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Why Basel is Switzerland’s best-kept secret

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Why Basel is Switzerland’s best-kept secret

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Basel. It sits on the Rhine in northwest Switzerland and boasts one of the most scenic settings in Europe.

Move over Geneva; take a backseat Zurich; Basel’s got more charisma (and Christmas pumpernickel) to compete with the best of you. 

Modern maturity
The old collides quite spectacularly with new in Basel’s Old Town. Possibly one of the best preserved (and arguably the prettiest) nuggets of traditional Europe, narrow cobblestone streets are flanked by crooked townhouses and balcony flower boxes tumbling with posies. Best explored by foot, the shopping streets are closed to car traffic, allowing for easy exploration. From medieval to modern, the rest of Basel plays host to an assortment of new-age aesthetics, and like much of Europe, it’s been designed by the continent’s foremost architects.   

 

O when the saints go marching in
A little-known fact about Basel is that it’s also home to the world's second largest military tattoo - after the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Hosted in historical barracks on the banks of the Rhine, the impressive location is matched only by the remarkable diversity of royal marching bands, including dancers, over one thousand international performers and a dramatic explosion of music.

 

Three nations for the price of one
In Basel, you can run between France, Germany and Switzerland in less than thirty seconds. Found somewhat unceremoniously in Basel’s outer burbs, there exists a little place called Dreilaendereck; the meeting place of France, Switzerland and Germany. There is a nearby restaurant with an observation deck to view all three countries, but it’s more fun to pack a picnic and celebrate this tri-national occasion with food. You could have a croissant in France, a Bratwurst in Germany, and something sweet once safely back in Switzerland. The Swiss do craft a mighty fine Basler Leckerli - glazed ginger bread.

 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas market
Basel claims to host Switzerland’s largest Christmas market, and with over 180 Christmas traders flooding the Old Town, we’re inclined to believe them. The entire city comes alive with the excitement of the festive season; buildings and bridges are magically lit with fairy lights, trees twinkle with illuminations and Jack Frost nips at your nose. The market, officially found on Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, operates from 11am to 8pm, from 24 November for an entire month. The ambience is magical, with the scent of ginger and mulled wine dancing in the air. Wafts of grilled meat will get your taste buds tingling and there’s even a ‘Christmas Parlour’ where you can take respite from the cold - over fresh coffee and Swiss cake.

Paris in three hours
A treasure trove of unsuspected highlights, Basel train station is actually Europe's busiest international border station. Who’d have thought!? Meaning travel to and from bordering nations is quick, easy and fuss-free. The trains run regularly and efficiently, with quick jaunts to Paris taking no more than three hours and three minutes (yes they're that precise - welcome to Switzerland!) Nip down to Italy, up to Germany or over into the fairy tale French region of Alsace. With views as pretty of those provided from the train, you’ll be wishing the journey was thrice as long.

 

Let’s cruise
As well as trains, Basel houses a major starting port for numerous river cruise companies. Commence your luxury waterway holiday from Basel with Uniworld, Crystal Cruises and Viking Cruises, all of which depart from the city’s harbour. The closest international airport is Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, approximately 10km from the port. But arrive into Basel one or two days earlier and avoid that unnecessary rush from the airplane to the port.

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