EglisauWhen Tom and I paid a spring-time visit to Eglisau in Canton Zurich, we felt we had stepped into a medieval time capsule. There, in a half-timbered house beside the Protestant church, we found uncluttered elegance, creature comforts and not one, but two fine restaurants. Under puffy clouds and sunlit buildings with reflections shimmering in the Rhine, we settled in for two sublime nights. 

Romantik Hotel Gasthof Hirschen has welcomed guests since the 16th century. The building is integrated into the lowest row of houses along the river, and has been expanded and renovated several times. This is a living museum, and we looked forward to sampling food from the Michelin-starred kitchen of Christian Kuchler, a rising star on the Swiss culinary scene.

Gasthof Hirschen
Gasthof Hirschen perches among its half-timbered kin on the north bank of the Rhine in Eglisau, Canton Zurich.
Gasthof Hirschen
Two views along Eligisau’s main street, which is lined with ornamented buildings.

The restoration

In 2000, Werner Dubno, textiles entrepreneur and a highly regarded collector of antiques, purchased the Gasthof Hirschen. He brought to the project a deep knowledge of historic renovation and an appreciation for architectural style. He worked with expert craftsmen to give the inn new life, while preserving its character. Both the Canton of Zurich and the Swiss Confederation have declared the building a historic monument.

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These historically significant paintings on the hotel’s facade were uncovered during a 1974 restoration project.
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This painting–loaned to Werner Dubno by the town council of Eglisau, in appreciation for his contribution to preserving the town’s historic character–is displayed on the main landing of the hotel’s staircase.

The rooms

Guests of Hotel Gasthof Hirschen shelter in a 16th-century inn redone for a modern era. Sleeping rooms are meticulously furnished with modern beds fitted with crisp, high-thread-count linens. Antique wardrobes, desks and occasional tables contribute to the individual character of each. Bathrooms are contemporary in design, enormous and well-lit. Ancient doors have been left in place and fronted with glass ones, turning unoccupied rooms into pop-up museum displays you can visit simply by climbing the stairs. The effect is stunning.

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The Festival Suite, with its brightly ornamented ceilings, has both Rhine and street views. (which in the past were considered the more prestigious of the two!).

Our room overlooked the Rhine, as most rooms at Gasthof Hirschen do. A planked floor tilted steeply toward the building’s central stairwell, slanting as in any medieval building. Thankfully, the bed and wardrobe had been leveled, so we weren’t sleeping up- or downhill!

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A fruit bowl welcomed us to the Hirschsprung (Leaping Stag) Room.
Gasthof Hirschen
Our room was accented in soothing apple green, the bed covered in white duvets and pillows.
Gasthof Hirschen
A 17th century wardrobe had been updated with a contemporary interior (plenty of hangers, a safe for valuables, two fluffy robes, slippers).
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Bedside reading at Romantik Hotel Gasthof Hirschen.
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Even the bathroom has a picture window onto the Rhine, plus an antique chest and an upholstered chair. Floor tiles are from Morocco.
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The view from most rooms at Gasthof Hirschen. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this scene?

The Bistro

The hotel’s claim to culinary fame rests with its premier restaurant, La Passion, where we dined on our second evening at the hotel. But there is another restaurant at Gasthof Hirschen, served from the same kitchen. The Bistro, Gasthof Hirschen’s glassed-in casual restaurant, opens onto a riverside terrace. It has an extensive menu and daily specials, and is where hotel guests take breakfast. It is open for lunch and dinner.

For our meal at the Bistro, we chose the Menu Surprise, which by definition means we left our plates in the hands of the kitchen and our waiter, who made good work of wine pairings for each course. The meal was memorable: out-of-the-garden fresh ingredients, lively sauces, contrasting textures and complementary seasonings.

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A sampler of foods and drinks we enjoyed at the Bistro: herbed tomato consommé, white asparagus from nearby Flaach, breakfast made to order, regional wines, a dessert construction of spring flavors, a fine espresso.

Every season, a reason to return

Gasthof Hirschen is an intimate establishment where details matter, where every door knob and clock, every painting, is part of the back-story. The setting and exquisite ambience, combined with an innovative kitchen call out for a return visit, for another Menu Surprise in another season. I can’t think of many places better for celebrating a special occasion, a birthday or an anniversary. Hint, hint, Tom!

Gasthof Hirschen
‘The swimmer’ sculpture on the Rhine promenade has a view of the river and vineyard walking paths.
Gasthof Hirschen
Eglisau is on the Rhine cycling route to Schaffhausen and the Bodensee, and an overnight here–or a meal at the Bistro–would be the perfect place to break a hiking or bicycle trip. In summer, the trees will leaf out and provide a canopy for the terrace.

A Swiss Historic Hotel

Romantik Hotel Gasthof Hirschen became a member of Swiss Historic Hotels in 2008, and in 2009, was named Historic Hotel of the Year by Icomos (in German). For more about the four-year restoration and its importance, read this story in Tages Anzeiger (in German). I’m not the only one to think the hotel offers time travel at its best, and a feast for all the senses!

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Many thanks to Switzerland Tourism and to Swiss Historic Hotels for hosting our visit to Hotel Gasthof Hirschen, and to everyone at the hotel for making our stay so enjoyable. The wonderful memories are all ours!


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