The Beyeler exhibit of Degas work, the artist’s late period, is a must!
BASEL, SWITZERLAND – Basel is, by Swiss standards, a large city with much to offer tourists, so it’s great for a weekend or longer. It’s such an easy and beautiful train ride from Geneva and Lausanne that you can pack in a wonderful visit in just one day, useful if you have family or friends visiting during the October school holidays. The Fondation Beyeler Degas exhibit is a good reason to make the trip: it runs until 13 January and it is not to be missed (GenevaLunch report 2 October). You could easily spend the day simply visiting museums and art shows, or take a second day just for art.
Visiting the Degas exhibit
The exhibit of 150 works from the later years of French artist Edgar Degas is astonishing, for the quality of the exhibit as well as the wonder of the works. Degas dabbled with photography, and the arrival of cinema was just around the corner in the late 19th century; some of his paintings hint at the visual magic of moving pictures.
His experiments with colour and form and texture are exciting: you sense that the artist has turned his back on the political and commercial art world to satisfy his own need to explore art without being fettered.
You can download a guide to the exhibit in advance, but don’t bother printing it, as the guide is available as a small booklet at the start of the show. Audio guides are also on offer, as are guided tours.
At CHF25 this is one of Switzerland’s more costly museum visits, and rail passes that include most museums don’t cover this one.
Keep in mind that the foundation’s exhibition hall is an architectural showcase in itself, the grounds are beautiful and the exhibit well worth the entry fee.
A bonus while the weather holds is seeing Jeff Koons’s “Split-Rocker” live-flower artwork outside.
Leave Calvin’s city at 08:14 and you’re in Basel by 10:53, via Biel/Bienne or Bern. Plan to stay until 18:00 or 19:00; dinner with wine (let the waiter do the pouring!) on the Intercity train heading home is fun. Expect to spend CHF20-35 per person for food on the train.
What to see and do in Basel
Ed. note: GenevaLunch.com tested this for you Thursday 4 October.
Switzerland’s northwestern city near the German border is elegant and beautiful, with riverside bluffs and architectural treasures that hint at more than 2,000 years of history.
This was the Roman Empire’s outpost, a last defense against the Germanic tribes.
Basel has long been famous as a Rhine shipping centre, and today it’s home to the country’s largest chemical and pharmaceutical companies as well as the Bank for International Settlements, where the world’s banks do their banking.
The watch and jewelry industry come here every spring for a giant fair, Baselworld.
It’s also a cultural mega-centre, hosting Art Basel, a huge contemporary art fair and it has more museums than any city in Switzerland. Art and architectural gems lie around every corner; keep an eye out. Riehen, home to the Beyeler, has galleries and street art that surprise in this charming village of older houses.
The city’s website has good information and if you like apps be sure to download the “Basel City Guide”, recommended by the Swiss tourism office, My Switzerland. It has a useful map and brief explanations in English of some of the city’s top sightseeing spots.
Using the app, we chose to do the following, based on our time and interests:
- stop at the tourism office in the main train station (ground floor, across from the Migros) for a small city centre map on paper
- walk from the train station to the Tinguely iron sculptures fountain and pause to watch the crowd
- walk on to the Marktplatz, stopping to poke our heads into the toy museum and its wonderfully stuffed shop of inexpensive to pricey toys (we resisted the CHF3,700 contemporary dollhouse living room), and to admire the extraordinary red sandstone Rathaus (city hall) and eat at one of the many cafes or small restaurants (we spent about CHF17 each for good kebabs and drinks at a small sit-down deli)
- buy some laekerli at any one of a dozen shops: Basel’s famous version of lebkuchen, a slightly chewy dry cookie (keeps well for weeks) with a 600-year-old secret recipe that includes nuts and “Orangeat”
- catch the number 6 tram to the Fondation Beyeler to see the Edgar Degas exhibit, which runs until 13 January; the tram takes 25 minutes and they run every 5-10 minutes – get off at Riehen dorf, in the centre of the village and walk about 200 metres
- allow 1-3 hours for the Beyeler depending on your interest in art, the age of your visitors and the other things you want to see in the city
- take the number 6 tram back to the city centre and get off at the Schiffelaende stop after crossing the bridge, the lovely Mittlere Bruecke – if you stay longer this is where you can catch a Rhine river cruise
- walk along the Rheinsprung, a narrow street high above the river, towards Munster Cathedral, admiring the fine 14th and 15th century homes of the “churchmen” who were linked to the powerful cathedral
- Munster Cathedral is being renovated, but pause on a bench to enjoy the golden leaves of the horse chestnut trees, so rich against the dusky red of the church’s stone, and then do step into the church, which closes at 17:00
- If you don’t mind stairs you can walk down to the river and take the little ferry pulled along a cable, to the other side of the Rhine, which the natives have been doing for 150 years; enjoy a cafe or glass of wine before you catch the bus or tram back to the main station or the zoo stop
- Basel’s zoo is next to the station and is the largest in Switzerland, and one of the best in Europe; the English and French versions of the web site are being updated and will only be available again 20 October, but Trip Advisor names it one of the city’s top attractions – Tambako, whose work has appeared on GenevaLunch.com, has a collection of nearly 300 beautiful photos from the zoo.
The train station has a Migros and a Coop, so if you suddenly remember you need milk or bread for breakfast, or you plan to eat when you get home, end of the day shopping is easy.
Getting there; public transport options – October companion ticket deal
- A regular half-price ticket, round-trip from Geneva is CHF70; a zone 1 ticket for all transport, which covers the city centre, including Riehen for the Degas exhibit at the Fondation Beyeler, is CHF3.50.
- You can buy a CFF one-day travelpass for CHF68 if you have a half-fare card; if you wait until 09:00 and travel on a weekday the pass is CHF58; the pass includes all transport in the city
- A particularly good deal, only on offer in October, is the CHF33 companion card for anyone traveling with the holder of a one-day travelpass (including the 09:00 version of this) or with anyone having a GA pass
- If you live in a commune that has one-day tickets for CHF40, be sure to reserve one soon!
Holiday travel passports for the autumn, overnight stays tip
If you’re considering doing more travel during the school break, consider the CFF autumn holiday rail passport special offer: 4 days of flexible travel dates for CHF129 or 15 consecutive days for CHF199, available only to permanent residents of Switzerland (second class ticket prices).
Tip: if you decide to stay a night in Basel and you’re on a budget, particularly with a family, consider the city’s bed & breakfast offers. A new one that we like, only open since May by a group of young friends, is the Guesthouse 5 Signori, Guterstrasse 183: CHf65 for a single and CHF120 for a double, with five rooms and three charming bathrooms plus small courtyard patio, restaurant.
October photo album, Basel tourism
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