Strolling along cobbled streets lined with confectionery shops and fondue restaurants, my nose picks up the scent of melted cheese and freshly-made chocolate. I'm tempted to snack. But I best not. I've got an unusual lunch coming up.

I'm eating at Blindekuh, a pitch-black establishment run by blind people. Translated into English, Blindekuh means Blind Cow, the German name for the party game "blind man's buff". Housed in an old church, just south of Zurich's Old Town, it was developed by a group of visually-impaired Swiss pastors and intellectuals and has spawned copy-cats across the world, from Paris to San Diego, Tel Aviv to Beijing.

But I want to see (or at least feel) where it all began. What would it be like, I wonder, to be blind - for an hour or so anyway?

As I enter Blindekuh, a blind lady leads me into a darker-than-dark room, where I trip over one of the table legs and stumble into a chair. I grasp my knife and fork and scoop up the chunky napkin, which I have a feeling is going to come in handy.

Thankfully I'd glanced at the menu in the reception, so I had no need to finger through the braile version. Skipping the fish and meat dishes, I order a local vegetarian delicacy and a beer.

The lady soon arrives with a bottle of Heineken (or at least she says it's Heineken) and I fumble across to find it, just about saving it before it tumbles off the table which doesn't have so much as a candle.

In the room, every sound is magnified - footsteps and clattering crockery in particular - and when a group of other customers arrive, chuckles and laughter fill the air.

My meal arrives. Ten minutes later, my plate is empty. I know this because I've patted it and feel nothing but the remnants of the tomato sauce that covered my meal. As usual, food has managed to drip down my chin. As expected, it's a disconcerting, claustrophobic feeling being unable to see and I'm soon yearning for the great outdoors.

I decline coffee and the lady shepherds me out of the black and back into the reception, where the bright light sends me into a mini-blinking fit.

In the afternoon, I admire, with new eyes, Switzerland's largest city. Although Zurich regularly tops surveys for cities offering the best quality of life in the world, with crime, unemployment and pollution admirably low, it's often chided for being a boring city. Indeed, conventional wisdom says that unless you're looking to open up a secret bank account or purchase an expensive watch, don't bother going.

I'd say: ignore the nay-sayers. Zurich is a great place to come before, or after, you delve into Switzerland's majestic alpine wonderlands.

I'd half-expected the city centre to be a mini-Manhattan stacked with gleaming high-rise banks and characterless lofty apartments, but it's far more picturesque than you'd imagine. A pretty combination of medieval buildings, churches and spires adorn both banks of the Limmat River - one of the highlights being the enormous clock-face of St Peter's church (with a diameter of 8.7m, it's said to be the biggest in Europe). Another is the twin-towered Grossmunster, where the 16th-century pastor Huldrych Zwingli launched Switzerland's Protestant Reformation - the fight against Catholicism in Europe.

Surprisingly, perhaps, for a city with such a Germanic influence, gorgeous Italian-style architecture, replete with colourful window shutters and balconies boasting vivid floral displays, decorate Zurich's Old Town.

A very different vibe can be found in Zuri-West, the city's former industrial quarter and now its major hub of cutting-edge art and nightlife. Old factories and warehouses have been converted into creative galleries, 2000-capacity dance venues and laid-back bars, where the scuffed, but comfy red leather sofas make whiling away an evening, sipping cocktails, surprisingly easy.

My Zurich base, Leonardo Hotel Rigihof, is no bland business hotel. A short, rickety tram ride from the centre, it's set in a Bauhaus-style building with each of its 67 rooms dedicated to a famous person with links to Zurich. I have the Auguste Forel room, two doors down from the one that pays tribute to Albert Einstein. I'd never heard of Forel before and in his photograph, he looks rather worryingly like Harold Shipman - the British GP turned serial killer. It turns out Forel was a psychiatrist with an obsession for ants and thus the walls of my room are peppered with ant sketches, as well as more abstract drawings of a tipped-over wine glass and a bookshelf.

Perhaps Zurich's most underrated aspect is its proximity to nature. In the city's south, the Limmat River spills into Lake Zurich, which turns into a giant outdoor swimming pool in the warmer months. And from the city centre, you can take a 20-minute train ride to Uetliberg, an 870m high pine-tree- covered hill that overlooks Zurich and offers a glimpse into the kind of landscapes that bless one of Europe's most naturally photogenic countries.

Uetliberg is also the starting point for an invigorating network of hikes, but I'm happy, for now, to just admire the wonderful views over a city that I've quickly grown to like.

Thanks to my Blindekuh experience, they're views I can appreciate all the more.


  • fact file *

·Blindekuh, Muhlebachstrasse 148, blindekuh.ch

·Rooms at the Leonardo Hotel Rigihof cost from 135 Swiss francs ($138); leonardo-hotels.com

·For further details on Zurich and Switzerland see zuerich.com or myswitzerland.com

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West