With buildings that tell a story of days gone by and a crunch of cutting-edge architecture, Basel fuses history and the contemporary edginess of the future with style and panache.
The cultural capital of Switzerland, a label this city wears so well, is as intoxicating as sipping a glass of good champagne. After a few hours you can quickly immerse yourself into the leisurely rhythm of Basel’s high quality lifestyle.
Aerial view of Basel
© Basel Tourismus
Divided and defined by the Rhine, the area has passed through the hands of the Celts and Romans. But, it was not until AD374 that Basilia (Basel) first appeared in records. In 1460 Switzerland’s first university was established here. In the time of the Dutch humanist scholar Erasmus, this city also became a centre of book printing and paper production.
During the Reformation, Basel became a centre for silk weaving and dying. The seeds were starting to be sown for industrialisation. Today’s Basel, straddling the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland, has become a magnet for trade fairs as well as a hub for life sciences and the pharmaceutical industry. And, as this is Switzerland, there are many key players from the world of finance to be found here.
The birth place of tennis ace Roger Federer is also renowned for its artistic flair having a great collection of buildings designed by international architects. The head office of the renowned Herzog & de Meuron are here. (The firm was part of the collaboration that worked on the design of Beijing’s 2008 main Olympic National Stadium known as the Bird’s Nest.) The new Roche building that punches the sky, adding a new dimension to Basel’s skyline, has been designed by this dynamic firm.
© Andreas Gerth
Courtesy Basel Tourismus
I can’t think of anywhere in the world that I have been where hospitals are on a guided tour of architecture, but here they are proud to show off the Children’s Hospital, an incredible construction and the University Hospital which has lovely gardens to stroll through.
On a hot summer’s afternoon, I sauntered along the banks of the Rhine. The river was ablaze with flashes of colour created by a clever gadget called a Basel “Wickelfisch”. This watertight fish-shaped bathing sack, which you take with you while swimming, keeps your belongings dry. There is not problem here of what to do with your clothes while taking a dip to cool off.
After passing rows of delightful medieval houses, I arrived in St Alban-Vorstadt and discovered the 13th-century town gate, St Alban Tor. After relaxing in the pretty garden which surrounds it, I headed to the Basel Papiermũhler, a working museum for the paper and printing sectors.
This tourist-friendly compact city is easy to travel around. I had my Mobility Ticket, issued by my hotel, which gives you free transport during your stay. So when my feet got weary, I hopped on a tram. People here are warm and welcoming and are only too willing to lend a helping hand with directions.
Fasnachtsbrunnen Jean Tinguely
Basel maybe a small city but it is a powerhouse of top-notch art galleries, ancient landmarks and monuments. The red sandstone walls of Basel Cathedral, parts of which date back to the 12th century, along with the twin towers and multi-coloured roof tiles make a rather special sight.
From the observation platform (Pfalz) behind this Romanesque and Gothic cathedral you have an amazing view of the Old Town and the Rhine. In the far distance you can see the Black Forest and Vosges mountains.
The Old Town is reputedly one of Europe’s best preserved and most stunning. Cobbled streets are lined with buildings offering a cornucopia of architecture. Behind narrow alleyways lay hidden squares and houses with intimate courtyards. Cute little shops beg you to enter.
Fountains punctuate the city – there are approximately 180 of them. The Tinguely Fashnachsbrunnen, created by the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, is arguably the most outstanding, albeit it is the only one that you cannot drink from.
Basel’s beating heart is the Markplatz home to the 16th century City Hall. Colourful old murals line the walls of the courtyard. Nearby is the bustling food and flower market which is open daily. You cannot leave town without trying Basler Läckerli. These spicy biscuits with hints of honey, nuts, orange and lemon peel are scrumptious.
|The old and the new|
The art gallery to put on your must-see list is the Foundation Beyeler designed by Renzo Piano One of the most visited museums in Switzerland, it is set in beautiful grounds and plays host to approximately 250 contemporary works of art and sculptures.
I managed to catch Marlene Dumas: The Image As Burden exhibition which shows the artist’s work from the mid-1970s to present day. The South African is one of the most highly-rated painters in modern art. Her starting point may usually be a photograph but her interpretation is individual and certainly provocative. As well as exhibitions, there is also interesting permanent collection to cast your eye over.
After feasting on the culture, enjoy the city’s culinary prowess. Find bars in Kleinbasel, which is across the river from the Old Town or indulge yourself at the legendary two-stared Michelin restaurant the Cheval Blanc at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois or discover lots of other delightful haunts in the city.
Basel is a tonic. Reviving and stimulating spiced with beauty and charm.
By Daralyn Danns
British Airways currently flies from London City to Zurich up to four times a day. Each-way hand baggage only fares are available from £69 (based on a return hand baggage only fare) and are available to book on www.ba.com/londoncity
(In addition BA has services from Heathrow with connections also available from across the UK and Ireland.)
All British Airways fares include online check-in 24 hours before departure, complimentary refreshments and drinks on board and no debit card charges
Customers have a quick and easy journey through the Docklands airport, with hand baggage it takes just 15 minutes to get from kerbside to airside
BA makes flying an enjoyable experience!
Train fares from Zurich to Basel start at £40 standard class return. For bookings visit www.voyages-sncf.com or phone 0844 848 5848 or call into the Voyages-sncf Travel Centre, 193 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EU
Travelling by train is easy in Switzerland. Good frequency trains are punctual and altogether a pleasant experience
I stayed at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois (www.lestroisrois.com). The chicest address in the city. You will be hard-pressed to find fault here. It is the epitome of excellence
For more information on Basel visit www.basel.com/en