Swiss cities are home to some of Europe’s loveliest cafes. Outside, it’s romantic arcades, tangled medieval rooftops and cobbled squares. Inside: ornate window displays of patisserie.
Inevitably, glass-fronted hipster hangouts now jostle for space with the historic grandes dames. Whether old or new, gemütlichkeit comes to mind – a sense of comfort infused with good cheer. Drop in for zvieri (Swiss teatime), and you’ll find people perusing the paper, gabbing with friends and sometimes getting rowdy over boardgames.
Here is our pick of the most charming cafes in Switzerland’s cities, where we recommend you order a grand cru heisse schoggi (hot chocolate), snuggle into a chair and people watch to your heart’s content.
Zurich: Conditorei Peclard Im Schober
Neo-baroque stuccowork, trompe-l’oeil murals, jarfuls of bonbons atop marble counters, crystal chandeliers and an exquisitely extravagant till give this 19th century Zurich institution an Alice in Wonderland aesthetic. Schober is most loved by locals for its schoggi mélange (gooey hot chocolate with whipped cream), though it’s futile trying to resist the sugar-dusted gugelhupf (yeast-based cake) or hazelnut-flavoured hüppen (crispy wafer rolls). The mood is particularly lovely in winter, when evergreen wreaths and fairy lights add to the magic.
Geneva: Les Recyclables
Duck out of Christmas shopping in this convivial pocket-sized cafe, where mismatched lampshades and ceiling silks dangle above chalkboards and paperback-laden tables. Part sustainable cafe, part secondhand bookshop, Les Recyclables is the antithesis of the big chains: it charms with delicious homespun baking, fair trade coffee and creative dishes made with local produce. Jazz musicians and Brazilian choro players have been known to serenade visitors – that is if you can be tempted away from the 11,000-strong selection of books from around the world.
Basel: Café Frühling
Basel’s best address for coffee is Café Frühling, so there’s little wonder it’s often bustling with newspaper-armed sophisticates. The cafe roasts its own coffee, and sources all of it – filter and espresso – from small nearby suppliers. For accompaniments, there are seasonal, organic breakfast and lunch menus, and a small selection of locally made brownies, cakes and pastries – try the Swiss fruit flan for a sweetly wholesome hit. Although frühling means ‘spring’ in German, the cafe’s flickering candles, tumbling jazz soundtrack and the hiss of brewing coffee are equally irresistible in the winter. Make time to explore the excellent independent boutiques that pepper the surrounding area on the arty Kleinbasel side of the Rhine.
In Switzerland, Bern is known as the birthplace of chocolate, because it was here in 1879 that a certain Rodolphe Lindt devised the conching method for creating silky textures. You can now buy Lindt chocolates anywhere, but Apfelgold’s schoggibombe cake is a when-in-Bern exclusive and a favourite among the city’s chocoholics. An arty explosion of chocolate-almond sponge, chocolate spirals and 70 per cent cocoa cream, it is naughty-but-nice happiness on a gilt-edged porcelain plate. The cafe in the student quarter feels like a traditional tearoom, with its flower-adorned wooden tables, counter full of cakes and bookshelves piled with hardbacks.
Lugano: Grand Café Al Porto
Since 1803, Lugano’s locally dubbed ‘salon’ has attracted politicians, artists and film stars including Clark Gable and Sophia Loren. It’s also popular with a stylish Luganesi set. Wood-panelled ceilings and pineapple chandeliers create the mood of a Viennese coffee house. It’s lovely to take a seat on one of the long plush banquettes and read the paper with a pot of fresh leaf tea.