Across Zurich this month, you can stay in hotel rooms with a unique artistic touch. Ten rooms in ten different hotels have been decorated by different local artists as a tribute to the holiday season — and each has earned the name Hotel Noël.
In the Hotel Sedartis, you can sleep in a “snow cave” made of layer upon layer of draped, white lacy fabric, while the Hotel Noël walls at the Glockenhof feature glow-in-the-dark celestial bodies drawn from international flags. Minimalists may prefer the subdued black-and-white photographs hung by a graphic designer at the Hotel Storchen, or geometric tiles installed at the Sorell Hotel St. Peter.
The options are as varied as the hotels themselves, and few have more than a subtle connection to Christmas-time. It’s the work of established artists, after all, not your holiday-loving grandma.
“We did choose the artists from their broad spectrum and the diversity of their work because we wanted the rooms as diverse as possible from each other,” says Sabrina Bründler, communications manager at Zürich Tourism, which conceived the Hotel Noël idea.
A night at the Hotel Noël comes with a 24-hour Zürich Card for each guest, granting them free train, bus, and boat transport throughout Zurich, free access to dozens of museums, and discounts on many tours, restaurants, and shops — making the card one of the best ways to save money in Zurich. The Hotel Noël packages also come with breakfast included, in many cases at rates that are below the hotels’ rates for rooms without breakfast.
The most eye-popping Hotel Noël room may be at the Hotel Restaurant Bar Helvetia, where designer and stager Myriam Gämperi has plastered the guestroom with gold foil and festooned it with round, nipple-topped cushions. The blazing symbols of fertility and rebirth may be intended to mix Christmas’s pagan and Christian origins.
I thought that was also the aim of illustrator Yehteh when I first entered his Hotel Noël rendition at the sleek Marktgasse Hotel in Zurich’s old town. I guessed that his hanging ghosts and spectral candles were a nod to Switzerland’s November turnip-carving tradition, which bridges the space between Halloween and Christmas. It turns out, though, that Yehteh just likes ghosts.
Along with the hanging phantoms, Yehteh painted ethereal figures onto the entryway walls and the showerglass. Likewise, at the Greulich Hotel, artist Corso Bertozzi covered the guest room’s outside and inside walls with graffiti-like art. But at least Bertozzi spray-painted huge, specifically sized canvases — not the walls themselves.
Matching the hotel’s specifications and the artist’s intentions had some impact on which artist worked where, Bründler tells me. But more important was the match in style.
“Our main reason to put them together is that the hotel and the artist understand each other and respect each other and accept each other’s content,” says Bründler.
That may be why the design firm schoenstaub was paired with the 25 Hours Hotel Langstrasse, the city’s funkiest hotel, whose bar scene buzzes nightly. The hip travelers who check into its Hotel Noël guestroom will be greeted by the coppery red carpet, curtains, and bedding chosen by schoenstaub’s designer Nadja Stäubli. Most travelers, though, seem enamored by the two retro toys placed next to the mini Christman tree.
“The feedback has been quite good. Guests really like the lava lamps,” says front manager Jiulian Correll.
It’s fine if the lava lamps garner the most attention. The point of the Hotel Noëls isn’t really to spend all your time in the room admiring the particular artist’s work.
In fact, the Hotel Noël concept is meant to remind travelers that Zurich is already a great place to visit in December. It’s intended to provide “an ideal starting point for exploring the city, and at the same time we can offer local artists a showcase and communicate Zurich’s diverse offerings in the pre-Christmas season,” says Zürich Tourism’s Bründler. “Zurich offers a huge amount of Christmas experiences within a very small area.”
Among those experiences are fondue restaurants and cozy bars in tented or wooden structures, dazzling lights and sounds shows, and several seasonal markets. This year, even the outdoor Christmas markets require a COVID-19 certificate to enter, so you can feel at ease when you try a cheesy raclette or a fondue, some of Switzerland’s coziest winter foods. Wash these down with a mug of gluhwein, a hot, boozy beverage that is a must at this time of year and the first purchase for many market visitors.
Holiday markets like the one at Sechseläutenplatz next to the Opera House also carry hand-crafted gifts, from fine gold jewelry to folksy woodwork, much of which is quite affordable — relative to Switzerland’s high cost of living, anyway. At the Christmas market inside Zurich’s main train station, the massive tree decorated with 7,000 Swarovski crystals is an imposing sight.
Across the street from the main train station is Zurich’s Landesmuseum, a formidable gallery of Swiss history and art. In its courtyard, the Illuminarium offers dazzling light shows. There are light shows for kids and some specifically for adults, even young adults on their way to the nearby nightclubs — each of them designed by local or international artists.
Among the pop-up restaurants and tent bars are the fondue train that rolls through the city; the canal-side beer garden turned “Christmas Island” lit up in brilliant crimson; and the pop-up fondue restaurant at the Dolder Hotel, themed this year like a retro St. Moritz ski lodge. Zurich in December is packed with pop-ups, but the best-loved one may be Rudolph’s Holy Moly, an irresistibly kitschy collection of Christmas decor under a tent that still somehow leaves room for plenty of holiday imbibers.
And let’s not forget the overall holiday vibe. It is Switzerland, after all, so the gentle mountains framing Lake Zurich and the jagged Alps beyond them will be snow-topped. In fact, the whole city may be coated in white, as it was the snowy day I visited the Hotel Noëls. Add in vibrant holiday lights draped across narrow, pedestrian-only lanes or reflected across the canal and there’s hardly a better place to savor the end-of-year vibe.
Since the Hotel Noël rooms are scattered across Zurich and each at different price points, it might still be possible to squeeze in a last-minute stay in this winter-perfect city without busting your budget. Or you could make a mental note and be sure to come next year — with or without the Hotel Noëls.
Zürich Tourism hasn’t decided whether they’ll be offering the Hotel Noël concept next year, but Bründler hopes so. She said that the opening event at the end of November, which was open to everyone and featured each artist in their room, was a hit with locals.
“I really hope we can do it again,” she says. “Of course, if we do, there will be other hotels, there will be other artists.”
Even if they don’t do the Hotel Noëls again next year, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Zurich in December.