Relatively unknown in the UK, Basel, Switzerland’s cultural capital and my new home, is a city of charm and intrigue. It lies right on the triangular border between Switzerland, France and Germany. This, alongside its history of welcoming and utilising the skills of immigrants, including religious refugees, has shaped the city’s open-minded, cosmopolitan identity. Just walking down the street you will hear a plethora of languages, even the odd ‘Buongiorno’ in response to a ‘Grüezi’.
The city’s ideal location, nestled between the Black Forest, the Alps and the Vosges, also makes it a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts in both the summer and winter. Prestigious ski resorts and cycling destinations are easily accessible by the characteristic Swiss efficiency of the train service.
The Rhine, which flows through the centre of the city, furnishes it with a unique and dynamic energy. Historically, it played an essential role in establishing Basel as the international centre of the silk and ribbon industry. Now, it’s a social hub – the life and soul of the city. You can either bathe in its more tranquil spots or surrender yourself to the fast-flowing current, letting the river carry you 2km downstream. All you need is a “Wickelfisch”, a fish-shaped dry bag for your clothes and possessions, but also a useful buoyancy aid. All along the riverside, the dense smell of barbequed meat and marijuana, and the clink of beer bottles create a vibe like no other. There’s even an annual event, the Rhine swim, where thousands take to the water and regroup at the riverside bar on the finishing line.
In Basel, art, design and culture truly flourish. Outdoor sculptures and water fountains decorate the many parks and walkways, whilst historic buildings blend in with cutting edge architecture, for example that of the locals Herzog & de Meuron, who famously designed the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing. The city annually hosts Art Basel, ‘the most prestigious international trade fair for modern and contemporary art’, as well as boasting nearly 40 museums.
My favourite is the world-renowned Vitra Design Museum, just over the German border. It’s 2018 multimedia exhibition, “Night Fever”, which looked into the emergence of nightclubs as spaces for experimentation with interior design, was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Basel is also home to one of Carhartt WIP’s two European design offices. This is coupled with a warehouse-turned-outlet store in the neighbouring German town, Weil am Rhein. It is quite simply workwear heaven!
Food and Drink
The city’s multicultural character translates into the food and drink it offers. This is epitomised by my favourite place, Markthalle, a food hall filled with street food stalls serving cuisines from all over the world. It also houses Basel’s finest bar, Bierrevier, which has a selection of 40 beers on tap which regularly change and about 600 bottles carefully selected from breweries all over the world.
For wine enthusiasts tired of the same old Sauvignon, why not try the distinctive wines of the neighbouring Alsace region in France, including their famous Gewurztraminer.
Another culinary highlight of returning home is the bakeries. The Swiss, like many on the continent, take much pride in their bread and pastries. My favourites are Bio Andreas and Kult Bakery- in particular their sunflower seed loaves. For delicious coffee, head to Hejkøh, a Danish café in the heart of the old town with stylish décor and wonderful cinnamon buns.