Surrounded by the Alps, Switzerland is a country best known for its diplomacy, cheese, and discreet bankers. However hidden among the staid nation that runs like clockwork, is a city bursting with energy. The city of Basel lies at the crossroads of Europe, situated along the Rhine River where France, Germany and Switzerland converge.
The city of Basel, situated along the River Rhine
Basel is perhaps best known as a leading international marketplace for art and antiquities. Every summer it is host to the greatest art show in the world. This June, an estimated 60,000 art lovers and other superstars from the art world, including celebrities like Brad Pitt, flocked to the city for the distinguished Art Basel fair, the Cannes of the art world.
While it is too late to catch the masterpieces on display during the fair, Basel is a city that is at the forefront of the art scene all year round. Notable art museums include the Basel Kunstmuseum, said to host the oldest public art collection in the world. This year until September 27, it is displaying the largest show of Van Gogh landscapes. Some 70 canvases, including famous masterpieces and lesser-known works are sure to offer an intriguing new point of view on a visionary artist.
But the Basel art scene isn’t the only cultural event that brings this city to life. Various festivals occur year round, most prominently the Fasnacht, the Fasting Night, occurring the week after Ash Wednesday. The 3 days of Fasnacht are filled with costumes and masks, blizzards of confetti, children’s parades, street theater and boisterous music all over the inner city.
Masks and music at the Fasnacht Festival
When the city isn’t stirring with various fairs and festivals, there is a quiet serenity to be found as well along the Rhine River. On the north bank is Kleinbasel (little Basel) which is the port area and home to the country’s chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Grossbasel (greater Basel) on the south bank is the city’s cultural and financial center. Here the streets are lined with banks and art galleries, as well as hosting the city’s cathedral and university. The oldest in Switzerland, the Universität Basel has seen intellectual greats such as Erasmus and Nietzsche pass through its walls. The Munster, the cathedral, also lends a medieval charm to the city with its red sandstone façade and twin spires dominating much of the city’s skyline.
One can cross the river by tram or on foot using six bridges, but a more panoramic way to cross is by ferry. These wooden boats cross the river at four places and are powered only by the current but kept from floating downstream by overhead cables.
Les Trois Rois is a luxury hotel steeped in history and directly overlooking the Schifflände quay. Some notable guests have included Napolean, Goethe and even the Rolling Stones. The hotel also boasts one of the city’s most picturesque riverside terraces. Or, stay at the Teufelhof, a culture and guesthouse inviting guests to explore a rich world of haute cuisine, theater and art. Each room is a work of art itself, furnished by renowned Swiss and Italian designers or serving as an exhibition area for a particular artist.
One of the artistic rooms at the Teufelhof Art Hotel
Thanks to the city’s unique location, the cuisine is both excellent and eclectic. There is certainly no shortage of good restaurants serving local specialties from neighboring France or Germany. Basel remains cutting edge however, with fresh infusions such as the Bruderholz-Stucki, a culinary landmark in Basel. The Stucki is getting a makeover from Chef Tanja Grandits who is incorporating regional ingredients and exotic flavors to the menu. Basel’s chicest restaurant-bar-lounge-café is called Acqua because its building used to be a water treatment plant. Meals are served around the open-space kitchen all day, giving way to festive, cocktail-fueled atmosphere in the evening.
Visit www.artbasel.com for more information on next year's Art Basel fair on June 16-20, 2010.