Basel - a city of contrasts

The old city of Basel invites you to a stroll. Copyright: Switzerland Tourism. Photo: swiss-image.ch/Gian Marco Castelberg & Maurice Haas

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.

Wettsteinbruecke with a view of the old town and cathedral, Basel. Copyright: Switzerland Tourism. Photo: swiss-image.ch/Nico Schaerer

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.

Four Ferries connect both sides of the Rhine. Here the Muenster-ferry, popularly called 'Vogel Gryff'. Copyright: Switzerland Tourism. Photo: swiss-image.ch/Gian Marco Castelberg & Maurice Haas

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.

Gaia Hotel, Basel

Top tips

Accommodation

For more information on the Gaia Hotel visit gaiahotel.ch or call +41 61 225 1313 or email welcome@gaiahotel.ch and for the Adagio aparthotel visit adagio-city.com or call +41 61 686 4600 or email h7039@adagio-city.com

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

More from Lifestyle