Moby in Switzerland
Paul, who I met in Australia, was posted to Basel, so I went to visit him for a weekend. We hired a convertible Mercedes and drove round Switzerland with the top down, Moby blaring, and Paul shouting ‘Nice arse’, at assorted astonished young men, as we shot by.
German speaking Basel is Switzerland's third largest city (after Zurich and Geneva) and unexpectedly interesting. I thought it would be like Zurich - full of banks and gnomes, but it turns out to be Switzerland's cultural capital, with 40 odd museums and the country's oldest university. There's the Rhine, washing through the centre and crossed by turreted bridges. It has a medieval Old Town, centred around Marktplatz, You can't miss the sixteenth-century, red-sandstone Town Hall, with its amazing frescoes. The twelfth-century Gothic cathedral contains the tomb of Dutch scholar, Erasmus. And there are modern sculptures enlivening the office buildings.
Around Switzerland - The Bernese Oberland
Switzerland is beautiful, the mountain air chilly and invigorating, and the weather unpredictable. We loop south from Basel, past Berne. Switzerland doesn't officially have a capital, but Berne is usually considered to take that title. The Federal Assmebly meets there. Towards Interlaken. There are stunning views across teal blue Lake Thun. Schloss Spiez is beautifully located on its shores. It's a good place to stop for refreshment.
Now we are in traditional resort land, the mountainous Bernese Oberland region, of central Switzerland. Old timber houses, swathes of emerald green in the alpine meadows. This is where the tourists come to hike and ski. On the far side of Interlaken - The Brennersee. The town sits nicely between them - that's how it got its name.
Meandering south (and up) The Eiger, the Wetterhorn and the Jungfrau mountains all make distinctive cameo appearances. The velvety curving valleys are sprinkled with wooden steep roofed chalets and dappled cattle, just like the Milka adverts. The Murrenbachfall, at 417 metres, is the tallest waterfall in the country.
Back east and north to Lucerne. It's popular with tourists - it's charming and situated on another gorgeous lake - so is usually busy, but today, there is a festival on. The bars are uncomfortably rammed and the famous wooden bridges, over the River Reuss, are solid with people, bikes and balloons. The most famous bridge is The Chapel Bridge. It's named after the nearby St. Peter's Chapel and is covered, with interior paintings dating back to the 17th century. It is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe. The little boutiques, just as you would have expected, offer cuckoo clocks, chocolate and hats with feathers in them.
Time for a saunter in Zug. This is an especially delightful little town. It's really colourful, with yet another historic centre, windy streets and the gorgeous Landsgemeindeplatz, the main square on the lake, of the same name. This town dates back to the early 13th century and the Counts of Kyburg. There's an ornate tower gateway in the walls, an astronomical timepiece, a late gothic town hall and St. Oswald’s church, with a stripy patterned roof. Not to mention the carefully manicured beach, or the casino.
The views across the Alps and lake are of course, stunning. And the town's website boasts that it has the world’s most beautiful sunset.
Back to Basel
And back to Basel. Very satisfying, and completed with Swiss efficiency.
Read more about Switzerland here.