22 Jul BASEL: A CITY FOR CULTURE
Basel it’s not maybe in your mind as a long-weekend destination, but, trust me, you should consider it. It’s really a quiet and walkable city, and is not crowded at all (very important for some people, including Leo). It’s not really a monumental city, but it has very interesting architecture, with buildings signed by the most prestigious contemporary architects.
It’s actually the hometown of one of my favourite studios, Herzog & de Meuron, which its footprint is easily recognizable in Basel. Together with architecture, Basel is a city for the arts: with one of the most important contemporary art fairs, ArtBasel, taking place once a year, the city hosts amazing museums and galleries, with great collections and exhibitions. And if you are for industrial design, Basel it’s also your place: you can’t miss the Vitra Campus and its shop. Trust me.
There are also lots of spots for good food, but you should however consider that is not a cheap city, as the whole country is considered one of the most expensive in the world. But if you can afford it, don’t hesitate and discover this beautiful and cultural town.
Altstadt (Old town)
Forget about the map and get lost through the paved steep streets of the old city, which maintains its medieval structure. You will be at some points transported to 15th and 16th centuries, with the city typical architecture, which at the same time lives together with the latest trends in design. If getting lost overwhelms you, no worries: you can download the official city app for tourists, which has several different routes to follow with very good information. Don’t miss the “Pfalz” right behind the cathedral, a great lookout over the Rhine. If you want to feel like a local, bring a tablecloth, a bottle of wine and few glasses: you won’t regret it! But if you are more for eating, a very good and pretty affordable option to eat at the city centre is 1777, located in a charming courtyard right next to the local library. Its burgers and self-built salads are delicious!
In Basel even the old city has its modern side, as it’s seen in the fountain by Swiss-born avant-garde artist Jean Tinguely, the most important representative of kinetic art. Right next to Basel theatre, in the area where the former building was located, Tinguely built these nine iron figures which play and dialogue with each other, as well with their public.
Next to it, in the same Theaterplatz, there is also an installation by American artist Richard Serra, “Intersection”, a monumental steel structure that, as Tinguely’s fountain, interacts with public, but also with the city and its urbanism and architecture.
Right next to the theatre square, it’s located the city art gallery, Kunstmuseum Basel. I immediately included it in my top ten museum list, actually at the first places in the ranking. The main building or Hauptbau hosts the collection of art ranging from Medieval period to 20th century (until 1960). I definitely recommend its visit, both for the great quality of the works exhibited (here you can find my highlights) and for the museum itself, with wide and bright corridors of concrete walls that distribute the rooms, what makes you enjoy the visit even more.
Before leaving the main building to follow up with the visit in the two other locations, you can have a drink (or even eat something) in the bistró terrace, surrounded by works by Dan Flavin, Alexander Calder and Rodin, which won’t happen to you every day 😉
The Neubau opened its doors on April 2016. Conceived by the local architects Christ & Gantenbein, it’s designed to accommodate temporary exhibitions, and also presentations of the collections. Its stunning architecture, made of white stone, that dialogues with Huptbau, right across the street. From the outside, the most recognizable element is the three-meter high frieze in the form of a screen in which a message is projected with light.
The art after 1960 is showed in the Gegenwart building, five minutes walking from the other two venues. This was actually one of the first museums in the world dedicated to contemporary art. Despite it’s not very big in scale, it’s a very interesting gallery that cannot miss when in Basel. It hosts several video art installations by such great artists as Gordon Matta-Clark, John Baldessari and Hillary Lloyd. When I visited it, I also could see an exhibition of Joseph Beuys works and an installation by Turkish artists Ayse Erkmen, entitled “One half each” (2008), that describes everything that the work deals with: three carpets, which were made in Istanbul – her hometown – trace the particularly ground plan lines of the three floors of the new building in half scale.
Right in front of the contemporary art gallery, you can find one of the several ferries which crosses the river from one bank to the other with the only energy of the flow of water, without any engine. It only lasts few minutes, but it’s a very special sensation. You will then arrive to Kleinbasel, a neighbourhood that used to be considered by locals “the minor Basel” but has become a hip spot full of shops and restaurants. A symbol of this conversion is Werkraum Warteck PP, a former brewery transformed in a cultural space, where studios for artists are located, as well as a good Italian restaurant, Cantina don Camillo (book in advance to enjoy its terrace). The most recognizable element of the restoration is the exterior staircase, a sculptural work by Fabian Nichele (b-r-a-n-d) and Baubüro In Situ.
Following the river bank in a pleasant stroll, the views of the old city are stunning. Before reaching the Mittelere Brücke, the main bridge of the city, one of the most vibrant area in the city starts. To have a coffee, I suggest the terrace of the boutique Hotel Krafft, right in the promenade front of the Rhine. You can also have dinner in its stunning first floor restaurant, a modern and elegant space in a historic building, which will left you impressed. I especially loved the original tiles of the floors…
Hotel Krafft also faces Rheingasse, a very lively street with some bars perfect for a glass of wine or a beer in the evening. My favourite is Grenzwert: it is also located in a historic building, which has maintained its charm and essence. The space was before a restaurant called “Zum Schwarzen” (what means “black bear”), has has kept its original sign and some elements of firmer times, which have been mixed with modern décor: there is even a smoking room with sofas and hunting trophys! During the weekend, there is a very interesting program of DJ sets.
Following through Clarastrasse, you will reach the Messe Basel building, the stunning congress and exhibitions hall conceived by Herzog & de Meuron. The construction articulates a public square for pedestrians, dominated by the circular shape of the building itself. All the structure is covered by aluminium treads that interact and play with light. Not far from this point, the same architect studio reformed the restaurant of Volkshaus, a building dating from 1925 (despite the cultural institution exists from 14th century). You can eat both in the brasserie, a very special space with dry grey walls dominated by pendant lights, or in the bar, a most laid-back space. Wherever you choose, I suggest you to order their delicious roastbeef!
Spend at least half a day (if you are lucky enough and have more time, keep a whole day) to spend it in the Vitra Campus, in the German part of Basel. It’s a half an hour bus ride from the city centre (note that the card furnished by your hotel won’t let you take this bus), and it’s one of the must-see in Basel, even if you are not a design and architecture passionate. Don’t miss the slide by the German artist Carsten Höller and the chair exhibition in Vitra Schaudepot, whre you will enjoy a history of design through this furniture element, starred by the Panton model and the elephant-shaped stool by the Eames. You can also eat at VitraHaus Café, located in the homonymous building designed by Herzog & de Meuron.
We stayed at Hotel The Passage, located less than 5 minutes from the very city centre. Considering Basel (and Switzerland) prices, this hotel has a very reasonable value for price. It’s very new, well located and has a nice and clean interior design. A couple of affordable and good spots to eat very near the hotel are Bibliothek Bar and Yam Yam Asian Eatery, placed side by side. I didn’t take pictures of them, but I enjoyed very much the food and the atmosphere 😉