Lady’s First, hotel and Wellness in Zurich

It’s just about 7.30AM and already the streets of Zurich Switzerland are busy. Although the shops don’t open for another few hours, business people start early. Traffic is endemic in any large commercial city and in so-called staid Zurich, cars surprisingly honk and jockey to get into the correct lane. No one dares to jay walk. Zurich is a business centre with so many banks that they could equal the Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs and other seriously expensive cars that zoom by and make me realize that even though the Swiss love their privacy, they also adore luxury.

The positive to this hectic early hour is that it’s the best time to see the mist rise from Lake Zurich and view the outline of the mountains. As I slowly meander down the streets, window shopping safe at this hour for any impulse shopping, I pass many grand large houses. One has an outdoor lift for the physically handicapped on the side of the concrete stairs. This is Lady’s First Hotel and Wellness Centre, an hotel with a difference and an idea that took shape in 1994. The interim manager, Irene Wyss, whose full time work is as an economist, is one of the seven members of the boards and she’s there to meet with me exactly on the stroke of 8AM. Her offer of coffee is turned down since neither of us has the time for chit chat.

The original idea for this establishment conceived by busy working women, was met with great enthusiasm. But then the economical downturn delayed the start-up. The first million Swiss Francs which had been promised, didn’t work out. So it took a few extra years for the well connected persistent women to see their idea materialize…and at the end, to great success. Besides seeing the need for a ‘women’s only’ hotel for solo and business-oriented travellers, Frauen Hotel AG, (the parent company’s name) also wanted to create jobs for physically challenged people and for women seeking reintegration into the labour market.. By the time Lady’s First opened in 2001 (Frauen Hotel AG., doesn’t own the property but have a long term lease), they had raised CHF 5 million and had a great looking, well run like a Swiss watch, property.

Lady’s First Hotel and Wellness, as its name suggests, is for women travellers who wants privacy, safety and intimate surroundings. From the outside of this building, circa 1890, on this quiet street with the grand facades, it’s a surprise to enter and see ultra modern décor. There was never any question for the founding group that Pia Schmid, a well known Swiss interior designer, would work on the interior. She is renowned for her mixing of colours and finishing of walls in a technique called Tadelakt.

Long stemmed, perfectly straight lilies set in a large rough textured grey cylindrical vase which sits on a low round glass modern stainless steel pedestal table surrounded by two small unusually designed, burnt reddish coloured leather curved chairs, are the first of all the ‘eye candies’ in the reception area. The reception desk’s front paneling-or so I thought- is in fact, a series of same sized muted coloured earth tone, handmade tapestries squares under plastic held together by large matte silver decorator nail heads. Another head swiveler is the black modern steel and glass fireplace which separates this area from a neatly designed seating space and leads to a tiny perfect garden. The highly polished floors, devoid throughout the building of any carpeting, is a pathway to a decently sized ‘dining zone’ with modern black chairs and green sage cabinets, a colour that’s repeated as covers on the black slightly patterned wood pedestal tables. Naturally, there are the various espresso machines and other kitchen equipment, all very hi-tech overseen by a staffer who prepares breakfast and daytime snacks. This is an after-a-day’s-work meeting place for the female guest.

A single glass elevator, juxtaposed to the original concrete stairs and grey wrought iron railing, lead to the 28 rooms on four floors. It’s a quiet place since most guests are out early, either for work or sightseeing.

The fitness and wellness centre on the fifth floor, is very Zen-like verging on Dali-esque. It’s a silent zone with hip colours and unabashedly edgy round shaped funky modern mosaic tiled shower stalls. One worries about speaking in a tone louder than a whisper. It’s treated like a modern day temple to body and soul. I could barely hear any chatter even though I’m a bona fide eavesdropper. The sauna, steam and treatment rooms are large and bright and the roof deck may be a place to dine and see the view of the city.

Pia Schmid, known for putting unusual colors and textures has decorated every room door with a different hue which leads into the room’s palette, usually in several shades. Room #104 has a red door which opens into a single burgundy painted wall while the other walls are soft and creamy. The use of grey concrete in the bathroom as a structure to hold the white matte molded sink and mirror, is in itself, a sculpture. Each room has identical bathrooms with frosted milk glass doors creating a sense of lightness and space. There are sufficient working surfaces and needless to say, the design of the desks fit right in with the savvy styling.

Room #205, that of the blue door persuasion, has a darker blue interior and lightened up with blondish original square patterned wooden floors. Fluffy duvets, topped with soft wool colour- coordinated throws are on the purest, virgin-whitest, multi thread count sheets and pillow cases. Included are all the electronic needs of a busy person.

Who comes? The old cliché of between 40 and death would be right on. There were several clients in the twenty-ish bracket and an elegant women of a certain age sipping coffee. As the guests rush by, eager to start their day, it was easy to see they were of diverse backgrounds. The commonality is that these women are on the go. And with their portfolios in hand, they didn’t linger, except to make late day appointments at the spa. Although the smart, helpful and youngish staff seem completely stress-free and calm, the guests could have used a bit of Valium popped into their morning juice.

One doesn’t need to look further than the fifth floor to be able to get all the treatments from body to facials, make-up, waxing, manicures and pedicures, Ayurvedic, Hawaiian, classic massages and foot reflexology. There are also the more exotica like Craniosacral balancing, a rhythmical massage that activates the inner movements of the pulse system, brain and spinal fluids, Tuina massage which in Chinese means “press, shift, grip” combining manual massage therapies based on theoretical and traditional Chinese medicine.

Taxis are easy to hail and the trolley is just a few minutes walk and just a few stops is the Opera House, an area filled various fine dining establishments, the famous Bahnhoftstrasse and the promenade beside Lake Zurich for jogging, watching the sail boats or just enjoying the smell of clear air and budding blossoms.

All in CHF. Single room CHF 230.oo or Euro164.00
Small room CHF 195.00 or Euro 139.00
Double room CHF 280.00, Euro 200.00
This includes all taxes and breakfast.

Entry fee to the spa for external guests is CHF 35 and for hotel guests CHF 20. This includes use of steam bath, Finnish sauna, natural sauna, power showers, relaxation room, rooftop terrace, bathrobe and towels.