‘I discovered Europe’s hidden gem with 300 days of sunshine and nudist beaches’

As I sit soaking up the early evening sun on the banks of the Rhine, watching boats and bathers bob by, it dawns on me that I’ve discovered a hidden gem in the heart of Europe.

Basel is an unusual mix of urban cool and small town by the river, often bypassed by visitors heading for the alpine delights of the Matterhorn or the shopping of Geneva. And yet, among many other things, this Swiss city boasts of having 300 days of sunshine a year.

Sitting at the point where France, Germany and Switzerland meet, it’s the international HQ of big pharma Novartis and Roche. The latter’s iconic white building dominates the skyline and acts as a useful landmark, but it is also a city synonymous with art, great grub and a delightful predilection for leaping into water – whether it’s the river or one of the city’s fountains.

READ MORE: Brit family take Ryanair flight to Italy for pizza as it's 'cheaper than going to London'

READ MORE: Sun-drenched paradise with amazing beaches wants to pay you £26,000 to move there

As a keen outdoor swimmer, Basel is a city after my own heart, and after a guided walk of the old town, there’s no better way to end the day than to submerse yourself in the local pastime of a dip down the Rhine.

To truly blend in, you cannot enter the water empty-handed. An essential piece of kit is the Basel-designed Wickelfisch – literally meaning fish wrap. It is a floating bag that keeps your clothes and valuables dry while helping you keep your head above water, and as the name suggests, it’s shaped just like a fish.

We entered the water at the Einstieg Rhyschwimme beach opposite Museum Tinguely, meaning we faced a decent 1.2-mile swim to the Mittlere Brücke.

There’s a swimmer’s map on the shore marking the safe swim area with dippers advised to keep within the red buoys as the water is shared with large flat-bottomed barges going about their business.

Swimming isn’t even really all that necessary. The current is strong enough to take you all the way, and so some people prefer to rest their arms on their Wickelfisch and do next to nothing. I chose to secure it around my waist like a tow float, allowing me to swim or bob along at leisure.

We passed the first of four historic boats that ferry passengers across the river powered solely by the current; the imposing Gothic red brick of the Basler Münster (cathedral), as well as contemporary museums and apartments. From the water, you get a true insight into how the city has transformed over the years. And be warned – you’ll also get a rather surprising eyeful as you pass the nudist beach!

It can get busy late afternoon as office workers expertly pack their laptops and suits and opt to commute home in the water. I’d recommend an early morning dip (9am) when you’ll pretty much get the river to yourself.

It’s roughly a 45-minute trip, with concrete steps just before the bridge where you can climb out. Take note: if you see the Novartis Pavillon you’ve gone too far and you’ll hit the harbour.

Once on dry land, and with perfectly dry clothes, it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy an aperitif at one of the many buvettes (refreshment stalls) on the Kleinbasel side of the river. One tipple worth a try is a Basel version of an Aperol Spritz using a local liquor called Tscharly.

It’s clear that Basel residents like the water and will get their fix where they can, and with a city that boasts more than 300 fountains, swimming in them is not only permitted but actively encouraged. We pile into one outside the Kunstmuseum, home to 300,000 works of art including Rubens, Rembrandt, Picasso and Manet, as well as more modern exhibitions housed in the newer second building.

Our chosen fountain is an ornate structure shaped like a Homer Simpson doughnut which means you can actually swim round in circles. At its centre is a large sculpture resembling a tiered cake stand that you can sit in and pose for the inevitable Instagram snap. Dipping is pretty much allowed at any time, although anything after 11pm is frowned upon in the quieter neighbourhoods – as we discovered.

After a late-afternoon Rhine dip, followed by yet another quick fountain frolic en route back to our hotel, an evening at Matt & Elly is an absolute no-brainer. A local brewery and kitchen/restaurant, co-owners Denise Furter and her partner Jarin Huber expertly pair food with different craft beers. We opt for the surprise menu, where the chef does just that, dishing up a range of courses based on seasonal and local produce.

We started with a cucumber and cashew chilled soup with sweet potato and pickled mustard seeds, which was paired with a New England IPA. While my fellow diners tucked into a duck dish with cauliflower three ways, I was served what is possibly the best vegetarian dish I’ve ever eaten. A melt-in-the-mouth confit aubergine roasted in miso and served with smoked burrata.

We finished by sharing a delightful twist on a Snickers chocolate bar – using Swiss chocolate, obviously – and a selection of Swiss cheeses. All are expertly matched with varying ales. It was a delightfully relaxed evening and it’s a restaurant worth visiting Basel for in itself (matt-elly.com/en/ around £26 per person).

Switzerland has long been ­considered home to rich, suited and booted bankers but Basel is a beautifully relaxed city all about bathing, beer and buvettes, where the swimsuit is the outfit of choice.

Book the holiday

Get there: SWISS flies from Birmingham, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Heathrow, London City and Manchester to Zurich or Geneva from £54 one way. swiss.com

Stay there: Rooms at the Mövenpick hotel in Basel start at £242 a night B&B. movenpick.accor.com

You can also get more informaion at basel.com and myswitzerland.com.

Source: Read Full Article