Parallel universe

Michael Gebicki takes a walking tour of Zurich's funky backstreets.

Zurich's most famous street is Bahnhofstrasse, and it's a beauty. Stretching more than a kilometre, from the city's main railway station to the lake, this handsome boulevard is dedicated to all things Swiss - chocolates, watches, outdoor cafes and money. Bahnhofstrasse is also one of the world's most expensive shopping streets, a wrap of famous and expensive brands, from Armani to Zegna. If you're anything like me, by the time you get to Tiffany & Co., close to the lake end of the street, you'll be feeling poor.

Relief is close at hand. On the other side of the Limmat river, running more or less parallel with Bahnhofstrasse, is Munstergasse, a narrow, cobblestoned corridor lined with cafes and small, funky designer shops whose names you won't see on anyone else's hips. If you're looking for a leisurely stroll and real atmosphere, Munstergasse fits the bill. Church spires still dominate Zurich and it is only fitting that this walk begins at a church, the Fraumunster, which rises from the banks of the Limmat, readily identified by its soaring, blue-green spire.

The church's drawcard is the set of five 10-metre-high stained-glass windows created by Marc Chagall. The windows are at their best in the morning, when the sunlight pours through and spills a kaleidoscope of colours across the floor.

Exit the church and cross the Munsterbrucke, the 1838 bridge designed by Alois Negrelli, one of the engineers who surveyed the route for the Suez Canal. On the far side is Grossmunster, a Romanesque-style church built on the orders of Charlemagne, so the legend has it.

Walk to the top of the square and turn left and you're now in Munstergasse. There's Tacnes for sporty shoes, Jack & Jones for pre-scrunched skinny jeans and urban streetwear, George Koutrios for pretty, flouncy things and Loco d'oro for rings that say "look at me". Opposite Antares - costume jewellery and spunky bracelets in eye-popping colours - is the Galerie Helvetia, where the works span the bridge from antique prints to contemporary art.

Munstergasse also turns its attention to the stomach. On the left is the flamboyant Spanische Weinhandlung, a Spanish tavern where jolly men sit outside in the sunshine most afternoons, enjoying the pleasures of the grape. On the right, at the top of a postage-stamp-sized square is Conditorei Schober. As well as a very fine cafe, this is a high temple to the confectioner's art. Inside, the madeleines, macaroons, tarts and pastries are a wonder to behold, and even better on the tongue. Opposite Schober is H. Schwarzenbach, a coffee roaster that has been around since 1864, its oak shelves filled with a gleaming array of honeys, preserves, nuts and dried fruit.

Beyond, Munstergasse takes a downward slant as it crosses Muhlegasse, and becomes Niederdorfstrasse. From here it's a succession of bars and restaurants all the way to the big Zurich Central tram stop. Turn left to cross the Bahnhofbrucke Bridge and on the left is the Coop store, which happens to have a fine cheese selection, all legal imports if you're planning a slap-up, Swiss-style fondue party on your return to Australia.

The writer visited Zurich courtesy of Swiss Tourism.

Trip notes

Getting there

Swiss International Airlines has daily, one-stop flights between Sydney and Zurich via Singapore, Hong Kong or Bangkok.

Staying there

Hotel Continental from 199 Swiss francs ($206) a night,
The Helmhaus from 280 francs a night.

More information