Switzerland’s romantic getaway
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If you were thinking of treating your valentine to a romantic getaway, Switzerland would rank high on the list of places to consider.
You might be thinking of cosy chalets with snow-capped mountains in the backdrop. However, I would recommend the hidden gem that is Basel instead. It is far away from the Swiss Alps, but in fact, it is the third-most populous city in Switzerland. With its proximity to France and Germany, it's always been more multicultural than other parts of the country. It is a city that effortlessly intertwines history with modernity. It is a fabulous city for lovers because you have so much to talk about whether it's their cultural, architectural, or gastronomical excellence.
With around 40 museums, it is the museum capital of Switzerland. Despite opening around 25 years ago only and being privately funded, Foundation Beyeler is the most visited museum in the whole country. And it's hardly surprising considering the blockbuster exhibitions they keep securing like the recent Goya retrospective. In their anniversary year, this year, they've secured spectacular exclusives like their current Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition with her unique take on capturing the beauty of flowers. Her works rarely leave the United States, so it's a real coup for the local community.
Not to be outdone is The Kunstmuseum Basel, which is recognised as one of the largest and oldest public museum collections in Europe. This is a museum that demands repeated viewings and they also host crowd-pleasing special exhibitions like their just finished Pissarro exhibition. They have plenty of eye-catching modern artwork such as Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation I), 1970 by Frank Stella.
If you visit Museum der Kulturen, you will see the remarkable scaly crown structure created by world-renowned Herzog and de Meuron, They famously designed the Tate Modern in London and the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing and are based in Basel. The distinctive spiral-shaped hanging vegetation of Museum der Kulturen has been recreated in iconic museums around the world such as the famous Pérez Art Museum Miami.
For a historic city, it's certainly strange to see the sights of skyscrapers in the skyline but the most eye-catching ones are the Roche Towers in Little Basel, which are also designed by Herzog and de Meuron. The locals embrace the new with the old and it probably also helps that Roche contributes a large amount of taxation for the city.
Modernity is a theme that also runs strong in the local dining scene. Popular restaurants are less of the cheese fondue type and more of the kaiten-zushi variety (conveyor belts serving sushi) at the likes of Noohn. The multicultural nature of their food scene is most evident at the ever-popular, Markthalle where you can sample anything from Kurdish to Abyssinian cuisine all under an atmospheric giant dome. It is not an unusual sight to see oysters on the menu in Basel due to the French influence from their neighbours. Basel residents have an affinity to Fine de Claire oysters and all other types of seafood hence it was no surprise to see giant Swiss prawns on the menu at Volkshaus brasserie. They might be a landlocked country, but it doesn't stop the Swiss from growing them in saltwater recirculation plants in nearby, Rheinfelden.
The most romantic activity of all would be to check out the pop-up sensation that is Sauna am Rhy. They are a temporary structure based on the river Rhine (in the summer it is a pop-up restaurant), where you can experience the cosy warmth of a Swiss sauna but also experience the refreshing chill of their famous river. You are recommended to enjoy the heat of their sauna which includes stunning views of the river and then go for a naked swim on the Rhine. It is especially captivating when you visit during sunset. They have a quiet yurt for pure relaxation with a wonderful fireplace and a small bar offering comforting tea to hip local beers.
If you ever plan on visiting from February to March, make sure you check out their famous carnival, Basler Fasnacht, which rivals the very best of what Rio and Venice have to offer. It is three days of parades, fancy costumes, stupendous music and it was no surprise to see the carnival awarded UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage in 2017.
It is extremely easy to fly into Basel from the UK with direct flights to the city daily from major hubs like London, Manchester, and Edinburgh. Alternatively, you can fly into Zurich and it's just over an hour on the train from Zurich to Basel.
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