It certainly wasn’t on my ‘cities-I-must-visit-before-I’m-thirty’ list, but I am incredibly grateful that a business trip brought me to beautiful Basel. Sat on a three county-corner, the Swiss city lies on a border triangle with France and Germany. Which I was quickly reminded of when I unintentionally exited Basel airport into France! (I only realised my mistake when the taxi driver demanded I pay in Euros!) Luckily I managed to navigate my way to Switzerland (back through the airport) to a taxi that would accept my purse full of Swiss Franks and made it to the city centre in time for a sunset stroll along the River Rhine.
As a Londoner, I have become accustomed to the idea that everywhere else in the world is cheaper to live. When travelling I usually find myself saying something along the lines of, “wow, [country name] is so cheap for [beer/food/clothes]” because relative to London, it usually is. But I’d never before been to Basel. Or Switzerland, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. In your bog-standard restaurant you should expect to pay around 30-50 CHF (£25-£40) for a main course. Even a side salad will set you back 18 CHF (£15), so I was thankful that all of my food and drink was covered under ‘business expenses’. However, once you get past the fact that you’re paying £40 for a risotto and a glass of wine, it’s hard to deny how delicious the food is. Warming winter dishes and classic ‘comfort foods’ are lovingly prepared from high quality produce. The Swiss aren’t fans of fast food (in fact, I only saw one McDonalds and a Subway in all of Basel!) Instead, they prefer filling, flavoursome dishes that are lingered over with friends (or a good book- as I did during my solo wine and dine on my second night!) I must say, my prawn and bolete mushroom risotto was exquisite and a welcome warm-up from the cold November night air. For dessert, definitely try some roasted chestnuts- a Swiss speciality- which you can buy fresh from street vendors across the city.
Prices aside, what really surprised me about Basel was how quiet it was. Only at the Herbstmesse markets (Basel’s Autumn fair), did I find anything that came close to a crowd. A sleepy city considering it’s home to over 175,000 inhabitant. Yet, Basel’s quaint character was what charmed me. Unabashed and unadorned, yet strikingly scenic. Definitely don’t arrive here with your tourist hat on because you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is a city where you don’t have to feel guilty about reading a book in a cozy coffee shop overlooking the Rhine. Soak up the ambience of this peaceful place as you meander around the medieval old town, hot chocolate (or gluhwein!) in hand and enjoy some time-freedom away from those guilt-ridden tourist traps that declare that you “must see this and this and this and this!”
It's just a shame Basel's so bloody expensive!!
Where I stayed:
-Hotel Basel- located right in the heart of the city centre. http://www.hotel-basel.ch/
Where I ate:
-Cocodrillo- delicious pike fish served with lemon risotto. http://www.coccodrillo-ristorante.com/en/
-Ramazzotti- this is where I sampled that stunning prawn and bolete mushroom risotto. http://www.ramazzotti-basel.ch/en/index.php
-So’up- I enjoyed a gorgeous vegan bean soup served with an Italian rice salad. http://www.so-up.ch/
NB. Basel isn’t the easiest place to eat out if you follow a gluten-free or vegan diet, as Swiss dishes always seem to contain a combination of bread/meat/cheese/cream (if not all 3!) Your best options are typically risotto (without cream), grilled vegetable salad or a hearty soup.
Things to do (besides eating!):
-B. Yoga Basel- This stunning yoga studio is located right in the centre of the Basel and overlooks Marktplatz and it’s red-sandstone Town Hall. To read my review about B. Yoga, please click here.
-Kunstmuseum Basel- http://www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch/en/home/
-The Bird’s Eye Jazz Club- http://www.birdseye.ch/