I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Basel, having lived in Geneva for three years. There’s nothing wrong with Geneva, it’s pretty enough, and we had lots of lovely friends, but it is just a bit grey in all senses of the word – culture and architecture. So I am pleasantly surprised by how pretty Basel is, and absolutely stuffed with excellent art galleries.
The city centre still resembles a medieval town, with its winding alleyways, cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings and the magnificent Rathaus; the trams just add to its olde worlde charm. On Saturdays there are markets in all the squares which just add to the sense that you are in a time warp.
I am here to help husband Ross look for a flat as he starts his new role with Novartis, headquartered in Basel which, along with Roche, is one of the reasons this is now such a thriving hub. Don’t worry, this is not a separation although I will spend most of my time in London, writing my book and enjoying our newly renovated home, and Ross will return frequently, just as I will visit Basel and we will both go to our mountain apartment in the Valais during the ski season.
As our relocation agent Karin told us, Basel is discreet, old money in contrast to Geneva’s more nouveau aspirations. Wealth there is in abundance, but it is not flaunted.
We have an exhausting couple of days looking at potential apartments and are pleased to find that there are two potentials in a rather Bohemian and pretty area, reminiscent of Notting Hill before it got all gentrified. People are charming and helpful and my rusty German is trotted out to much acclaim. I even find I can understand Schweizerdeutsch, much to Karin’s amazement (well, get the gist of a conversation). We hope it is the clincher in the negotiations with our no 1 choice, but suspect that Karin, a former flight attendant, glamorous and blonde, is much more likely to make a good impression.
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from here – all cosmopolitan. The first night we eat in a Turkish place, not very authentic or good I’m afraid, so on the second night we treat ourselves to Donati, the Italian restaurant which is part of Trois Rois, the 5-star hotel which dominates the river bank in the old town. It is wonderfully old fashioned – I had forgotten the days when meals were ‘cooked’ at your table on flambee plates, and the appearance of the dessert trolley takes me right back to my childhood. On our third night we are invited to one of Ross’s colleagues lovely flat, complete with a grand piano among the beams in their converted attic. We realise we are not being very ambitious in our choices!
Sadly, the weather is rather grim the whole time: on Sunday it pours with rain all day, and our only sortie – to the Jewish Museum – turns out to be abortive as it is closed for Jewish holidays. I had forgotten how dreary Swiss Sundays are, with no shops or restaurants open. We resort to having a sandwich in the strive apartment! Escaping from the rain is a good excuse for doing some shopping (Perrier Jouet on offer in Bally) and immersing ourselves in the splendid Kunst Museum and its magnificent collection of modern art. We are bowled over by its new wing, a stunning angular edifice constructed from polished concrete, marble, steel and wood.
So now we just have to wait and see if we are lucky with the flat…and how our new 3 centre lifestyle pans out.