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Zurich: Why this scenic Swiss city is simply the best

Perfection comes at a cost, as Claire Spreadbury finds out on a visit to Zurich, the country's financial capital

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Zurich

Zurich

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The Alex Hotel

The Alex Hotel

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Fountain in Munsterhof Square

Fountain in Munsterhof Square

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Claire Spreadbury

Claire Spreadbury

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Zurich

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.

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.

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The Alex Hotel

The Alex Hotel

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The Alex Hotel

But, as you continue into the city, there are designer labels around every twist and turn of the cobbles. Apparently it's like Oxford Street come the weekend, but on a fresh and wintry Friday, I almost have the shops to myself.

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. Green spires, church domes and colourful facades flank the double-towered Grossmunster church, the technical school where Einstein studied, and the university.

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 - with its Chagall and Giacometti stained-glass windows - overlooks a funky double fountain, the smallest of which can be adapted to spurt out free-flowing wine for incredibly important people and parties.

It's easy to forget how delicious Swiss chocolate is, but 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.

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Fountain in Munsterhof Square

Fountain in Munsterhof Square

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Fountain in Munsterhof Square

Swanky department store Globus is worth a wander, too. Head down to the food hall and watch the rich do their weekly shop as you ogle glorious displays of fruit and veg - half of which I have never seen before, from all over the world. 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), but it's a perfect spot for people watching.

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 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 zesty wheat beer from Zurich (6.50 CHF/£5.30).

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Claire Spreadbury

Claire Spreadbury

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Claire Spreadbury

After a day of exploring, the Alex hotel - which opened last summer - 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. 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."

Belfast Telegraph