Hotels often shout about their impact; few live up to those boasts. So, when we find a hotel that's as feel-good as it is do-good, we're interested. Alma Hotel, an independent stay in Zurich's elegant Seefeld district, makes the list.
Originally opened as a women's boarding house in the 18th century, this Mainaustrasse address became a "normal" hotel in the 1970s - if having a distinctive feminist ethos can be considered "normal" in the hospitality world. Alma and three other sister properties under the Sinn & Gewinn parent company operate as socially conscious businesses. The company works with city social services to provide training and employment to women struggling to enter the workplace due to disability or distress. Other properties in the group - including Josephine's Guesthouse, elsewhere in the city - also provide emergency accommodation for in-need women seeking shelter from homelessness and domestic violence. When you stay here, you're actively supporting those women.
That back story, coupled with the elegant, vine-trailed baby-blue facade of the art nouveau villa it's housed in, and a recent renovation led by Swiss architect Pia Schmid, puts Alma top of our list of Zurich stays. Today, men and women are welcome in the hotel's 18 rooms, although the spa on the fourth floor remains women-only. Schmid's renovations have transformed the interiors, adding bright pops of colour and modernising the wellness centre to rival the spa offering of much more luxurious city stays.
Located a three-minute stroll from a tram stop, itself a 15-minute tram ride from Zurich's main station, Alma benefits from being a walk away from the city's ancient Old Town, and right next to the city's beautiful lakeside promenade. It's out-of-the-bustle location ensures lower prices in a notoriously expensive town, but also gives a glimpse of a side of the Swiss city that's easy to miss - the side that regularly lands Zurich at the top of quality-of-living lists: think green space, easy-to-find swimming spots, lakeside views ringed by distant mountains and a golden social conscience.
Sweet and practical. Transformed from an old boarding house, the original villa's design quirks remain, with strange steps, majestic windows and beautiful ceiling-high panelled wardrobes, but the recent renovation has added 21st-century touches. The 18 rooms, which are all given women's names, have candy-striped headboards, walls and ceilings painted in butter yellow and sage green, and elegant, mid-century-inspired furnishings. All have flat-screen TVs, and empty carafes to fill with Zurich's mountain-sourced tap water. Bathrooms are a little basic, but do the job. Pick between single, double and family rooms: for a little added luxury, book the junior suite Jasmin, which includes a bathtub.
What's for breakfast?
Opt in to enjoy a vegetarian buffet in the bright, airy dining space just off the lobby for an additional £28 a night. Expect Swiss cheeses (of course), homemade granolas, bircher muesli bowls, yoghurt, nuts and fruit, baked goods and salad items. The boil-your-own eggs are a fun novelty. The coffee machine is excellent, as is the array of teas and juices.
How about lunch and dinner?
There's no hotel restaurant, but by using a QR code in your room, you can browse the menu of Ristorante Amalfi, a cute Italian across the street. From there, either order a takeaway direct to the front desk, or head over to eat in the restaurant.
In a nod to the hotel's boarding house heritage, there's also a large shared guest kitchen - and you're provided with a fridge basket, pen and label in your room, so you can store food items in the communal space without fear of mistaken milk identities.
Rather head out? Zurich's lakeside promenade becomes an open-all-hours bar during warm weather, as locals grab beers and lounge beside the water. Würst grill spots and takeaway pizza options are the food of choice for evening revellers (try Stripped Pizza, a few streets back from the waterfront, for multigrain bases, cashew sauces and alpine ham), or head to Pumpstation, an al fresco bar serving beers and Swiss snacks under red parasols.
Is there a bar?
An honesty bar at the front entrance offers Swiss beers, wines and soft drinks.
For £35, you can book a session in the women-only wellness centre up in the eaves of the property. This earthy, womb-like space includes a Finnish sauna, bio sauna and steam room, as well as a softly lit relaxation room. Bedecked with globe lamps and warm, ochre-red accents, it's a tranquil spot in which to while away an afternoon. In true Swiss style, the rule is strictly no swimsuits - but any anxieties over being starkers in the sauna will vanish: this is a safe, secure and comfortable environment to relax in.
In summertime, the Rose Garden is open at the back of the hotel: take a complimentary coffee out and enjoy a seat under the fragrant blooms. There's also a roof terrace offering impressive views across Zurich's nighttime skyline.
What are the hotel's eco-credentials like?
Rooms won't be cleaned - or towels and bed linen changed - unless one of the provided magnets are stuck to the sign outside your door requesting it, a system implemented to reduce energy use. Toiletries are by Zurich-based Farfalla, and provided in large, refillable brown bottles. A chirpy sign in the shower dares you to match your bathing time to your favourite song to save water.
The renovation has improved the hotel's green footprint, too. Despite the building's old age putting limitations on what could be done, new windows retain heat in winter and in summer the green exterior of the property keeps guests cool.
What about accessibility?
One room (Hazel) is equipped with a barrier-free bathroom, and all floors are accessible by lift (including the front door to the hotel), but my room had a small step into it, and into its bathroom. We'd call ahead to confirm if you have any worries.
What's the crowd like?
Lots of solo female travellers.
Within a short walk I can find…
Most of central Zurich. The Seefeld neighbourhood has coffee spots, restaurants and, as mentioned, a beautiful lake promenade, home to the city's oldest public bathhouse, Seebad Utoquai. It's common to see city residents sunbathing on floating wooden pontoons dotted around the historic lakeside building. There's also the Pavillon Le Corbusier further down the lake. The distinctive museum - the famed architect's final project - runs exhibitions on his life and work.
Get yourself a Zürich Card for unlimited second-class public transport (include lake ferries), 50 per cent off city tours (ask for Ity - she's a font of all knowledge on city history, the restaurant scene and the fabric of modern Zurich), as well as free or reduced museum entrance.
Things I should know…
You can use your hotel keycards or a clever app to open and close doors around the hotel but make sure, if you head to the wellness centre, to hand the correct key back in as they all look the same. We made the mistake of handing the wrong one in, leading to a late-night panic.