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The countryside around Zürich holds a couple of small-scale gems, mostly ignored by visitors either absorbed in the city or hurrying to the mountains. This is a shame, since Winterthur is easily accessible from Zürich, and serves as a refreshing small-town counterpoint to the place, while still coming up with a full deck of museums and galleries that easily hold their own in comparison. Fifteen minutes west of Zürich, Baden is a genteel and comfortable spa town that has an impressive gallery of its own. Accommodation prices in both Winterthur and Baden can undercut Zürich’s by quite a long way, and with transport to and from Zürich fast and easy, you could save yourself significant sums – and be guaranteed a peaceful night’s sleep – by basing yourself in either town instead of their bigger neighbour.
Evidence of a nearby settlement called Vitudurum goes back to the first century AD, but the city dates its history from 1264, when it was granted status by the Habsburg king Rudolf. In 1467, the Habsburgs sold Winterthur to Zürich, ensuring it remained subject to its neighbour until the Napoleonic invasion in 1798. The Industrial Revolution powered the city’s meteoric growth during the nineteenth century, and after 1848 it also became the centre of the democratic movement in Switzerland, with political theorists and activists basing themselves in the city. Winterthurer architects and engineers visited England in mid-century to study building-design for factories and workers’ housing, and so brought back English ideas for the huge new factories going up to serve Winterthur’s booming textile and railway engineering industries. Most Swiss today still indelibly associate Winterthur – the country’s sixth-largest city – with industry: it has managed successfully to pull off the transition into hi-tech, and remains an energetic place, boosted by a thriving cultural scene and its own university and vocational college. It’s also surprisingly green, and the combination of students, bicycles, green hills and world-class art galleries can make for a pleasant day or two.
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