The pilgrimage town of Einsiedeln. In the hills just south of the Zürichsee, we discover one of Switzerland's greatest churches and a mid-priced hotel with an outstanding but affordable restaurant.
By Bob Bestor
Our Swissair flight from San Francisco was only about an hour from Zürich when we began to discuss our first night's destination. For this trip, other than three nights in Berlin, we had planned nothing. We would wing it.
From the map pages in the Switzerland Michelin Red Guide that highlight especially good hotels and restaurants, we noted a "good food at moderate prices" symbol for the town of Einsiedeln. We quickly determined the map notation referred to the Linde, a restaurant mit Zim (with rooms). It seemed promising and not too expensive; 17 guestrooms and a kitchen Michelin liked.
But what about the town itself? A wide spot in the road? Or would there be something to see? Michelin's Green Guide for Switzerland gives it two stars - "worth a detour." So now, on our descent into Zürich, we had a destination but no reservation.
After claiming baggage and clearing customs, always a breeze at Kloten, we pointed our luggage cart toward the airport's rail station and fished out our Europasses. With just minutes remaining before the next train headed in the direction of Einsiedeln, we tried to phone the hotel for a reservation. Unfortunately, the phone number in our two-year-old Red Guide was no longer correct and we were unable to get through. Figuring that even if the Linde was booked we would find alternative accommodations in Einsiedeln, we boarded the train. It was 6:20pm. After about 30 minutes of clickety clacking along the southwest shore of the Zürichsee, we made a quick change of trains at Wädenswil, and from there began to wind into the hills. At about 7:30pm we were deposited on the platform at the Einsiedeln rail station. The town is about halfway between the Zürichsee and the historic town of Schwyz.
After determining the hotel's correct phone number, we rang to inquire about a room. Yes, one was available and it was suggested that we walk the four minutes to the hotel from the station. Actually, it was more like 10 minutes, uphill in 90 degree heat, hauling luggage. Let's hear it for rolling suitcases.
Our room, Number 31, was not special but comfortable enough for one or two nights; very clean, a good bed, decent linen, small TV, love seat, chest of drawers and an armoire. The small bathroom, dominated by one of those afterthought shower stalls in one corner, was a little dim.
Tight as it was, after 6,000 miles and 26 hours since the last serious encounter with soap and hot water, that little stall provided a shower equal to the rejuvenative powers of the most opulent Roman bath. Thus refreshed, we settled into a candlelit table on the hotel's awning-covered terrace at about 9pm. Dusk settled around us, we sipped our first beer, the candles took hold and the Linde began to feel like home. Conversation from the other tables - seemingly filled with locals - was all in German. First objective achieved: we were off the beaten tourist track.
The menu offered multiple-course, fixed-priced meals, but also a la carte selections as well as a cheaper list of simpler dishes.
From the a la carte side, chopped Kalbsleber (calves liver) sautéed with mushrooms, herbs and plenty of butter, was as good as it gets. The accompanying Rösti (shredded, fried potatoes) had a suitably crunchy veneer and smooth, buttery innards.
Off the less expensive menu, Schweinschnitzel and Pommes Frites (French fries) were faultless; thin, white slices of pork just juicy enough and a not-too oily crust. With a squeeze of fresh lemon it was perfection - and proof the mundane dishes of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, though scoffed at by sophisticated foodies, can ascend culinary heights when prepared by a knowing chef using the best ingredients.
Starter salads were of the freshest makings, with the usual variety of slivered and chopped vegetables; cucumber, celery root, beets, corn and so on. The green salad included in the price of the Schnitzel consisted of butter lettuce so crisp and flavorful that it had to have been harvested within hours of being served.
Half-liters of Halden Krone slid down all too easily and so, after landing safely in Zürich, we crashed and burned in Einsiedeln, but with a couple of the better meals of the past year tucked safely away. The liver was 29 Sfr. ($19), the Schnitzel 25 Sfr. ($16).
Breakfast was adequate but not notable, though there was chopped fresh fruit to ladle on the Muesli.
Those who fancy waking up to church bells will love the Linde and Einsiedeln. Our first awareness of the bells was a fairly tame series of peals at 4am. At 5am came another tolling. Then at 5:30am all heaven broke loose; multiple bells for at least two full minutes. We heard a short burst again at 6am and then at 6:30am another rousing volley. Point taken; we got up.
Though there was nobody to help with our bags and we sensed a reluctance to send someone to fetch us at the station, the Linde offers good, basic accommodations and a kitchen that serves outstanding down-home dishes. At a total price of 213 Sfr. ($138) for double room, breakfast, and dinner for two, it's well above average value.
• Daily Rates: Singles 90 to 135 Sfr. ($58-$88), doubles 140 to 195 Sfr. ($91 -$127).
Contact: Hotel-Restaurant Linde CH-88840, Einsiedeln/Klosterplatz, tel. +41/055/418 4848, fax 418 4849. Proprietors: Silvia and Geri Nussbaumer-Kälin.
Hotel Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 13/20
Rest. Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 17/20
Einsiedeln is a pilgrimage town and chiefly interesting for its magnificent and gigantic Klosterkirche, a Benedictine monastery built early in the 18th century.
Interestingly, the church's breathtaking interior is mostly the work of the Asam brothers, the same duo who designed the Asam church mentioned in the Munich story and for whom a fine new Munich hotel is named.
At 10am on a weekday morning, the church-within-the church, the tiny but stunning chapel of the "Black Madonna," already had a dozen or so reverent worshipers.
You will also want to see the Grosser Saal, the Abbey Great Hall, on the second floor of the monastery. Follow the signs around to the right.
The rest of the town is ordinary, though worth an hour's stroll. On a warm night you might opt for a refreshment from the balcony of the Hotel Drei Könige, which offers a straight-on view of the beautifully lighted Klosterplatz backdropped by the imposing monastery and church.