Basel, a magical getaway for the end-of-year celebrationsNovember 29, 2018
REPORTING – The cultural capital of Switzerland is filled with traditions, exhibitions and parties around the country’s biggest Christmas market. A unique way of life that attracts nearly 1 million visitors every year.
From our special correspondent in Basel
The Rhine crosses Basel and cuts the city alive, with the assurance of a majestic force. Left bank, the historic city, its small palaces, its shopping streets, its Swiss charm with the taste of eternity. Right bank, the Petit-Basel and its neighborhoods more popular – proportionately – where mixes a more contrasted population. The sunrise, seen from the docks, whatever the side, is a marvel. The bridges enveloped in a winter icing haze draw their silhouette against the light of the rising sun. What strikes you when you arrive in Basel is silence. Not that the city is drowsy, but the cars are banned from the center and kept at a distance. With severity. In Switzerland, there is no escape or exception to escape the rules. It’s horribly frowned upon.
Three places for a market
With trams sliding like swans on the water, one hears only the whistling of the bicycles and the cries of the children. The city hovers from hill to hill in an urbanism of small houses very “Jugendstil”, places where sometimes flow fountains and pedestrian streets lined with opulent shops. Because this Rhenish city of 200,000 inhabitants, enriched by the pharmaceutical industry, is enjoying its golden age with prosperity inversely proportional to its unemployment rate (around 3.5%). From the Dreiländereck, a sort of Basel checkpoint, to the marina, you can find two countries, Germany and France. Two trams (number 8 to Weil am Rhein, and number 3 to Saint-Louis in Alsace) make you cross an almost invisible border. A curiosity that has something to promote exchanges. Especially around an exceptional cultural offer.
Here again is something astonishing as these forty museums for an average city, including three behemoths, the Kunstmuseum, the Beyeler Foundation and the Tinguely Museum, institutions that reign over the world of the arts. A tradition of patronage, centuries old, fat the wheels of a local society that frames a rich Protestant bourgeoisie whose discreet generosity, at the origin of art collections and the creation of museums, is a prime example. commandment. No wonder then that Christmas and the end of the year are, beyond the symbol, a unique art of living in Europe.
The Basel Christmas Market is presented as the largest in Switzerland. And one of the most beautiful. Declined in three places of the city, it brings together more than 180 chalets, but here each one has its architecture and its exterior decoration, sometimes a bit extravagant, nothing to do with our French huts that are all alike. The most impressive is the one on the Barfüsserplatz, in the heart of the city, at the connection of the shopping streets. It radiates on all the neighboring arteries bordered by these chalets occupied mostly by craftsmen. Those of the food trades are numerous, declining some local specialties such as anise bread (Anisbrötli) or Mödeli, mussels that, since the fourteenth century, decorate Christmas pastries. The second smaller market is around the cathedral, on the Münsterplatz, a beautiful esplanade lined with old mansions whose end offers a vertiginous terrace on the Rhine. Sausages, mulled wine and beers stand around pedestal tables against which one leans, or one lies down, according to the time of the evening.
The third market position is on the Petersplatz, full of bucolic charm, near the botanical garden and the university. Another place brings a lot of wonder: the Christmas decorations shop Johann Wanner (Spalenberg 14). Its gleaming front window hides a maze of back-shop rooms in which glitter Christmas balls, hand-decorated, garlands and calendars of advent in a feast of colors. Known around the world, the shop provides the White House and Buckingham Palace.
In Basel, Christmas also overflows into the streets and alleys of the old town, a very postcard atmosphere, with many concerts and choirs that beat the pavement. This year for the first time, St. Jakobshalle is hosting the Christmas Tattoo (December 14-16), a military music festival. In the Petit-Bâle, this other district, right bank, more mixed, younger and more trendy, that prolongs the Klybeck and its alternative spots, a hot focus of Christmas animation is created with ephemeral bars, adding a touch less classic at this festive time that attracts each year to Basel nearly 1 million visitors.
Basel does not usurp its title of cultural capital of Switzerland. And, for the holidays, major exhibitions are on the program. The art fair Art Basel, founded in the 1970s by three Basel gallery owners, Ernst Beyeler in the lead, affirms the artistic vocation of the city. Three important exhibition sites are unavoidable. The famous Fondation Beyeler, one of the most visited “museums” of art in Switzerland (500,000 visitors in 2017), located a little outside the city, presents until January 1st a major retrospective devoted to Balthus (1908-2001 ). The family of the artist and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum of Madrid have lent their loans, which gives the exhibition all its wealth (until 1 January 2019).
At the Kunstmuseum, the Swiss artist Johann Füssli (1741-1825), the great painter of the Shakespearean works of which the English are fond, is presented in an impressive monograph. More than 70 works, from prestigious sources such as Tate London, Met New York or the Louvre, among other institutions, show the work of this artist also known as the precursor of black romanticism (Gothic Horror). The rather audacious museography gives way, like a breath in the heart of the course, to a video installation, a contemporary echo of Füssli’s work.
It is in the new wing of the recently inaugurated museum, the Neubau, that the exhibition is presented (until February 10, 2019). The opportunity also to extend his visit in the rest of the museum. Its breathtaking art collection is world renowned with some universal masterpieces: The dead Christ at the grave, of Holbein, of which Dostoevsky speaks inThe Idiot (the work had greatly impressed him during his visit to Basel), a moving Self-portrait of Van Gogh, or The Bride of the Wind, one of the most beautiful paintings of Kokoschka. Art is in Basel everywhere. Where you least expect it, such as at the Grand Hôtel des Trois Rois, iconic establishment of the Swiss hotel industry, which has given the imagination of young schoolchildren, painting the bodywork of his Bentley. Creating in the same artistic movement the first luxury limousine of street art!
GO With TGV Lyria, 3 hours from Paris with a stop in Dijon. On board, a business class, a restaurant service, rather good quality. Reading side, distribution of many dailies and magazines including Le Figaro. Starting from 57 €. Six round trips a day. www.tgv-lyria.com
TO SLEEP Without hesitation, choose the Grand Hotel des Trois Rois (photo), in the old town. This iconic 101-room institution, built on the banks of the Rhine in 1844, counted as famous clients Richard Wagner and Pablo Picasso. Walls stretched with sumptuous silk damask, antique furniture and paintings put the rooms at the top of excellence. The table, The White Horse by Peter Knogl, has been awarded three Michelin stars. For the Christmas and New Year holidays, a “Christmas Magic” package: 1 night and breakfast, VIP accompaniment at the Christmas market, tasting of mulled wine, 710 CHF (626 €), for two people. Blumenrain, no 8 (Tel .: 00 41 61 260 50 50 and www.lestroisrois.com). Rates from 550 to 780 CHF (485 to 688 €) except package.
AT TABLE On the Rheingasse (no 12), an artery along the Rhine, Krafft Basel is a zen table with a very healthy generous cuisine (vegetable soups and steam fish) in an Art and Craft decor. (Tel .: 00 41 61 6090 91 30, www.krafftbasel.ch). Around 50 CHF (44 €). Close to the train station on the Brunngässlein no 8, Nomad Eatery & Bar is a kind of restaurant lounge a little connected in a beautiful decor of raw concrete, spirit brewery (Tel .: 00 41 61 690 91 60; www.nomad.ch) . Around 40 CHF (35 €).
A LAST DRINK You can see L’Unique by far, although it’s in a small alley in the city center (Gerbergässlein no 20), since this trendy bar, well known by the Basel night scene, is facing a rather colorful street art fresco. . Excellent cocktails and rock’n’roll music of the highest quality.
HEART STROKE For Aquabalisea Aquatic Center (Hardstrasse 57), wellness center, giant swimming pools, artificial rivers, water bar, saunas and spa. The care of the hammam with course and massage in a dedicated space, truer than nature, is worth the detour alone. A good half hour by tram (# 14) from the city center. (Tel: 00 41 61 826 24 24 and www.aquabasilea.ch).
GOOD PLAN Booking a hotel night in any hotel in Basel gives you access to the Basel Card, which offers free access to transport and museums.
FLAT We are on the border with France, but the French language is very little used in Basel (in favor of German) including on the cartels of museums where exhibitions.
ASK ABOUT www.suisse.com and www.basel.com