Did you know that the Swiss city of Basel was the birthplace of the decorated Christmas tree? If you are looking for a lovely European city in which to soak up the Christmas atmosphere then Basel is a great option.
Since pagan times it has been traditional to honour the midwinter period and look forward to the return of the light with an evergreen tree. Thanks to Albert the Prince Consort this German custom has spread enthusiastically throughout the English-speaking world.
Basel really goes all out for Christmas display, in the best possible European taste of course. There are over 100 Christmas trees dotted across the city, including by the Rathaus or City Hall (a former Renaissance palace with a frescoed inner courtyard).
Begin your wandering among the ‘spice streets’ – narrow lanes such as Pfefergasslein and Imbergasslein that climb up the hill in the old town. In the middle ages this is where the spice shops were, now they are famous for the decorated houses at Christmastime.
Visit the Hoosesagg Museum or Pocket Museum – this was the original house of Basle’s first midwife, now the window contains monthly changing exhibitions. Often seasonal of course!
Then pass on into the area where the nobility of Basel used to live. There are many gorgeous boutiques in these streets, with bunches of mistletoe of another evergreen tied above the entrance door to bring good luck and long life.
On Spalenberg you will find the Johann Wanner Christmas shop (there is a temporary seasonal one in the heart of the old town where you can have tea and cakes), brilliantly displayed with the finest Christmas decorations with both traditional and new designs.
Affectionately referred to as ‘Mr Christmas’, this genial gentleman in an elegant waistcoat and gold watch chain is famous worldwide for providing Christmas tree decorations for royalty and the Pope.
Then cross the mighty Rhine River via the old bridge to the lower city and enjoy the riverside promenade with its cafes and views across to the splendid facades of the old university and the magnificent gothic-romanesque Munster cathedral. This is the final resting place of the great European Renaissance humanist, Erasmus.
You can also cross the river on an old fashioned wooden ferry – unpowered boats that are carried by the current and fixed to a wire.
Finally check out the illuminated shopping streets around Freiestrasse for any last minute gifts before retiring to the Christmas market on the Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz.
It is one of the largest and prettiest in Switzerland after all, with over 130 booths offering traditional food, drink and gifts!
By Natasha von Geldern