The beguiling beauty of Basel
For those keen to take a break from the relentless stresses of life in the fast lane, consider a long weekend in Basel. Located on the banks of the river Rhine, where the Swiss, German and French borders convene, Basel is a captivating city of contrasts, cosmopolitan yet traditional, with a vibrant culture and an impressive number of museums, attracting over 1.5 million visitors every year.
Art lovers should head for the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts), which features three venues containing the largest art collection in Switzerland. View extensive paintings and drawings highlighting the works of artists active in the Upper Rhine area and dating back to the early 15th century. Wander around the fabulous collection of Holbein masterpieces and admire the stunning works of Rembrandt, Rubens, Manet, Monet, Gauguin, Cezanne and Van Gogh. The contemporary collections include works by Andy Warhol, Brice Marden, Mimmo Paladino, Walter Dahn and Siegfried Anzinger.
Another popular attraction is Basel Zoo, located on Binningerstrasse. Set in lush, landscaped parkland it is easy to navigate and the 600 species include Kangaroos, African elephants, lions, crocodiles, giraffes and rhinoceros. The antics of the monkeys and apes enchant visitors for hours and don’t miss the pelicans and seals devouring huge numbers of fish during their afternoon feeding sessions.
For our own dining experience, we hopped on the no. 34 tram at Zoo Dorenbach, disembarked at Universität, and headed for the family-owned and managed Restaurant Zur Harmonie, located on Petersgraben. The property has an intriguing history and is mentioned as an inn on records dating back to 1807. The interior features antique wood panelling and a beautiful lead glass window, created by Auguste Philippe Matisse. This restaurant specialises in Swiss, Italian and French dishes and I sampled the succulent ‘Café de Paris’ sirloin steak, served with pommes allumette, which was presented with much aplomb. Accompanied by a glass or two of Monferrato Rosso Lanimo 2009, it is a first class dish.
An exceptional vegetarian dining experience awaits diners at Tibits, located on Stänzlergasse. An extravagant buffet style display features fresh, homemade vegetarian and vegan salads, hot dishes, soups, freshly pressed juices and a choice of desserts. Diners select a plate, choose their food and then proceed to the cash desk where the plate is weighed and this determines the cost. I sampled the scrumptious quiche with a crispy salad, followed by pistachio ice-cream and it was first rate.
The Basel Minster, once a Catholic cathedral and now a reformed Protestant church, is also among the most popular tourist attractions and is listed as a heritage site of national significance. Take a stroll around the busy market square and admire this imposing building, the red sandstone architecture, the multi coloured tiled roof, the soaring twin towers and the cross shaped intersection of the main roof. Built between 1019 and 1500 it is a magnificent example of a mesmerising blend of Gothic and Romanesque styles. Energetic visitors are welcome to climb the steep staircases within the towers in groups of two or more.
For a less strenuous bout of exercise, breathe in the crisp Alpine air and take a leisurely stroll along the meandering alleyways of Basel’s Old Town, where you will find a mixture of 15th century and contemporary buildings. Basel is home to the works of a number of world renowned architects including Renzo Piano and Mario Botta. Browse around the trendy boutiques and dusty old book shops, stop at a coffee shop and sample a Swiss pastry or two. If you love to rummage for a bargain, the Flohmarkt, held every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at Barffüsserplatz, is the place to be. Bargain hunters gather to search the stalls, crammed with goodies galore.
When you are in need of a sugar rush, Lackerli Huus, located on Gurbergasse, is a paradise for a sweet tooth. Sample the Basler Leckerli, a rectangular piece of gingerbread and a veritable feast of honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied lemon and orange peel and a dash of spices. Leckerli, which dates back to the 15th century, was a source of nourishment for church dignitaries and it is simply divine.
Swiss chocolate fans should visit Xocolati, situated on Glubengasse, it’s a charming chocolate boutique where you will find more than 700 exclusive chocolate products as well as over 50 varieties of hot and cold drinking chocolate.
For an absorbing insight as to how the affluent people of Basel lived in the 18th and 19th centuries, visit the Haus Zum Kirshgarten. This 18th century property was once a silk merchant’s private residence, and the family wealth is evident. The museum features 25 rooms, lavishly furnished with period pieces. The permanent exhibitions include ‘Basel – symbols and Images’, which gives an insight into the history of Basel from the Middle Ages to the present time through the displays of images, symbols and badges of identity used by past rulers and their subjects. ‘The Basel Dance of Death’, another popular exhibit, is a sixty metre long mural, once painted onto the wall of a cemetery within a Dominican convent and although fragmented it is prominently displayed and thought to signify the 1439 plague epidemic.
Visitors seeking an exceptional place to stay in an excellent location will discover that the Gaia Hotel, located on Centralbahnstrasse, is a short stroll from Basel’s main transportation hubs and it offers the highest levels of comfort and service, a complimentary in-room mini bar and free Wi-Fi. This impressive property, which is family-owned and managed, opened in 1929, and provides spacious and contemporary accommodations with charming traditional touches. We stayed in a superior, air-conditioned; double room, measuring 36 sq. metres, which featured an espresso machine, a large flat-screen TV and a spacious en suite bathroom. The beds, swathed in crisp, white linens, were ultra comfortable and ensured a deep and peaceful slumber. Our organic buffet breakfast, served in the hotel’s elaborate dining room, which has retained its rich traditional wooden panelling, was absolutely outstanding. The service was excellent and it was a pleasant surprise to find a hotel that caters for vegans and diners requiring gluten free produce. Hotel facilities include an excellent spa, which features a Kneipp trail, a Finnish sauna, a treatment room, an inviting relaxation area, and rejuvenating rain showers.
Visitors with a preference for apartment-style accommodation will find that the Adagio aparthotel, located on Hammerstrasse, is just the ticket. Hotel facilities include a fitness centre with rowing machines, a self service laundry, a business centre and complimentary WiFi. We relaxed in a 1 bedroom apartment measuring up to 35 sq. metres, which provided a welcome retreat after a day of arduous explorations. The lounge area offered a comfortable, plump sofa and an LCD TV with more than 35 channels and the kitchen included a microwave with a grill, a ceramic hob, a dishwasher and all amenities required for self catering. We opted for the hotel’s excellent buffet breakfast, which included a wide selection of fresh breads and pastries, yoghurts, cold meats, cheeses and a selection of hot dishes.
After such a sumptuous feast, we burned up a few calories by taking a stroll along the banks of the river and then hopped on one of the four ferries, which sail between Basel’s five bridges spanning the river Rhine.
Whenever you decide to visit, you can be sure that the locals will offer a warm welcome. We were truly enchanted with the beguiling beauty of Basel.
‘Top tips – accommodations’
For more information on the Gaia Hotel visit gaiahotel.ch or call +41 61 225 1313 or email email@example.com and for the Adagio aparthotel visit, adagio-city.com or call +41 61 686 4600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Top tip – flights’
‘Fly the flag’ in comfort with British Airways from LHR to Basel. Business Class offers access to the airport lounge, a dedicated check-in area, complimentary bar service (including champagne) and a contoured leather seat with a guaranteed window or aisle. For more information, visit britishairways.com.