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Holidays in Switzerland: the delights of Zurich’s riverside

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The middle-aged couple strolled hand in hand through downtown Zurich on a warm late August night. Dusk was lit by the 11th-century Fraumunster Church, while the cafe terraces buzzed with people enjoying plates of air-dried beef and ice-cold cocktails.

As the couple passed me, they left a trail of wet footprints – despite being one of the busiest streets in Switzerland’s largest city, the man was only wearing a pair of damp Speedos while the woman was wearing a black swimsuit.

But no one—except me—blinked an eyelid. Even at 9pm, temperatures on the banks of the River Limmat hovered around 30C (86F), and for locals, a dip in the river or lake in the middle of town is nothing out of the ordinary.

Splash out: The jetties of the Utoquai badi, which is divided into women/men/mixed sections

Zurich’s trump card is the badis, or open-air lakeside pools, some of which are more like nightclubs, with bars and DJs. Their humble 19th-century origins, however, were to provide locals with a place to scrub, while the laundry facilities at home consisted mainly of a rag and bucket.

And fall is a perfect time to explore them, now that the summer tourists are gone.

The one I like to start the day in is Seebad Enge (seebadenge.ch; entry £6.60) because it catches the morning sun. I take a refreshing dip in the lake with the Alps in the background followed by a breakfast bowl of fruit and yogurt and a freshly brewed coffee.

Afterwards, you can swim back to one of the floating pontoons for sunbathing or, like many others, grab a table near the entrance and turn on your laptop to use the badi as an al fresco office. Enge also has a sauna for colder days and activities that range from massage and yoga to boot camp workouts and stand-up paddleboarding.

At night, Frauenbad in Stadthausquai turns into a bar open to everyone - as long as everyone takes their shoes off

At night, Frauenbad in Stadthausquai turns into a bar open to everyone – as long as everyone takes their shoes off

An equally chic alternative is Seebad Utoquai (admission £6.60), a bathing club built on a series of wooden jetties above the lake, which first opened its doors in 1890.

It’s divided into women’s/men’s/mixed sections and is busy all day, starting at 7am when suitable bankers undress for a pre-office dip. Details can be found at stadt-zuerich.ch.

Later, smart ladies and gentlemen, having lunch to top up their vitamin D, arrive, spreading thick towels so as not to get splinters off the floorboards as they make up for the papers.

The terrace bar at La Reserve Eden au Lac Hotel is a lovely place for sunsets, says Will Hide of The Mail on Sunday

The terrace bar at La Reserve Eden au Lac Hotel is a lovely place for sunsets, says Will Hide of The Mail on Sunday

On a warm day, I’d save Utoquai for the afternoon so you can then cross the road to the Philippe Starck redesigned La Reserve Eden au Lac Hotel (lareserve-zurich.com) for sunsets.

Take the lift to the top floor and turn right to the terrace bar, where a Summer Fizz of vodka, lemon, basil and watermelon will set you back £17, or turn left to the terrace of La Muna, a Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant serving dishes such as creamy spicy tuna tartare and dragon roll sushi (main course costs around £25).

A more egalitarian experience can be found in the Limmat River itself, where youngsters converge in the upper and lower sections to plop into the water from the trail, or, if they’re braver, jump off bridges and float down on the fast currents.

Take to the skies: enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the top of the Uetliberg

Take to the skies: enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the top of the Uetliberg

TRAVEL FACTS

Will Hide has been a guest at the Swiss Tourist Board (myswitzerland.com) and 25 Hours Hotel Langstrasse (25hours-hotels.com) where rooms-only doubles start from £165. Some badis close from October: details on zuerich.com. Swissair (swiss.com) flies to Zurich from Heathrow (from £84 return) and Manchester from (from £128 return).

At the end you might bounce quite forcefully into the lock gates which can be a bit painful on the shins, but it’s only a short walk back to the terrace of the cool Panama Bar (panamabar.ch) to watch the world go by over a plate of calamari (£10) or a juicy burger and chips (£17).

If you want to experience all this outdoor fun without taking the plunge, wait until the evening. One of my favorite things to do on a balmy autumn evening is to take off my shoes in the mostly women-only Frauenbad in Stadthausquai, where men are allowed in after 8pm when it turns into the dreamy Barfuss Bar (barfussbar.ch ).

Barfuss – barefoot in German – is the rule. Leave shoes at the entrance and head to the bar for an Aperol spritz, then sit with your feet dangling in the lake as you take in the beautiful view over the old town and, depending on the evening, listen to a local DJ . A 15-minute walk away, you can do the same at the equally cool Rimini Bar (rimini-ch), which is the Mannerbad Schanzengraben badi, only for men, until 6:30 PM.

If you’re starting to think you need to have flippers to enjoy Zurich, fear not. Go to platform 22 of the main station and a small red train will take you almost to the top of the city’s own mountain, the 2800 ft Uetliberg (one way, £3.70) in a 20-minute ride. Once at the top you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

Then you can either hop on the train to get back down, or walk for two hours through the forest to Felsenegg and take the funicular. You probably won’t see anyone walking in swimsuits, but in Zurich never say never.

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