Why are there storks nesting on the roof of a five-star hotel in Zurich? . . . Justine Tyerman learns the legend of the ‘Haus zum Storchen’. She also discovers how ‘savoir-faire with tradition’ has saved the soul but polished the visage of a much-loved city landmark.
The hallmark of an exceptional hotel is the calibre of the people who work there… like a doorman with ESP, a kind receptionist, a chef with a generous heart, a concierge with magical skills, charming waiters and a fleet-footed house maid.
I found such a hotel in my recent travels in Zurich, Switzerland, a place I instantly fell in love with and felt at home although I had never been there before.
It was a pristine, sunny, autumn day so I decided to walk the short distance from Zurich train station to the my hotel rather than take a tram or riverboat. It wasn’t far but I didn’t factor in the cobblestones. They are not kind to suitcases with wheels.
As I struggled clumsily across the Weinplatz square with my wheels lodging in every crevice, a smartly-dressed doorman came to my rescue. He was from the five-star Storchen Hotel and guessed I was heading his way. A delightful man and so elegant in his handsome black livery.
Regaining my composure, I checked in with the delightful receptionist Annika and heard the most beautiful words in the English language, well, any language actually…
Madam, you have been upgraded to a superior room.
Having travelled 30 hours from New Zealand, I nearly hugged her. She handed me the seriously weighty key – no flimsy plastic key cards here – and Adel delivered me to my room along with my problematic suitcase which was now behaving nicely again on level ground.
The rooms at Storchen Hotel
Unlocking the door with a real key in a real lock was quite a novelty and very much in keeping with the history and heritage of this venerable riverside establishment which has been welcoming guests for 660 years.
I was thrilled with my abode for the next few days – a sunny spacious bedroom, sitting area and bathroom with a warm, welcoming ambiance that made me feel relaxed and at ease.
The plush carpet, pale pine woodwork, bronze and glass light fittings, tranquil willow-tendril mural and king-size bed with softest linen embossed with the Storchen’s stork crest created a luxurious yet cosy atmosphere.
The sun was streaming in through two large windows that opened wide to the historic Weinplatz and the River Limmat.
Gazing down at the colourful Saturday market in the square and on the pedestrian bridge with its merry-go-round and stalls and the laughter of children, I felt part of the lively scene rather than just a spectator from behind glass as is so often the case with modern hotels whose windows are permanently sealed shut.
Boats chugged up and down the tranquil Limmat under the Rathaus Brücke (Town Hall Bridge) as they have done for centuries, and the bells of many churches were chiming.
A handwritten welcome letter from the Storchen General Manager Jörg Arnold along with fresh orchids, fruit and macarons were heart-warming touches.
Attention to detail was evident in the leather-lined soft-close drawers stocked with a myriad of thoughtful extras like dental, nailcare, sewing and shaving kits, a leather tissue box, a super-efficient hairdryer and even a lint remover.
The fridge was well-supplied, and the Koenig coffee machine was also much appreciated along with the free wifi, large flat screen TV and an iPad for guest use with a wealth of information about Zurich.
With a couple of hours to fill before my husband Chris arrived, it was exceedingly tempting to succumb to jet-lag fatigue and snuggle up with the cute soft toy stork amongst the light-as-a-feather duvets and pillows.
It was one of the most sublimely comfortable beds I’ve ever experienced in my travels. I love the way Swiss beds are made up with separate duvets so you can cocoon yourself amid the feathers. I wondered if the pillows and duvets were stuffed with stork down perhaps?
I also discovered the bed had quite a repertoire. It was fully adjustable with a mechanism to raise and lower each end.
But after freshening up in the gorgeous white marble bathroom with its large glass shower enclosure, handsome brass fittings, heated tiled floor and divine toiletries including fragrant orange peel body lotion from the Storchen’s own farms within their Living Circle brand, I was invigorated and ready to explore the hotel and environs.
Recent extensive renovations completed by 400 craftsmen in a record-breaking six and a half weeks before a grand reopening in February 2017, have created an opulent new look while preserving the much-cherished heritage of the hotel. The entire building was modernised and streamlined from the lobby, bar, restaurant, and banquet rooms to the 66 rooms and suites.
No expense was spared. Even the main entrance was moved and now leads directly from the jetty on the Limmat – Zurich’s only hotel to have its own river boat service – rather than the Weinplatz.
Jörg Arnold said some of their regular guests were anxious that the renovated Storchen would lose the soul of the old establishment they knew and loved.
But the spirit of this august hotel is still here, just somewhat refreshed
he said. “We have stayed true to the old principles: savoir-faire with tradition, adapted to the modern age. In fact, everything is more elegant than before.”
And the renovations and workmanship have certainly worked wonders, thanks to interior designers Christoph Cavigelli and Ina Rinderknecht, who have breathed new life and lightness into the old hotel with warm, rich, toffee tones interspersed with aqua splashes that echo the river.
The stork, for which the hotel was named over six centuries ago, is a constant motif and insignia – flying gracefully around the walls, arching an elegant wing over the reception desk, nesting on the roof, preparing to take flight from above the Terrace Restaurant and even landing on the beds in the form of soft toys – a novel way for guests to indicate when linen and towels are to be changed.
The Storchen’s Terrace Restaurant is blessed with such a magnificent vista, I did not know where to focus my attention – the graceful swans on the Limmat River directly below, the iconic twin steeples of the Grossmünster Cathedral or the spectacular snowy alps towering above Lake Zurich on the horizon.
The Barchetta and outside Piazza are very popular spots for modern Italian cuisine. Try the delicious vitello tonnato!
Dining in the historic riverside Rôtisserie Restaurant with its original parquet floor and beautiful chandeliers is an elegant affair. The cuisine and wine are exceptional.
Upstairs, the Cigar Bar has a traditional masculine woody, leather look. The stained glass windows are inset with guildhall crests and the curved wood panelled ceiling is reminiscent of a ship, very much in keeping with the hotel’s role as the seat of the ‘Zunft zur Schiffleuten’ (Shippers Guild) since 1894. The perfect spot for a whiskey, rum or port… accompanied by a cigar of course. There are 30 different varieties from around the world to choose from.
Looking at the Storchen from the other side of the river, the massive clock face and spire of St. Peterskirche seem to rise directly from the hotel roof alongside the famous nesting storks. In the late afternoon, the warm peach shades of the exterior walls glow in the sunshine. It’s a romantic sight with the riverboats gliding by on satin waters.
Impeccable hotel service and cuisine
Renowned for impeccable service, the staff are friendly, warm and eager to chat and engage with guests. There’s an intimate family feel to the place. The staff I spoke to say they love working there and this shines through, radiating from their faces. Some have been at the Storchen for more than 25 years.
When it comes to problem-solving, never underestimate the wisdom and knowledge of the concierges at five-star establishments like the Storchen. Xhevdet, who turned out to be an IT wizard, came up with the perfect solution to our complicated onward travel conundrum which had been puzzling us for days.
The restaurant, bar and kitchen staff were also outstanding. One chilly autumn evening after a long day of sight-seeing, we sat in armchairs by the fire in the lounge and enjoyed a delectable shrimp risotto with lobster sauce and herb salad, made with ingredients from the Storchen’s Terreni alla Maggia farm in Ascona.
When we decided against dessert, Chef de Service Gian-Andrea Albonico and serveur Sejla Alihodzic looked crestfallen. Soon after, a generous slice of homemade chocolate and passionfruit cake were delivered to our table by a beaming Gian-Andrea and Sejla, compliments of the chef.
“It’s our house specialty. And the chef could not bear to think you might leave without tasting it,” said Gian-Andrea.
It was heavenly. Thanks chef.
We were also impressed with the lightning-fast room service – Pamela appeared with an iron and ironing board, mending kit and ice within minutes of our requests.
Another delight was the excellent service and magnificent selection at breakfast in the Rôtisserie Restaurant.
As a muesli, yoghurt, fresh fruit, cheese, croissant and bread lover, I was in heaven while Chris was rather partial to the custom-made omelettes and crispy bacon. There was a serious juicer machine that he put to good use, feeding it with whole fresh oranges while I rather fancied the chilled prosecco. A bubbly way to start the day.
The Storchen – legend and history
There’s inevitably a legend associated with the origins of such an illustrious historical establishment as the Storchen. The ‘Haus zum Storchen’ – first mentioned in 1357 in the tax records of the city of Zurich – is said to have received its name centuries ago from a pair of black storks that returned to the Limmat River every year to nest and breed.
One day there was a storm so violent that it blew the nest from the hotel roof. When the local people found the nest, they saw all four eggs were miraculously unharmed and that among them there was one black egg. They placed the nest back on the hotel roof, and the pair of storks returned to hatch their young.
Ever since then, the stork’s nest has served as a reminder that guests at the ‘Haus zum Storchen’ are particulary well looked after, while the rare black egg promises luck to all those who come in contact with it.
Fortune certainly does seem to have smiled on the Storchen which has been at the heart of Zurich hospitality for over 660 years. The hotel has hosted royalty, Nobel Laureates, the philosopher-physician Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus von Hohenheim from Einsiedeln (1535), painter Juan Miro, actor David Niven, Richard Wagner and countless others.
In medieval Zurich, guilds and society were the centre of social life. In 1498, the high-ranking burgesses of Schwyz visited Zurich during which time 200 guests were lavishly entertained by the city officials at the Storchen to celebrate the arrival of spring.
These ancient guilds, established as far back as 1336, still have a strong presence in the city today with their spring festival, “Sechseläuten”, and other celebrations.
For some time, the Storchen was the guild hall of the ‘Gesellschaft zur Constaffel’ (Society of the Constable) and then in 1894, the hotel became the seat of the ‘Zunft der Schiffleuten’ (Shippers Guild), the oldest surviving fishermen and shippers guild in Switzerland.
An impressive array of guild crests including the Zunft zur Schiffleuten are displayed in the cigar lounge windows and a glass case on the first floor of the hotel. Other guilds represent tailors, linen and wool weavers, wine merchants, carpenters, butchers, goldsmiths and members of the nobility.
We loved our visit to Zurich and our stay at the Storchen. The hospitality, service, cuisine, comfort and ambiance are incomparable. After all, they have had six centuries’ of experience. And the location is perfect. The Storchen, as always, is at the heart of Zurich, a short walk to everywhere.
The only hotel in Zurich on the banks of the River Limmat, you can catch a riverboat from the Storchen’s jetty a few steps from the front entrance and take a cruise along the river to beautiful Lake Zurich. It’s a stylish, romantic way to see the sights of the Old Town.
And if your luggage can’t handle cobblestones, you can ride the riverboat from the hotel to the railway station… or take a tram from Limmatquai just across the bridge.
The Storchen Zurich has achieved a masterstroke, successfully preserving the unique, historic elements and soul of the much-loved old hotel while polishing, modernising and rejuvenating her visage.
‘Savoir-faire with tradition… adapted to the modern age,’ as Jörg Arnold said.
* The Storchen Zürich, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2011, dates back to 1357. The Storchen is part of The Living Circle which consists of a series of hotels, farms, orchards and vineyards in Switzerland – the Storchen in Zürich, the Schlattgut and Buech in Herrliberg, and the Castello del Sole, Terreni alla Maggia and Rustico del Sole in Ascona.