We made it to Basel bright and early, ready to explore the city and indulge in some great Swiss food. I first learned about Basel back in 2017 when I was staffed for a couple months in London and looking for quick weekend escapes in continental Europe. Nestled just between the borders of France and Germany, Basel is a vibrant city with a storied history.
Initially, we wandered through the town and across the river from our hotel, towards the district where nearly all of the museums are. The architecture is beautiful, if a little more muted than what we saw in Germany and France.
On the way, we passed a couple churches and public squares, each of which had interesting artwork or little decor for the holiday season.
Even City Hall was dressed up with a beautiful, huge tree!
The first museum was the Kunstmuseum, which is a large art museum featuring art from a variety of time periods. Given we only have one day in Basel, I opted to visit only about half of the museum, including the special exhibit on ecclesiastical gold from the 11th century, including several Byzantine pieces. It was a great exhibit, with some relatively unique pieces.
Interestingly, the ‘foot’ above is a reliquary, holding the ankle bone of a supposed saint. The book cover, top right, has an embedded panel of Byzantine-carved ivory, which used to be a trendy way of binding expensive books. The gold panel, bottom right, was an all-gold alterpiece. Other interesting components of the exhibit included portable alters, used for bedside and ‘on-the-road’ rituals, and clothing pouches from Byzantium.
The museum also includes both pre-modern and modern art; the special exhibit was in the ‘modern’ wing, so I visited those galleries as well. The pieces included were of the ‘large canvas painted one color’ variety, so I took it in relatively quickly and moved on.
After the museum, we headed to lunch – and attempted to go to a fondue restaurant which was bustling with an extremely busy lunch crowd. Obviously, we weren’t able to get seats, but it was fun waiting inside to speak with the host and watching the rowdy group enjoying their afternoon fondue while watching skiing on TV.
Instead, we made our way towards the Pharmaceuticals museum, which was our next stop, hoping to find someplace to stop along the way for lunch. Luckily, we were able to catch a tram across the river (all of the public transport is free through the hotel!) and it dropped us just next to a quaint wine bar offering a late lunch. We opted for the local sausage, cooked in grappa and served with a delicious potato / leek sauce, and a galette with ham, tomatoes, artichokes and mushrooms.
After lunch, we headed to the Pharmaceuticals museum. A relatively small museum, it has a robust collection of different herbs and instruments used throughout history to create medical / pharmaceutical items. Over time, Basel became known as a pharmaceutical capital – and today, it’s still home to Novartis and La Roche.
The museum is more informative than it is really interesting (at least in my opinion), although it does provide a very comprehensive audioguide. Most interesting to me where the small sections on alchemy, book-keeping, and how these laboratories would have looked.
Interestingly, they provided a couple different views of how the laboratories would have been viewed:
Overall, it was definitely a unique Basel experience – I’m disappointed we couldn’t do the other one I had earmarked, which would have included a trip to the historical surgery theater in town.
After the museum, we continued to wander the city, taking in the beautiful architecture, and of course, stopping for chocolate.
After our walk, we headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit as has become our routine. Then, for dinner, we found a Swiss favorite: a fondue restaurant, located just down the street from the hotel in the historic district. We started with a nice, light French onion soup and then tackled the fondue itself. It wouldn’t seem like a beer, pretzel and some cheese would make for an incredibly filling meal, but this was ridiculously rich – and delicious. The cheese was creamy and well spiced, and didn’t break or get goopy even as we struggled to finish it off at the end of the meal.
Overall, this was a great start to Switzerland! We’re on to Lucerne / the mountains across from Lucerne tomorrow and staying through New Years, so we’re eager to see the Alps and enjoy some beautiful views of Lake Lucerne.