One of the best things about living in Europe is undoubtedly the amazingly cheap deals you can get on flights around Europe. For as little as £20 you can find yourself in sunny Spain or exploring a new city in Germany. With competing budget airlines it really is a buyer’s market and with flight comparison tools such as Skyscanner offering an option to compare the cheapest place to fly to on given dates finding bargain deals is within reach of everyone. What better task to carry out after working a 14 hour day and having a terrible time than running a flight search to see where you could be next weekend? Such action resulted in me and a work colleague Leigh purchasing £40 flights to Switzerland for the weekend on an impulse – marking a new country to visit for a bargain price. The flight times were great for maximising the weekend but did result in a 4am wake-up and trip to Edinburgh Airport champagne bar. What else can you do that early in the morning?
It was a short flight to Basel airport – situated on the border between Switzerland and Germany. On arrival you can exit into the country of your choosing making it a great base for exploring, especially given how close it is to France as well. We took the airport shuttle bus into the main train station square and from there another bus to our hotel which was located a little out of the old town centre near to the huge convention centre. We had opted for a Swisshotel – complete with pillow menu and it was lovely. Given our early flight we chilled out a little before picking up our free transport cards courtesy of the hotel and making our way back into town. One of the things I was most keen to eat – given we were in Switzerland after all – was a cheese fondue. After a bit of googling we decided to try Walliser Kanne in the old town. It wasn’t too busy when we arrived and after having a mini heart attack at the eye-watering prices (not the place to come for those on a budget) we ordered a champagne fondue (the champagne is mixed into the cheese, not served separately) and a raclette with accompaniments. We also opted for some local wine by a half carafe. The fondue was sublime and easily the best one I have ever had. The raclette however was a congealed piece of previously melted cheese with a couple of potatoes and was highly disappointing. When the bill arrived at more than €120 for effectively some cheese and wine I did question whether the amazing fondue had in fact been worth that price. My decision – probably not.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the gorgeous old town of the city. One of the must see sights and thankfully free was the Basel Minster. Always a safe bet in pretty much every European city, the cathedral was set atop a steep hill in the centre of the old town. It was a bit of a mission to get there, especially given Leigh had recently damaged her knees in an airport dash, but it was worth it. They were starting to set up the Christmas market in the area around the Cathedral and the old gothic structure, unusually in red brick provided an excellent backdrop. You can climb to the top for great views of the city but given the knees we wandered around inside checking out the gorgeous windows and intricate arches. Definitely a must-see for those visiting the city. Afterwards we wandered back through the old town and checking out the town hall (Rathaus) and sampling some of the local wines at a much cheaper price than lunch. We made our way down to the river that splits the old and new town of the city and wandered along before meandering back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
With only 2 days in a city, scouting some of the best bars in advance is important and our hotel was situated right next to the highest bar in Switzerland (or at least in the tallest building) – Bar Rouge. We had made a reservation which is definitely advisable unless you want to wait for a table and settled in to some fantastic cocktails and views out over the whole city. Basel is quite industrial and is by no means the prettiest of European cities but with the river and old town, as well as the sprawling urban new town it is pretty large and gives you an idea of the scale. The cocktails were also great, despite the yet again high price tag. Although, these were worth it for the quality and fab views. After a couple of pricey drinks we headed off in search of value we took the recommendation of the hotel concierge and decided to check out Altes Warteck right across from the hotel for a ‘local Swiss’ meal. I opted for the pork escalope with a mushroom cream sauce and homemade spätzle (a sort of pasta type accompaniment). It was delicious, hearty and a lot better value, albeit still around £25 for a traditional main with wine. Switzerland is not really the place for those on a budget.
We finished the night in a nearby wine bar called Consum. We sat at the bar and ordered a few different local wines by the glass. This is one of my favourite things about travelling as most countries don’t export much of the local wine produce, so it really can only be found locally. The bar was amazing and also served a variety of cheese and charcuterie. This would be a great dinner option for those looking for a lighter meal and would probably work out cheaper than a full main meal. After sampling much of the wine list we stumbled back to our hotel where Basel FC were staying along-side a number of tennis pros to enjoy some more wine and espresso martinis before bed. A pretty excellent day really.