The middle-aged couple strolled hand in hand through downtown Zurich on a warm late August evening. Twilight was lit by the 11th-century Fraumünster Church as the café terraces hummed with people enjoying plates of air-dried beef and icy cocktails.
As the couple walked past me, it left a trail of wet footprints – even though it was one of the busiest streets in Switzerland’s largest city, the man only wore a couple of damp speedos while the woman wore a black swimsuit.
But no one – except me – flinched an eyelash. Even at 9 p.m., the temperature on the banks of the Limmat was around 30 degrees Celsius, and a swim in the river or lake in the middle of the city is nothing unusual for locals.
Splash around: The Utoquai badi footbridges, which are divided into women / men / mixed areas
The ace up the sleeve of Zurich are the swimming pools or outdoor pools on the lake, some of which are more like night clubs with bars and DJs. However, its humble origins in the 19th century were to provide a place for locals to scrub, when home washing facilities consisted mostly of a rag and bucket.
And autumn is a perfect time to explore when the summer tourists are gone.
I prefer to start the day at Seebad Enge (seebadenge.ch; admission € 6.60) because it catches the morning sun. I take a refreshing swim in the lake with the Alps in the background, followed by a breakfast bowl with fruit and yogurt and a freshly brewed coffee.
Then you can swim back to one of the floating pontoons to sunbathe or, like many others, pack a table near the entrance and turn on your laptop to use the bath as an outdoor office. Enge also has a sauna for cooler days and activities that range from massage and yoga to bootcamp workouts and stand-up paddleboarding.
In the evening, the women’s pool on the Stadthausquai is transformed into a bar that is open to everyone – as long as everyone takes off their shoes
An equally chic alternative is the Utoquai seaside resort (admission £ 6.60), a bathing club on a row of wooden walkways over the lake, which first opened its doors in 1890.
It’s divided into women / men / mixed sections and busy all day, starting at 7am when the bankers undress in suits for a pre-office dip. Details can be found at stadt-zuerich.ch.
Later on, smart ladies and gentlemen come to have lunch to replenish vitamin D, spread out thick towels to avoid splinters from the floorboards when catching up on the papers.
The terrace bar at La Reserve Eden au Lac Hotel is a lovely spot for sunsets, says The Mail on Sunday’s Will Hide
On a warm day, I would save Utoquai for the afternoon so that you can then drive across the street for a sundowner to Philippe Starck’s newly designed La Reserve Eden au Lac Hotel (lareserve-zurich.com).
Take the elevator to the top floor and go right to the terrace bar, where a summer fizz of vodka, lemon, basil and watermelon will get you back for £ 17, or turn left to the terrace of La Muna, a Peruvian-Japanese fusion Restaurant with dishes like creamy and spicy tuna tartare and dragon roll sushi (main courses cost around £ 25).
The Limmat itself offers a more egalitarian experience, where young people gather in the upper and lower reaches to plop from the path into the water or, if they are more courageous, to jump from bridges and on the fast currents.
No fear of heights: Enjoy the panoramic view over Zurich from the Uetliberg
Will Hide was a guest of the Swiss Tourism Association (myswitzerland.com) and the 25 Hours Hotel Langstrasse (25hours-hotels.com), where double rooms start from £ 165. Some swimming pools will close in October: details at zuerich.com. Swissair (swiss.com) flies to Zurich from Heathrow (from £ 84 return) and Manchester (from £ 128 return).
At the end you might hop into the lock gates pretty hard, which can be a bit painful for your shins, but it’s just a short walk back to the terrace of the cool Panama Bar (panamabar.ch) to watch the world go by Platter of calamari (£ 10) or a juicy burger and fries (£ 17).
If you want to experience all of this outdoor fun without taking the plunge, wait until the evening. One of my favorite pastimes on a mild autumn evening is taking off my shoes in the women’s pool on Stadthausquai, which is mostly only accessible to women and which lets men in from 8 p.m. when it turns into the dreamy barefoot bar (barfussbar.ch).
Barefoot – in German barefoot – is the rule. Leave your shoes at the entrance and stroll to the bar for an Aperol Spritz and then sit with your feet in the lake while enjoying the great view of the old town and, depending on the evening, listening to a local DJ. A 15-minute walk away you can do the same in the equally cool Rimini Bar (rimini-ch), which is the Mannerbad Schanzengraben badi for men until 6.30 p.m.
If you think you need to be webbed to enjoy Zurich, fear not. Make your way to platform 22 of the main train station and a little red train will take you almost to the top of the city’s own mountain, the 2,800-foot Uetliberg, in 20 minutes (one way, £ 3.70). Once at the top you can enjoy the panoramic view over the city.
Then you can either get on the train to come back down, or hike through the forest to Felsenegg for two hours and take the cable car. You probably won’t see anyone walking in swimwear, but in Zurich you never say never.