches
CYNTHIA ELYCE RUBIN
The Norwegian American
Switzerland has long had the power to inspire lasting affection; its natural beauty has drawn tourists since the Englishman Thomas Cook arranged the first organized tours of the country in 1858.
I fell in love with Switzerland as the curator of the traveling exhibition “Swiss Folk Art: Celebrating America’s Roots” in 1992 to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Switzerland’s founding, and I traveled the length and breadth of the country.
But as the current travel editor of The Norwegian American, I thought that maybe I should look for something Norwegian in Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich. So, after the pandemic eased, I remembered the majestic architecture of the Hotel Schweizerhof Zurich that I once passed on return to my base in Zurich almost daily as I left the main railway station.
The grand hotel lives!
More than a century after its construction in 1876, the former Hotel National and Grand Hotel National Hotel remains an imposing landmark. In 1918, the name changed yet again to the Hotel Schweizerhof National with a new sandstone façade in the Art Nouveau style.
In 2020, all rooms were completely renovated including the Dufour Suites introducing the new “hotel within a hotel” hybrid concept, with an upgrade to suites that reflect “the summit of luxury.” The hotel meets 20th-century expectations of a 24-hour fitness room and free Wi-Fi, without sacrificing Old World refinement, charm, and friendly personnel.
For me, it is all about location, location, location. It is only a short walk across the street from the main railway station with access to every region of Switzerland as well as bordering Zurich’s tony Bahnhofstrasse, a window shopper’s dream, and a short stroll to the Niederdorf, Zurich’s narrow and winding old city.
Edvard Munch’s home in Zurich
In my search for “Norway in Zurich,” I discovered the Schweizerhof’s “Arts & Culture Package,” which provides visitors with a free entry ticket to the Kunsthaus. Here, I learned that the Kunsthaus, today the largest art museum in Switzerland, has 16 works by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), the largest collection outside Norway, most of which are on display.
Wilhelm Wartmann, first Director of the Kunsthaus, maintained close contact with Munch over several decades. The museum staged a solo exhibition of the artist’s work in 1922, and Munch painted Wartmann’s portrait shortly thereafter.
The Kunstgesellschaft or art society primarily acquired landscapes and portraits by the artist, with key holdings impressively supplemented by generous long-term loans from textile manufacturer Herbert Eugen Esche. Munch’s art spanned Naturalism, Symbolism and an early, independent form of Expressionism.
Munch’s works complement those of Swiss contemporaries, Giovanni Segantini, Cuno Amiet, Ferdinand Hodler, together offering a multi-faceted portrait of an artistic era on the threshold of modernity.
Wine and salmon, please!
Another innovative promotion is the “Weinwanderungen” or hikes through local vineyards with partner Landolt Wines, a locally based company that owns and operates vineyards in the center of town. Who knew there was winemaking right in the middle of Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city and an international center of business? For all its reputation—multicultural (after all, there are four national languages, German, French, Italian, and Romansh in the Engadine valley region), efficient, and safe—Zurich has in recent years changed to include a vibrant culinary arts scene.
Then, upon reviewing the Hotel Schweizerhof’s website under “Gastronomy,” I found Frisk Fisk, a restaurant that serves only Norwegian salmon. The concept was the brainchild of 35-year-old Matteo Trivisano. Always passionate about fishing and hunting, a former girlfriend took him to Norway. His training, however, was in business administration, and at one time, he worked in the watch industry. But after he discovered Norwegian smoked salmon, his future changed, and life was never the same.
Trivisano traveled throughout Norway, to the Lofoten Islands and beyond, to find a supplier, and after several years of planning, the first box of salmon arrived in 2017. His source today is Fredrik Møller Andersen of Frederiks Røkeri AS based in Oslo’s Fiskehalle Akershusstranda.
The salmon is smoked by Frederik, aka “The Smoker,” in the old Norwegian way. Using the wet salt process, Salmon hangs over a special mix of pine needles, spruce wood and splinters from Aquavit barrels, which give off a light aroma of caraway. There is a love for the product, the respect for nature and a philosophy of living the traditional lifestyle.
Matteo first opened a restaurant in Winterthur, where his family lives. A self-taught chef with no culinary training, he creates the salmon-based menus himself for his two restaurants in Winterthur and Zurich. Matteo’s passion is smoked salmon, and he is transferring that zeal to his devoted customers.
The resilient charm of the Hotel Schweizerhof with its traditional yet modern approach has not only satisfied all my needs but has led me to discover “Norway in Zurich,” an aspect of the Swiss city I didn’t know even existed. For more information, visit hotelschweizerhof.com.
Getting around Switzerland
Of course, Zurich is not the only destination in Switzerland, and your gateway to the rest of the country is right across the street from the Hotel Schweizerhof at the Zurich train station. In my opinion, the Swiss Federal Railways is one of the finer train systems in the world. Public transportation is faster and more convenient to negotiate nature’s enchanting obstacles by train than by car.
In addition, railway travelers enjoy a view of the countryside. Mountain trains can transport you to snow-capped peaks, often passing by storybook villages.
I recommend the Swiss Pass for all visitors to Switzerland. It is issued outside the country for travel by non-residents of Switzerland or the Principality of Liechtenstein and is available in a number of versions in either first or second class.
Your investment gives you carefree transportation on all trains, postal buses, and lake boats (except for a few) and discounts on special links in less traveled areas. In addition, there is free entrance to some 500 museums (swiss-pass.ch).
Also see Off the beaten track in Switzerland in the July 8, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.
This article originally appeared in the July 8, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.