Of snowy peaks and pristine valleys
NANDHINI SUNDAR tours Basel, and takes in the picturesque locales
PHOTO: SWITZERLAND TOURISM
Sparkling The rivers of Switzerland
Spot a Bollywood dance sequence amid snow-capped peaks and picturesque locales, and there is a high probability that it was shot in Switzerland with the Alps and its pristine valleys serving as backdrop. The Alps has so persistently drawn our showbiz like a magnet that there is now a restaurant named Bollywood on one of its peaks, the Jungfraujoch.
The city of Basel, North-west of Switzerland, with the river Rhine flowing through it, is very close to the borders of Germany and France. In fact, it is so strategically located that its proximity allows you to enjoy the sights of both France and Germany along with Switzerland. While the city of Basel is not very large, its narrow quaint alleys with old houses, some of which date as far back as the 1300s, and its scenic yet busy market place continue to retain an old-world charm.
The city tram is a very popular means of transport besides the bicycle. Given the number of cyclists in the city, exclusive cycle stands exist, with some near the city railway station accommodating more than 2,000 bicycles. If you care to get your walking shoes out, you could cover half the city by foot without too much effort.
The magnificent Alps can be reached in a little over an hour’s drive from Basel. While Lucerne is a popular destination to view the peaks, we decided to go to Beatenbucht from where the cable car took us to Niederhorn peak. Going uphill initially by train and then by cable car, we had a fabulous view of the valley below and the Thun lake. The snow-capped peak of Neiderhorn offers a panoramic view of the beautiful summit of the Bernese Alps, the Thun and the picture perfect valley around it.
Close to Beatenbucht are the St. Beatushoehlen caves where St Beatus is said to have resided. The caves are spectacular with their unique limestone formations. The water gushing through is so crystal clear that in some places, where it is absolutely still, it seems like a mirror.
To see more stunning views, we took a boat ride from Lucerne. The ride offers a fantastic feel of the countryside nesting against the backdrop of the hills.
Close to Basel is the low mountain range of Black Forest, in Germany.
The mountain range acquires its name because of its thick vegetation that allows very little light to penetrate. Famous for its Cuckoo clocks and Black Forest cake, this sleepy little town is stunning with its hills and tall Christmas trees lining them. As for the cake, it is so creamy and delicious that it is hard to stop with one. Even the best Black Forest cake whipped up elsewhere, sinful as it is, can bear no comparison to it.
Here, situated in the village of Gutach is the heritage museum, Vogtsbauernhof, where the houses of farmers, weavers, blacksmiths and carpenters and the like, dating back to 400 years are located, giving a good idea of the life they led. These lived-in houses were relocated to the museum from their original location. Inside the houses are displayed furniture, household items and work tools as they used to exist. Even the barns and cowsheds come alive with live animals. A visit to Black Forest is incomplete without tasting Landjaeger, the smoked sausage. However, you need to acquire a taste for it; else, try other options, such as smoked ham.
A bit of world war history awaits you on the French side. Vieil Armand, which is a memorial for soldiers killed during World War I, preserves the scene of Trench Warfare, fought between German and French troops to capture the peak, Hartmannswillerkopf. Walking through the hills, you can spot trenches dug by troops and mentally recreate the bitter weather in which they braved bullets, with barely enough food.
The bunkers and trenches are small, with little space for manoeuvrability. Some have such narrow openings that you need to be careful to not bump your head against the iron rod. I had the misfortune of doing so. Some bunkers have tunnels going in, and these can be quite scary if you let your imagination run riot and visualise dead soldiers trapped within.
While the nightlife may not be spectacular in the city of Basel, walking along the river Rhine and stopping by for a bite at any of the numerous eateries lining its banks can be rejuvenating. The Botanical gardens situated in the city are again worth a visit, their sprawling gardens serving as a wonderful walk and a great place for children to indulge in.
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