Nestled neatly in the nook between France and Germany, the city of Basel is a brilliant place for budding explorers. An exciting settlement that straddles the mighty Rhine, which pays homage to old town traditions and courts contemporary design, it’s a fantastic spot to do some top quality sightseeing. But with all those borders beckoning, it would be a terrible shame to just stick to the city’s streets, so fire up the motor and make the most of your time in one of Switzerland’s most outstanding regions.
Huddled between the wooded walls of the Ergolztal Valley, the town of Sissach is a wonderful example of somewhere that has truly embraced its natural assets. While its past in the silk trade may have placed it on the map, a mid-19th century boom brought its charms to the fore, and it flourishes today as a settlement full of energy and attractive prospects for both locals and tourists.
Hikers are naturally drawn to the forested walks offered by the immense chalk cliffs of the titular Sissacher Flue mountain and are rewarded for their efforts with views that extend to the Alps on clear days. Stately homes, such as the astounding Schloss Ebenrain, serve to entice history buffs but delight newcomers who enter when events and exhibitions are in residence, too. Top notch shopping and dining opportunities are available in the classy art nouveau stylings of the Cheesmeyer, while the Henkermuseum — the first and only establishment of its type in the country — gives a truly terrifying, yet intriguing, insight into the more gruesome side of historical crime and punishment in the country.
A short hop across the French border will bring you to Mulhouse, sometimes dubbed the “Manchester of France.” An ancient town of the Alsace region, this popular settlement has a lengthy industrial history. These days, it’s better known for its diverse mix of districts and fantastic variety of museums, while old-school markets and classic Gallic gastronomy also are close at hand.
Head a little further into France and you’ll soon come face to face with one of the country’s mightiest, yet often overlooked, sights: the Lion of Belfort. Sitting directly underneath the Citadel, this gargantuan beast, crafted in red sandstone, was created by Frédéric Bartholdi, the same man who sculpted the Statue of Liberty. It’s a symbol of astounding bravery and strength and a remarkable feat to behold.
To be within a stone’s throw of Switzerland’s magnificent capital and not visit would be to do yourself a disservice. Bern offers escapism by the bucketload. The cobbled streets, rattling trams and rising spires, along with a sea of red-roofed dwellings, make you feel like you’ve somehow stepped into a storybook — a sense that’s only elevated in winter when snow falls.
Though you’ll have plenty to see and do, you might want to start by going on a bear hunt and counting the numerous symbols of the animal that exist around the city. End your tour at the Bear Pit and Park, a performance and retail space that also is home to three real-life teddies down on the banks of the River Aar. If you’re travelling with unruly children, pay a visit to the famous Kindilfresser — a statue depicting a rather terrifying child-eating ogre — to persuade the little ones that behaving themselves for the rest of the day might be a good idea.
With the Black Forest practically on Basel’s doorstep, it’s a no-brainer for locals to head east when in need of fresh air. The Wutach Gorge might be one of the Schwarzwald’s most outstanding areas. It was shielded from human influence to such a great degree that it’s still possible to see where ancient ice carved through multicoloured rock faces.
Calm streams turn into wild rapids that flow into canyons, forming beautiful waterfalls. Luscious green foliage and primeval trees make your neck ache from gazing at their canopies. This mesmerising fragment of an immense forest has inspired many writers to set their famous stories in it.
This serene little commune overlooking the ever-gorgeous Lake Garda is renowned for the ambient golden light which emanates from its streets at sunset. Local legend put its mesmerising glow down to the presence of not one, but three suns which shine down on the village, and if the thought of all that Vitamin D isn’t enough to tempt you into a trip we simply don’t know what will.
Perhaps the fact that Saint Saphorin is also home to steep and sweeping 800 year old terraced vineyards, which produce some of the finest hard-to-get-hold-of wines in the world, will sway you. What’s more, it’s a wonderful jumping off point from which to explore the rest of the peaceful Lavaux district – Switzerland’s very own wine route – where tipples that rarely make it outside of their own postcode can be quaffed while dipping your toes in the cooling fresh waters.