Arriving in Basel, we checked into our rooms at the conveniently located Swissotel Le Plaza Basel, which calls itself “the largest and most contemporary 5-star hotel in the city and the greater Basel area.” After depositing our luggage in the room and eyeing our enticing queen bed and crisp linens as well as an impressive “pillow menu” to accommodate our sleeping comfort, we hurriedly made our way back down to the lobby. We did not have a chance to really engage in any relaxation or take advantage of this sleek room with its modern underpinnings; we had big plans for the day and not a moment to spare. We were on the move and had to meet our guide from the tourism office, Margit Gotz, a sturdy middle-aged woman with upswept hair and a kind expression, who would lead us around on a tour of Basel.
Basel is one of the most important locations for trade fairs and congresses in Switzerland, and its 200,000 residents enjoy one of the cities with the highest quality of life in the world. As we ventured into the city, we became aware of Basel’s sophistication. From the lovely Rhine River, which divides the city in two, to the pristine cafés and picturesque baroque residences, we were immediately enchanted by this city’s ambience.
Our guide drew our attention to the city’s architectural “Halo”: the swirling, interlacing steel that crowns the building known as the City Lounge. This building, developed by Herzog and de Meuron, is a covered public space that is the entrance to exhibitions combined with an open air meeting place and tram station. As we gazed upward and marveled at the brilliance of the building’s structure and frame, we had to hasten our gaze downward and outward as we were to make our way from this ultra-modern “City Lounge” to the City Hall, which is the seat of Basel government and its parliament. We continued to experience the diverse cultural integration of old meets new as made our way into Marktplatz, an impressive piazza in the heart of the medieval Old Town in the heart of Basel. Dominating scene is the stunning red roof of the sixteenth-century Rathaus, Basel’s city hall. Jutting up through the historical buildings, looming large, Rathaus is a guiding presence and gives both tourists and locals an anchoring landmark. As we proceeded through the Marktplatz and made our way to Spalentor, one of three remaining gates to the old walled city of Basel.
The narrow cobblestoned hillside between Marktplatz and the Spalentor forms the most captivating part of old Basel. Weaving our way through the narrow cobblestones from ancient Roman times through the well-maintained buildings with dates posted going back to the 1300s, we felt history towering all around us. Today these buildings contain many apartments, shops, artists’ studios, and charming courtyards.
As we walked south of Marktplatz we found Barfüsserplatz, “named after the eponymous church that was deconsecrated in the eighteenth-century and long the seat of the Historisches Museum Basel.” This area also has myriad shops and restaurants that were bustling with everyday life. One of our favorite finds was the Butcher Shop where we sampled sumptuous speck and charcuterie that left us wanting to come back for more.
Just south of Barfüsserplatz is the Tinguely Fountain, with its comical and whimsical water machines. After walking most of day, we appreciated the reprieve as we watched these delightful artistic water sculptures expelling their whimsy. As captivating as these water wonders were, we now arrived in front of our final destination, the restaurant, Atlantis.
After enjoying deliciously prepared seafood pasta paired with a lighter-style Swiss merlot, we bid our goodbyes and headed for cocktails at one of the many open air cafés that are so prevalent throughout this charming town. Light rain drops started falling from the sky, but that did not dampen our enthusiastic conversation about all the wonderful sights, sounds, and smells of city of Basel.