When I posted my backlog of Switzerland photos earlier in the year, I mentioned that we had another Swiss trip planned. Last weekend we were in Basel for a few days, and this time I’ve turned the photos around in record time.

Unlike those earlier trips, which had work or family connections, this was pure tourism, so the photos feature various museums and galleries. Basel has three world-class galleries: Museum Tinguely, featuring the work of the Swiss master of moving sculpture; the Kunstmuseum, with old masters and modern art; and the Fondation Beyeler, with a small but exquisite collection in an impressive modern building. We saw them all (well, I saw the Kunstmuseum on my own while the others enjoyed the afternoon sunshine by the Rhine), and I’ve included a few choice cuts in the gallery above: Tinguely’s wacky racers; a dramatic piece by a Dutch Golden Age artist I’d never heard of; and one of the best paintings I’ve seen by Max Ernst. I also enjoyed Fondation Beyeler’s current exhibition of Resonating Spaces, particularly the works by Toba Khedoori and Silvia Bächli.

There was plenty of art elsewhere, too, in a city that holds an art fair every summer. The Historisches Museum in the Barfüsserkirche featured some beautiful objects, especially in its basement rooms, and highlighted Basel’s former main attraction, a mediaeval mural of the dance of the dead, or Totentanz. This once featured on a wall enclosing the area next to the Barfüsserkirche, until it was demolished in 1805 under pressure from local residents. A few remnants are on display in the museum, along with rueful souvenirs the locals began producing not long after their mistake.

One of Basel’s other historical icons, the Mittlere Brücke or Middle Bridge over the Rhine, was demolished a century later and rebuilt to take the new electric trams which still dominate the city today. The old one dated to 1226. You would hope that no European cities would dare demolish a 680-year-old structure today.

Basel transport
Tram in Basel, October 2019. Mouseover for some Swiss trains.

Fortunately, Basel’s twin-spired Münster survives, and dominates views of the river. It was a bit hard to find on foot, as the streets in the old town twist and turn in unpredictable ways and maps of the city are confusing, but we got there. From the river side, there are great views of Kleinbasel (little Basel, on the opposite bank) and the bridges from on high, as well as the ferries that make their way across using only the power of the current. I’ve added a panorama of the view to another of my galleries.

Eating without breaking the bank and catering to everyone’s different tastes proved difficult, and we ended up having dinner in the same pizza place three nights in a row. The food in supermarkets cost double what it does at home, thanks to the weak pound and Switzerland’s non-EU prices, but public transport was free with the Basel card given to hotel guests, which also gave 50% off at the museums, taking them from insanely expensive to reasonably expensive. With its major pharma and banking industries, the city doesn’t need to extract every last franc from tourists.

As well as its old town, Basel has some impressive modern buildings, including two near our hotel, the Jacob Burckhardt Haus and Peter Merian Haus. But perhaps our favourite spot was older than any of them, and the city itself: down by the Rhine on the Kleinbasel side, you can skip flat stones across the water, watch the long tour boats cruise against the current, and (if you’re eight) splash about in the water until all of your clothes smell of Rhenish mud, like the Romans once would have when Basel was a border post.

Just as Zurich felt reminiscent of Geneva, Basel felt reminiscent of both. We definitely have a good feel for Swiss cities now; if we’re ever back, it will have to be to visit the mountains.

26 October 2019 · Travel