Out of all of the budget airlines, Ryanair really is not my preferred choice. I hate how they try and upsell the whole ‘experience’ – no I don’t want scratchcards to be pushed at me over a loudspeaker when I’m just trying to catch a quick nap. However, my opinion of them went up a bit this year with Michael O’Leary’s stance on Brexit. Unfortunately he, like so many of us, seemed to be in an echo chamber in the run-up to the referendum, as I ended up with an email on the morning of the 24th from Ryanair imploring me to celebrate staying in Europe (oh, the pain inflicted) by booking cheap flights. It was quickly followed up by another retracting the statement, but not the offers. So, hurt, sad, angry and betrayed, I did the only thing that could bolster my spirits at that point, I whipped out my credit card and booked us cheap flights for a pre-Christmas mini-break.
The week before the referendum I’d read an article (someone must have linked to on Twitter) on 13 cities you can’t pronounce (but you should definitely visit), one of which was Basel. So, after checking on the Christmas market dates I booked us flights to Basel for the first weekend of the Christmas markets, to coincide with my boyfriend’s birthday. We ended up with flights for two and a 20kg bag between us for just under £100. Given that it often costs us £85 to get back home to Nottingham on the train (with a two together railcard!), I thought it was a pretty good bargain. Ok, so I probably should have been showing solidarity with Europe, rather than heading to Switzerland, but the cheap flights worked for our dates.
Normally when we go on holiday it’s to somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a while and have looked into and researched, this time though I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It didn’t help that the week we were going to Basel (from the Thursday to Sunday), I ended up in Brussels at the start of the week for work, only returning on Wednesday night, so I didn’t even have the chance to do much last minute googling.
It’s super easy and quick to get into Basel from the airport by bus (although make sure you take the right exit from the airport, being on the border, one exit directs you to France and Germany, the other to Switzerland). We arrived in Basel on Thursday evening and so our first opportunity to get a sense of the city was on Friday morning when we went for a stroll to get our bearings. We stayed at the Radisson Blu which was only a short stroll from the Old Town.
I wondered whether Basel might be a bit industrial, but apart from the odd belching chimney in the distance, the city was beautiful. Situated on the banks of the Rhine, it is beautiful in winter, and I can only imagine it’s even lovelier in summer. The river is clear and fast-flowing and apparently is used for bathing in summer.
If you don’t fancy crossing the Rhine using one of the bridges, you can always use the passenger ferry, which works only using the power of the river’s current. It’s quite something to behold and I’m still not entirely sure how it manages to get lateral motion to head back and forth across the river.
Of course, if you know anything about Basel, it’s probably that it’s famous for Art and Art Basel. So, of course, we couldn’t miss the Kunstmuseum and the new building which only opened this year but has already garnered plaudits. I also got to take advantage of my newly regained student status for a discount on the entrance fee. Whilst I can’t say I was hugely enamoured with the contents of the new building, the building itself was stunning and the main building was great.
The main purpose for our visit though was not the art, but the Christmas markets. Last year we went to Brussels and we definitely want to make it an annual trip to a Christmas market, it’s a great way of getting in the festive mood. I’d forgotten how well Germanic countries do Christmas. It’s always in a beautifully classy way, very little is tacky in the way it can be here.
There are a few market areas dotted around Basel. The most central one (and the biggest) is in Barfüsserplatz and the surrounding streets. Kitted out with singing mooses (meese?) and a sparkly Christmas pyramid gluehwein stall, its stalls sell a variety of decorations, food and Swiss
Mugs from Christmas markets are my favourite souvenirs (especially as Switzerland is really not cheap for anything), I will happily relinquish my deposit in exchange for a novelty mug, especially when it’s in the shape of a boot. There was an old woman who drank from a shoe…
For the night of my boyfriend’s birthday I’d booked us into what purported to be a traditional Swiss restaurant – Walliser Kanne. Unfortunately the night before we set off for Basel my boyfriend started being violently ill and although I said we didn’t have to go to Basel, he insisted we did. Luckily it wasn’t a persistent illness and only seemed to come on a few hours after eating. So, we decided to throw caution to the wind and went for the fondue. Ok, maybe not the best thing to have when you’re unwell but he said he wanted it, so we went ahead, consequences damned. Everyone around us was ordering fondue so it’s clearly what people visit for, the smell of melted cheese is incredible from the moment you step foot in the door.
My favourite market was in Münsterplatz where sparkly lights hung from the trees above the roofs of wooden huts.
Across from the main huts there was a ‘fairytale wood’ for children, made up of huts where children could try out a variety of craft activities, including smithing, candle-making, wood turning and more. It was dotted with fire pits over which bread dough was cooked on sticks and encircled by a tiny train track. It was adorable.
Although I hadn’t been sure what to expect of Basel before we went, it was surprisingly lovely and apart from the vomiting boyfriend, we had a lovely time. It’s beautiful at Christmas and somewhere I’d thoroughly recommend to anyone. Unfortunately Switzerland is not cheap (even for someone used to London prices), so it might have to be a rare treat for us. Still, we will return.