From furniture to food to ferries — a few things to check out in Basel.
ART CLASS: Art has always been big in Basel, given the city’s strategic location on the River Rhine bordering France and Germany and the plutocratic patrons who made billions in chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The yearly Art Basel fair draws thousands, but the recent closure of the public Kunstmuseum for a lavish renovation and extension will put even more focus on the beautiful Fondation Beyeler, a private collection in a leafy suburb.
Links between the two have just grown closer than ever: among the highlights of the Beyeler’s stunning new Paul Gauguin show is the French artist’s “Nafea Faa Ipoipo” (which means “When will you marry?” in Tahitian), a typically colorful South Seas masterpiece formerly on long-term loan to the Kunstmuseum.
But after the show closes, the work will vanish from Basel’s walls, ostensibly because its private owners are unhappy about the Kunstmuseum’s lengthy facelift. It was widely reported in the art world that the masterpiece was in fact sold for a staggering $300 million to ultraacquisitive Qatar as another trophy asset.
4125 Riehen / Basel
Running through June 28
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, Wednesdays until 8 p.m.
IT’S ALWAYS CHRISTMAS: Almost as much an institution as the galleries, Johann Wanner has for three decades — and all year-round — been selling traditional handmade Christmas ornaments from his landmark shop in the heart of the old town. Originally into antiques, Wanner discovered glassblowing and Christmas decorations while on visits to remaining craftsmen in traditional manufacturing areas of eastern Germany, northern Poland and Bohemia. His dark, maroon and gold store is a treasure trove.
Wanner’s services include consultations on decorating Christmas trees, and for taking a break, he even owns a “Christmas Parlour” around the corner for coffee, tea and snacks or small-scale entertaining.
14 Spalenberg, 4051 Basel
Hours: Monday, 12:30 to 6:30 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.,
Saturday until 5 p.m.
EAT BY THE WATER: The Papiermühle is more of a café than a restaurant, set near the Rhine for relaxation after visiting the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art and the Paper Museum — from which it derives its name. Lunches are light, with daily specialties and a changing limited monthly menu based on fresh seasonal ingredients.
There are cakes and sandwiches in the afternoons and big brunches on Sundays. Dinner is served on Fridays only, with other nights often reserved for private or corporate entertaining.
Chef Appukuddy Sivalingam and his team even run to traditional Tamil meat and fish curries and vegetarian dishes from his native Sri Lanka on special occasions.
35 St. Alban-Tal, 4052 Basel
NO FRILLS: Furniture is not a Basel specialty, but Minimal is an exception. As his store’s name suggests, Stephan Wenger has made “less is more” his mantra. Simple but elegant craftsmanship is the overriding theme, with pieces — often designed by Wenger himself — stretching from cool functionality to tables made of old wood still sometimes bearing the traces of former owners. Much of the material is sourced from small, Swiss craft workshops.
9 Rosshofgasse, 4051 Basel
DON’T FORGET THE FERRYMAN: No trip to Basel would be complete without a ride across the Rhine on one of the city’s four traditional ferries — Wilde Maa, Leu, Vogel Gryff or Ueli. All four of the small, partly covered vessels, which cross the broad river at different points, work without motors, using the power of the strong river current and tethered cables as their main propulsion.
They’re not just a tourist attraction — although they do keep longer hours in the summer — but are popular among locals, too. The ferries are supported by a nonprofit association and each has its own dedicated ferryman. And it’s a bargain, too: a one-way trip across the river costs less than $2 per person.
Further information on locations, operating times and fares is on the Web site — though in German only.