2 January 2016

Getting to know you: Basel, Switzerland

Arriving in Basel, Switzerland, I was certain we'd have snow instead we were met with the bluest of skies and glimpses of sunshine. 

Hotel Victoria was the most convenient location of any hotel stay of my European trip yet, with Basel central station literally opposite the hotel's front door and the bus from the airport taking us direct to the station in fifteen minutes or so. The reception was grand and we were greeted warmly. We did end up upgrading our room for an extra £20 per night, as the standard double room we booked was in fact a queen bed with little other space in the hotel room. A free upgrade would have been nice - especially as the hotel was far from full. Our new comfort room on the other hand was lush, with comfortable twin beds and en-suite with a bathtub.

Early the next morning, we headed out to explore Basel and it's glorious Christmas market at Barfusserplatz tram station - considered one of the most beautiful in Switzerland. What I loved about this Christmas market in particular was the extent of decoration each stall went too - pushing it that little bit further with their wooden carvings or light up ornaments on the roofs (almost how some neighbourhoods in America compete with their Christmas house lights). It all made for an enchanting walk around, especially when you buy a hot drink from one of the stalls - which came in a rather festive porcelain boot cups (for a 3CHF deposit). My coffee with cream (kaffe melange) went down nicely.

By far, the most sought after stand at the entire market was for the Raclette Fondue - a delicious Swiss cheese melted and served with either bread or potatoes and gherkin/onions. I alreayd had a taste of this delcious cheese in Berlin and knew we were in for a treat.
Talking of the delicious Swiss Raclette Cheese, I found you can actually buy a smaller verison of the ovens used to make your own melted cheese in your own kitchen - on my WISH LIST right now!

We continued over the bridge and along the river with it's winding lanes and fairy light lit wooden windows, with many houses having intricate vines spreading across them with the odd burst of flowers - I could only imagine how stunning it would look in Summertime.

For dinner, we went to a traditional Swedish restaurant and ordered the dish people head to Switzerland for in the first place - cheese fondue, served with a basket full of torn bread pieces as well as a a rosti (cheese, potato and onion baked mix) which we shared between the two of us. Glasses of house wine were a must to aid the breakdown of the cheese. The combination was delicious and indulgent. A must try. I slept like a baby that night.

On our last day in Basel, we took things slow again, contemplating a train to Zurich for the day but changing our minds after seeing the cost of the tickets (we had several other destinations of our trip to budget for after all).

Instead, we strolled back along river/canal and popped into the stunning Les Trois Rois Grand Hotel lounge for afternoon tea, situated right on the river front with stunning Christmas decor throughout. Here we relaxed tucked away in corner armchairs and read a few chapters of our books while gentle music played and we sipped tea and ate brownie bites. The doorman and waiters here were especially kind and made us feel most welcome. A highly recommended treat! Even if the cuppa cost more than your average cafe.

To keep ourselves within budget, we headed to the local supermarket and bought hot savoury strudel and calzones to eat. Genius and yummy.
Starting back to our hotel, we passed through the Christmas market once more, spying a bar I previously saw on a blog - we made a dash into Les Arts Cafe for a drink and ended up spending over an hour sinking into the lounge chairs here too, with red and gold jazz bar inspired decor, all velevet and frigning with brass and gold details on the staircase, mirrors, frames etc... cocktails weren't available until 5pm sadly so I opted for a cappuccino instead. They host live jazz music on a Friday night and piano performers on a Thursday the waitress told me.

Other things to see and do in Basel:

There are plenty of small to medium museums to visit in Basel, all of which are highly recommended on Trip Advisor) including the museums of Natural History, Contemporary Art and Swiss Architecture. We popped into the Dollhouse Museum of Basel which was rather eclectic and amusing - I'm not sure really which drew us into this particular museum as opposed to the several others - perhaps it was the old style teddy bear I vaguely remember from my nan and grandad's house as a kid or the fact that it seemed more playful and un-museum like. At 7CHF entry cost, it was one of the cheaper attractions in Basel and set over four floors so rather good value. Overall, it was an interesting wander if you have time to kill (which we did) but otherwise you're not missing out on much.
We saved visits to the cathedral and Natuals History Museum for the following today only to find out that they were both closed on Mondays. FYI.

As Basel City is located on the Swiss, French and German borders, there is potential for road trippers to visit all three countries in one trip.

Day trips to Zurich are also popular with the train line running direct and taking around an hour. This was a little out of our budget on this trip but next time I visit Switzerland I definitely hope to see both Zurich and Geneva.

Next stop: Amsterdam and even more cheese glorious cheese.

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