Basel is justly celebrated for its museums – I lost count long ago, but I reckon there are at least 40 to choose from in and around the city. A handful are absolutely world-class: the Kunstmuseum in Basel (currently showing Chagall, until 21 January) and the Antikenmuseum just across the street, the Beyeler Foundation in Riehen (superb Klee exhibition, also until 21 January) or the Vitra Design Collection just across the border in Weil-am-Rhein (a celebration of the work of Ray and Charles Eames, until 25 February). Others are small and specialist – the toy museum in Riehen, the Pantheon classic car collection in Muttenz, or the Fire Brigade Museum in town.
Some are quirky/fun, like the Tinguely Museum on the Rhine; still others are quirky/terrifying, like the Anatomical Museum in Basel with its ghoulish collection of body parts pickled in formaldehyde. (My children had a love/hate relationship with this one when young, peering at the exhibits through splayed fingers, squealing in horror, moving smartly on – and then begging to come back another time.)
I love museums but I find them exhausting. They also give me a wicked appetite. Thus a key requirement for me – no surprise here – is that they have a decent café/restaurant. Most of the Basel ones have eateries attached, but not all eateries are equal. Here are some favourites, in case you’re planning a visit any time soon.
Beat Rubitschung, owner of trendy restaurant Rubino and wine bar Invino, has the concession at the Kunstmuseum’s bistro – a recommendation in itself. There are two spaces: one is long and narrow – in summer (and for occasional wine tastings) it spills out into the Kunstmuseum’s front courtyard, with a view of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. The other part is a bar, gleaming white with shiny black tables from where there’s access to a small garden. You can have breakfast here, or a mid-morning coffee and a sticky cake, or drinks and tapas in the evening. For lunch there’s a daily-changing menu and a series of daily specials (“if it’s Thursday, it must be Cordon Bleu…”), plus classic bistro dishes like soup and quiche. Wines are Rubitschung’s particular passion, and it shows in the selection of “unusual” and “affordable” wines. The former, definitely, the latter, hmmmm – maybe for Switzerland (from CHF8 for a 1 dl glass), but not by any other yardstick.
St. Alban-Graben 16
T: +41 61 271 55 22
Housed in a beautiful, white Baroque house with dove-grey shutters in the garden of the Beyeler Foundation, the restaurant looks out onto outdoor sculptures by Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly, with the restful Renzo Piano museum beyond. There’s the expected parade of soups, salads and a seasonal quiche but my vote (and that of many of our visitors) goes to their absolute best Wurst – which they claim is home-made – served with onion sauce, or diced veal (Geschnetzeltes) – both with the obligatory Rosti. Expect also the odd Kuchen or a Wähe, one of those classic Swiss fruit tarts. There’s a small selection of wines, which are even pricier than at the Kunstmuseum Bistro – CHF9.50 for a 1dl glass of Adrien Mathier’s Cuvée Mme Rosemarie rouge, ouch… (a bottle sells at ca. CHF23 at the winery in Salquenen/Valais).
Tel. +41 61 645 97 00
Fax +41 61 645 97 19
Over the years Vitra (at heart a furniture manufacturer) has become an architectural showcase, with buildings variously by Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Tadao Ando and a museum with, among other things, a world-famous chair collection. Right on the edge of the campus and visible from the road is the Vitrahaus, by Basel star architects Herzog and De Meuron, a gloriously quirky building like a series of boxes stacked up on one another with bits sticking out at crazy angles. It houses an exhibition of their design furniture, a terribly tempting gift shop and the café, a bright space with pale wooden tables, comfortable chairs (the place is a temple to chairs, remember?) and a huge terrace/deck outside for summer. Inside, the day’s specials are chalked up on the black wall and generally include a rich soup, some kind of salad (love their Nüssli/Feldsalat with bits of bacon and h-b egg), a pasta dish, a fishy offering and a meat dish. On the menu there’s smoky Black Forest ham and selected cheeses from my neighbour Bernard Antony in Alsace, both served with gorgeous German bread. Good local beer and a small selection of wines, all KM.0 from Weingut Schneider in Weil, ranging from €3 to €5.20 for a 1dl glass. Recently an Airstream aluminium mobile home parked itself outside, which supplies drinks and snacks, or hampers complete with food, drinks and all the weaponry required for picnicking at the Museum’s own site on the nearby Tüllinger Hügel, reached by walking along the Verner-Panton-Weg.
D-79576 Weil am Rhein
+49 (0)7621 702 3500