Perfection comes at a cost, as Claire Spreadbury discovers on a trip to Switzerland's scenic financial capital

I've been in Zurich for less than an hour and am talking about Tina Turner for the third time. I have so far met three different people, and each and every one of them has told me that the 80-year-singer has a house here, and also apparently goes shopping without bodyguards – because it's so safe.

Sandwiched between Germany, France, Italy and Austria, Switzerland isn't a place I've really thought of coming to before. I thought it was only for skiers and hugely expensive – which it is – but there's a captivating charm here that's worth exploring.

Known for being the financial capital, Zurich has a great transport system and is impeccably clean. The city centre's main shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse, links the train station to beautiful Lake Zurich, where everyone swims in the summer. The closer you are to the lake, the more expensive the shops, and minutes after climbing off the public boat (a Zurich Card costs 53 CHF (£35) for 72 hours, and includes all transport on trams, buses, trains, boats and cable cars, as well as admission into 43 museums), I suck in the sights of Dolce & Gabbana, Chloe and Tiffany. But, as you continue into the city, there are designer labels around every twist and turn of the cobbles.

It feels quiet and safe as I explore the views from Lindenhof, a tree-covered park in the city, looking out over the River Limmat. Quaint shuttered buildings housing extortionate flats lead us back down to the squares in Zurich's centre. My favourite is Munsterhof, which gets all lit up for a festive market come Christmas, and the beautiful Fraumunster church overlooks a funky double fountain, the smallest of which can be adapted to spurt out free-flowing wine for incredibly important people and parties.

The water here is so clean, you can drink from the lake and there are over 1,000 drinking fountains right across the city, so there's never a need to buy plastic bottles.

Food and drink

Switzerland is, of course, home to Lindt – a must-buy while you're here. And the Luxemburgerli mini macarons at Spruengli are simply sublime. Bite-sized and beautiful - though not cheap, at 1.50 CHF (£1.20) each - they're the perfect mouthful.

Swanky department store Globus is worth a wander, too. Head down to the food hall and watch the rich do their weekly shop. Homemade pasta, decadent flowers, stunning breads and delicacies are yours if you can afford it. A tiny pot of olives costs 7 CHF (£5.60) and a generous serving of dried mango will set you back 25 (£20).

Art lovers can happily amble around the 100-odd galleries here, and you can even take a seat in Zurich's first coffee shop in the edgier old town, where you can legally buy cannabis.

It's here, in Swiss Chuchi, where I taste my first Swiss fondue. We opt for the traditional Moitie-Moitie fondue (29.50 CHF/£23.85 per person), into which we dunk and swirl chunks of rustic bread and boiled potatoes, and wash it all down with a Turbinen Brau Start – a fresh and zesty wheat beer from Zurich (6.50 CHF/£5.30).

For vegetable lovers, a reservation at Haus Hiltl restaurant is a must. Founded in 1898 and managed by the Hiltl family since 1904, it's the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world. Renowned for its huge a la carte selection, and the buffet, where you can fill up your plate to be charged by weight - 5.30 CHF/£4.29 per 100g, or all you can eat for 59 CHF/£47.70 - starters, mains and desserts.

Out and about

Around 8km from Zurich city centre, you can head off on a big old hike. We hop on a cable car from Adliswil Luftseilbahnstation (free with the Zurich Card) and slowly make our way up the mountainside.

There are uphills and downhills, but the track is easy to follow, so everyone from families with tiny children, to solo Nordic walkers, couples, friends, and crazy runners are out and about. It takes around an hour and a half, and at the end you can climb the steep steps and reward yourself with a Swiss beer (7.50 CHF/£6), a sense of achievement and the most amazing view.

Where to stay

After a day of exploring, the Alex hotel makes for a beautifully boutique bolthole. With just 44 rooms, set right on Lake Zurich, it's 20 minutes from the city centre and an hour from the ski slopes.

The small-but-perfectly-formed spa houses a sauna and steam room, a tiny infinity pool and one treatment room.

Rooms are generously splattered with Pantone's colour of the year, Cool Blue. Furnishings are art deco, 1920s fabulous, with gold trimmings adorning every bathroom tap and coffee table you see.

The wooden staircase carries you to seven floors of rooms and suites, each with its own mini kitchen, and there are laundry facilities here too, all free to use.

The Boat House restaurant is the star of the show. The food is good, with huge, beautifully-presented portions. Breakfast is a relaxed affair, served in the same place. As I spoon off a slab of honeycomb, fresh from the hive, I look out of the enormous windows - the Swiss Alps rising above us one end and Zurich sitting proud at the other. Opposite, mind-bogglingly expensive houses sit like music lovers at a concert, jostling for a view of the lake.

"That's the Gold Coast," my waitress tells me. "Tina Turner lives there."

For more information on Switzerland, visit or call the international freephone on 00800 100 200 30.

Swiss International Air Lines (; 0345 601 0956) offers one-way fares to Zurich from £74.