“Gosh!”  I asked incredulously.  “Really?”

My local host in Zurich had just told me a little known fact about the city.  “You are walking on the third most expensive street in the world!”  

I held my breath and put my foot gingerly on the very ordinary metaled road labeled Bahnhofstrasse.  It felt the same!    Yet facts state that as recently as a decade ago, (2011), market studies had listed this avenue as Europe’s most expensive street for retail property, and the third most expensive street in the world.  The annual rent for a square metre of property in 2012 was CHF 12,500 or $13,660 per sq. ft – as much as the cost of gold.  Ten years later, the ranking had not changed, though the rents certainly had.

‘Wow!’  I thought, ‘The most expensive street in Europe is not London’s Bond Street or Champs‐Elysée in Paris.  It’s Bahnhofstrasse … and I am standing on the road the cost of gold.’

Located in the centre of the city, loosely translated Bahnhofstrasse means Railroad Station Street.   As the name suggests, it connects the central train hub to the financial centre situated in the heart of Zurich. 

Interestingly, no vehicles are allowed on Bahnhofstrasse (pronounced as Bah-nof-straw-us).  The artistic walkway is restricted only to pedestrian movement, with the exception of two tram lines in the middle.   Not surprisingly, window shopping is the most popular pastime on the 1.4 km. avenue, where over 140 retail brands have marked their space.  Indeed, this is a unique claim to fame of Zurich. 

A leisurely walk down the well-appointed manicured boulevard reinforces why every luxury brand must have a presence there.  Since Bahnhofstrasse has the world’s most expensive retail properties, the most exclusive retail houses have to be present here.  Classy boutiques, art galleries, department stores with different luxury brands housed in medieval buildings stand tall – the fresco arches looking at me on the metaled street – enticing and inviting me to cross the threshold. 

‘Should I?  Gulp….. everything looked so elegant, subtle and classy – yet rich, steeped in history and very traditionally Swiss.’  I opted to walk on.   

Luxury watches brands such as Rolex, Mont Blanc and Tissot rubbed shoulders with top-end perfumeries like Chanel and Dior.  Leading diamond names of Cartier and Tiffany had their own monogrammed signature colours and signage.  Swarovski too.  Logos of top fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Tiffany, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bvlgari, and Giorgio Armani were among the 140 luxury retail brands – each name spreading itself with ease and serendipity on both sides of the 1.4 km boulevard.  Newer market leaders like Apple and Starbucks also had their own spatial signature.

Lavishly groomed trees encircled by wrought iron and wood benches peppered the street providing shady cover and a delicate fragrance; flower sellers and manori stalls played soft music as pedestrians (friends, work colleagues, lovers, youth, elderly, and perhaps some shoppers) walked leisurely on both sides of the avenue – stopping now and then to admire and savour the artistic display set up in the shop windows.  Everything had its own pace, soft and easy. Nothing rushed, no pushing and jostling, and certainly no hurry.  The luxury of time was the core.

The charming old-style railway station with spires and arches at one end was a warm reminder of the history of the city while the other side wrapped itself round the Swiss Banking centre appropriately called Paradeplatz.  The headquarters of the two biggest Swiss banks – UBS and Credit Suisse on either side of the square, eyed one another while Sprungli Confectioners (known for its exquisite custom-made chocolates) sweetened their gaze, while the grand Hotel Savoy closed the last link. 

Reaching the end of the street, which is soaked with style and luxury, I decided to leave the combination of elegance, tradition and quality of the main street, and walk into one of the several smaller by-lanes.  Each of these narrow alleys merged into the cobbled streets of the older part of Zurich Town, Altstadt.

Dotted with street cafes, bistros and artisanal stores, interspersed with churches and monasteries, old Zurich was as inviting and charming as the luxury line-up on Bahnhofstrasse.   Shops displaying traditional Swiss products – Muesli, Victorinox swiss knives, Birkenstock, linen, lingerie, cheese and chocolates looked tempting – beyond human endurance.

The end of the old town reached the Münsterbrücke bridge across River Limmat, a freshwater river that lazily flowed through Zurich.  I crossed over to have a closer look at the Grossmünster church, another iconic symbol of Zurich. The twin spires of the Protestant church built in the 13th century in Romanesque-style are believed to be built on the graves of the patron saints of the city.

The quiet subtle elegance of Bahnhofstrasse, the picturesque, cobbled streets of the Altstadt Old Town, the walk along the banks of the Limmat River with the reflection of the historical buildings shimmering on the waters……  Zurich is indeed a city much more than the financial capital of the world.

It’s a city of style, elegance and luxury – a class apart. 

Once populated by frogs croaking in the city moat, traffic began with the hacks in 1864. Followed by the horse-drawn tramway (Rösslitram) and finally by the electric tram and automobile. Today most of the ‘Bahnhofstrasse’ is a traffic-free area. It’s the most important location in Zurich for finance and business and the main promenade where exclusivity, quality and variety meet. The Bahnhofstrasse is a must-see for every visitor.

Shangon Das Gupta | Planet Goa

Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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