The best café in Zurich: savoring the Old World splendors of Conditorei Schober

zurich best cafeI’m in heaven. It’s a sunny early-summer morning and I’m sitting in a cobbled corner of Zurich‘s Old Town in the third floor salon of the elegant Conditorei Schober. Placed just so on the table before me is the most beautiful multi-layered latte macchiato I’ve ever seen: creamy-caramel-colored on the bottom, a deeper brown in the middle, and a very deep dark almost chocolatey brown on top, beneath a glorious alpine crown of foam. Arranged beside it is a flaky pain au chocolat, browned to a delicate crusty-crunch on the outside, with fine flecks of chocolate oozing from the soft folds within. As I bite through the layers of croissant, I can feel each one, multi-layered like the latte but at the same time soft and yielding.

As if these perfections weren’t enough, there’s a French chanson in the air — and then there’s the room itself!

On the opposite side from where I sit, one entire wall, perhaps 20 feet in length, is covered in panorama wallpaper that showcases fanciful scenes of Greek and Roman columns, the Egyptian pyramids and sphinx, and assorted minarets, spires, turrets, and crenellations. All these are set in a faded, soft-hued, sunset landscape, with palms and green clumps of trees and a silver river undulating through. In the foreground, partly blocking these scenes, branches and bushes burst with bright pink and purple blooms that look as if they are about to spill out of the wall.

More romantic scenes cover the wall behind me – the remains of an amphitheater, ruined columns, and dusky peaks receding into the background, and in the foreground a luxuriant profusion of plants spilling over my shoulder. The wallpaper’s palette is echoed in the upholstery on the settee where I sit and the two armchairs that flank the settee, all covered in a luxuriously soft gray-green material with a gold design motif.

Beneath the panorama opposite me, a red leather banquette runs the entire length of the wall, with eight square tables and one chair set at each. Another five tables, two round and three square, are arranged on the floor between. In the corners of the room two-foot-tall studded brass pots hold real palms. An ancient coat rack presides at the entrance to the salon, a gray-green Roman-style column commands the middle, and two cascading, beaded, candle-crowned chandeliers regally oversee the entire scene.

All in all, it’s like falling into a dream.

%Gallery-119350%There is much else to love in this storied conditorei. The second floor is devoted to an intimate plush red room, all lavishly upholstered banquettes and stuffed chairs and period furniture. There’s an inviting open-air garden salon on the first floor, with green, twining vines and a tiled fountain. Outside the cafe, there’s a cobblestone terrace with a dozen green metal tables arranged under huge red sun umbrellas, and convivial couples chatting in German, Dutch, English and French. And just inside, there’s a room filled with delectable temptations: green and plum and orange and blue macaroons, strawberry and raspberry tarts all plump and glistening, sweet chocolate treats and multi-layered confections in tall, fluted glasses.

But right now, for me, it all comes down to this room, this moment:

Every once in a while you find a place like this, so perfect in every way that you just don’t want to leave, and the only compensation is the fact that you found it and know it’s there and you can go back. But at the same moment you think that, you also realize that you can never go back to this same moment, this same chanson, this same incomparable pain au chocolat. It will never be the same.

So you just have to take joy in the fact that you’ve had this experience and savor it while you have it – and be happy that life is made up of such transcendent moments, and revel in the very ineffability and evanescence of them as the Japanese do with the cherry blossoms every spring. Life has conspired to bring you to this moment – this Old World European splendor of cascading chandeliers and exquisite wallpaper and plush furniture and delicious café and croissant. Savor it. Savor it.

Suddenly the bells of Zurich erupt into peals that remind me of the seductive shops that await outside, the antique stores and bookstores, the chic boutiques, the classic and contemporary art galleries. But alluring as these may be, I order another latte macchiato and a regular croissant. I just don’t want to leave.

The regular croissant arrives and I lift it with hesitation. Could it possibly be as good as its chocolate counterpart? I bite and – yes! It’s equally heavenly, light and airy and somehow substantial at the same time. I can feel the layers of texture as I bite through it, taste the butter with a cloud-like lightness…

Time distends. The manager arrives and kisses the workers; some regular customers arrive and kiss the manager; everyone bows and beams. A feeling of family and a sense of history, of institution, pervades. The Schober is a guardian, sustaining traditions in service, in confectionery, and in esprit, preserving in some indefinable and important way the spirit of this gracious city.

The bells toll. I realize with a start that a plane awaits to take me to the States. But I think I have time for one more macchiato.