Christmas lights up Zurich 

click to flip through (4) PHOTO BY STEVE MACNAULL - The Lindt Chocolate factory in Zurich, Switzerland is now illuminated in ever-changing Christmas scenes for the holidays.
  • Photo by Steve MacNaull
  • The Lindt Chocolate factory in Zurich, Switzerland is now illuminated in ever-changing Christmas scenes for the holidays.
     
 

The chocolatier squints at my creation and declares it "messy."

"Slow down a bit," says Andrea Sonderegger as I attempt to make an oversize chocolate bar at Lindt headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.

"Make sure you spread the chocolate right to the corners and then level it off."

I finally manage to get the molten chocolate contained in the flat mold, but not before dripping chocolate all down the sides and smearing chocolatey fingerprints all over the bottom of the mould.

Surely I will do better with the fillings.

But no, I end up spilling hazelnuts and cranberry bits on the floor.

At this point Sonderegger can do nothing but chuckle.

So goes first-time chocolate making.

My purpose at Lindt Chocolate wasn't just to make a mess. Right after I interview Swiss tennis great and Lindt brand ambassador, Roger Federer, 8,000 other people and I will watch him flip the switch to illuminate the chocolate factory for Christmas.

As the holiday carols blast Federer flicks the switch to light the historic and ornate Lindt factory building with an ever-changing projection show of Christmas scenes.

Not everyone's going to be able to jet over to Zurich to make chocolates, meet Federer and marvel at the lights.

But the takeaway message was clear for Canadians: Even if you can't come to Switzerland, you can buy its famous chocolate at your local store for the holidays and beyond.

The Swiss can't help it — they are world-renowned for their chocolate, just as they are for their army knives, cheese, watches, Alps, international banking, diplomacy and high standard of living.

By the way, Federer's favourite chocolate is the Lindt Lindor balls.

Since the interview was short and we were supposed to keep away from tennis and personal questions, I decided to ask a question that skirted both, but also came back to them.

When you aren't travelling to tennis tournaments, what are your personal preferences for holidays?

"Somewhere warm," Federer replies.

"This summer it was the Mediterranean, but I also love the Maldives (islands in the Indian Ocean) and we (he has a wife and twin daughters) also get away into the mountains of Switzerland whenever possible."

While not a particularly big tennis fan, I couldn't help but be a little starstruck by Federer.

After all he's the best in the world at what he does, yet so gracious and friendly — two qualities the Swiss are known for around the world.

Zurich exudes European sophistication Swiss-style.

The city has a compact and historic downtown dissected by the Limmet and Sihl rivers bordering Lake Zurich.

The kilometre-long Bahnhofstrasse is Switzerland's answer to Rodeo Drive, a stretch of the highest-rent retail and office space in the county.

It runs from the city's main train station to Lake Zurich.

Downtown's Old Town looks much like it did in the 1700s with nothing higher than the spires that grace Zurich's trifecta of famous ancient churches.

There's St. Peter's with the largest clock face in Europe; Fraumuster with its famous stained glass windows by artist Marc Chagall; and Grossmuster with its landmark twin spires, which are all lit up for Christmas, too.

At Grosmuster I pay four Swiss francs (about $4.35 Canadian) to climb one of the spires.

Seventy-seven stone steps up the narrowest spiral possible and then another 120 wider wood steps brings me to the top where panoramic breathtaking views of the city are offered up on four open air balconies.

Giggling tourist girls from Hong Kong boldly step out onto the balconies and ask me to take their photo, while an older couple, still a little breathless from the climb, hesitantly step onto one balcony and peak over.

The day is overcast and cold, but the feeling of being perched at the top of Zurich's most famous landmark is exhilarating.

Air Canada flies to Zurich non-stop from Toronto and Montreal, aircanada.com.

General information at zurich.com.

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