Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Basel's Hidden Gem



If you follow our updates on Twitter then you might have seen yesterday’s tweet concerning Basel’s Fasnacht celebration. This ancient three-day masked carnival takes place in Basel, Switzerland, on the Monday following Mardi Gras. It’s a unique celebration for many reasons including the fact that Basel isn’t typically recognized for letting it all hang out. In fact, the normal stereotype among many Swiss people that I’ve met is that people from Basel represent a very reserved and serious crowd. Likewise, some tourist itineraries don’t even mention Basel for much of anything except pharmaceutical manufacturing and commerce.

While it’s true that Basel’s architecture might not compare with a UNESCO World Heritage Site such as Bern, nor would its industrialized Rhine River appear as charming as the bubbling streams that tumble down from the high Alps, Basel does possess a few hidden gems for the traveler willing to seek them out. These treasures include great museums, a fine art collection, and some delicious food.

One of my favorite stops for eating is the GASTHOF Zum Goldenen STERNEN, a delightful little restaurant situated in a quiet, medieval corner of Basel called St. Alban. Saint Alban served as the heart of printing and paper manufacture during the fifteenth century, and a huge water powered press still makes paper today the way it did almost 600 years ago.

The GASTHOF Zum Goldenen STERNEN represents Basel’s oldest surviving inn and began serving food and drink to weary travelers back in 1412. While the restaurant predates the birth of Christopher Columbus, its menu offers inspired contemporary cuisine. They feature traditional items and Mediterranean dishes, but their strong point, in my opinion, is their commitment to cooking seasonally and as locally as possible. The number of local fruits, vegetables, and meats on offer impressed me during a recent visit. I’ll admit, that I didn’t eat entirely locally; I had the rack of Valasian lamb with rosemary sauce on a bed of green lentils, potato gratin and seasonal vegetables, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the pumpkin soup. The valrhona chocolate mousse, perfumed with tonka bean and garnished with compote of citrus fruit, also offered a nice finish to the meal.

The restaurant also offers a number of desirable seating arrangements. I recommend the terrace overlooking the river on a sunny day, but the guild rooms offer a nice place to settle in during a rainy afternoon.

For added pleasure, take a walk through historic St. Alban following lunch or dinner, and then grab a ride across the river on the Wilde Maa cable ferry. This ferry services St. Alban, and it’s one of the many non-motorized ferries that continue to carry passengers across the river the way they did centuries ago.

A number of our guests pass through Basel on their way into France and Germany because the city’s position on the border with both countries offers a convenient staging point. Travelers can hop the TGV to Paris, or jump into the Black Forest of Germany, home of the infamous cuckoo clock. For those with enough time to eat in Basel, the GASTHOF Zum Goldenen STERNEN offers a great place to grab a good meal.

Their website:
www.sternen-basel.ch

Bottom photo: A typical alley way in Basel, Switzerland-Chris P.

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