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
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 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
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.