Located in the three country corner where Switzerland meets France and Germany, Basel has a long history of diverse culture and rich commerce. The location close to the borders and next to the Rhine brought merchants from afar and the wealth is clear to see in the stunning red sandstone town hall and late Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, as well as in more modern examples such as the contemporary Vitra Design Museum. And because of its international connections, the city (although small in population) rivals many major world cities in experience and content.
The world-renowned Basel Chamber Orchestra (Kammerorchester Basel), when not touring the world, can be heard and seen here. And a spectacle not to be missed is the annual Basler Fasnacht carnival, drawing in spectators from around the world. Lasting 72 hours, day and night, die drey scheenschte Dääg (the three most beautiful days), as it is known, sees some 18,000 Fasnächtler (participants) dress up completely incognito – to reveal one’s identity is considered highly inappropriate – in flamboyant costumes and parade through the old town in mediaeval tradition, accompanied by live bands.
Onto more contemporary matters, Basel’s art museum was designed by none other than eminent architect Renzo Piano and houses an enviable collection of Pollock, Francis Bacon, Lichtenstein, Matisse, Picasso, Rodin, Warhol and Van Gogh. Basel can also boast itself as the birthplace of Art Basel, one of the most important events in the art calendar, and draws together 300 leading art galleries from North America, Latin America, Europa, Asia and Africa. The fair has been so successful that it has spawned new Art Basels as far afield as Hong Kong and Miami.
Food, shopping and accommodation
With over twenty restaurants featured in the Michelin and Gault Millau guides, you are never far from fine dining, as well as markets full of fresh locally grown produce, pubs, cocktail bars and night clubs. Highly recommended by the Glass team is the Cheval Blanc; awarded two Michelin stars and sixteen Gault Millau points, it has a delightful summer terrace on which you can sit back and enjoy the restaurant’s signature Mediterranean haute cuisine with a great view of the Rhine. The restaurant is located in the luxury Les Trois Rois hotel, so after you dine, saunter along to the hotel bar for a nightcap of locally made Alsace wine.
For shopping, if it’s big international labels you are after, check out Freie Strasse; or head down Spalenberg for small boutiques, including Johann Wanner who delivers to the Vatican, The White House and the Queen of England.
To scope out your next accessory, Baselworld is an international luxury show that attracts 1800 companies each year and showcases the newest and most exclusive watches and jewellery.
The Rhine and Countryside
Two Jugendstil (a Germanic branch of art nouveau) bathing houses can be found on the Rhine to either sit and soak up the sun or take a refreshing dive; or take a trip on one of the fleet ships that roam the Rhine and indulge in food and drink while enjoying a tour of the city.
For those venturing outside the city, you can explore Augusta Raurica, the wonderfully preserved Roman theatre complex just outside Basel, or head further out towards the Black Forest for breathtaking Swiss nature and take a cable car up to the mountain at Wasserfallen to take in the view from the top.
by Justin Van Vliet