Basel Offers Three Countries in One

Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers .

Sample a pre-luncheon aperitif in this Swiss city, an Alsatian meal in France and a Black Forest dessert in West Germany. All in one day and without much effort.

Take tram No. 15 from Basel and you can get to France in 15 minutes. No. 6 gets you to Germany in 25 minutes, and you can be back in Basil at bedtime, preparing to sightsee the next day.

Tucked in the northwestern corner of Switzerland, Basel straddles the Rhine. Switzerland's second-largest city, it has been a merchant town since medieval days and the "Golden Gate" of most Swiss trade since 1471.

"Rome has but seven hills," locals say, "but Basel has a dozen." These berge (little mountains), the pastel-colored buildings and a rolling labyrinth of cobblestone streets give the city the look of a small town.

Yet Basel's major attraction is that it is an international crossroad, with three railway stations (Swiss, German, French) and a city airport on French soil.

To get here: Fly American, TWA or Pan Am to Zurich, also Balair through October, when Swissair begins nonstop Los Angeles-Zurich service. Best bet to Basel or to any destination in Switzerland is the Swiss Pass, providing rides on railways, buses, lake steamers and trams.

How long/how much? Take two days, perhaps another if you use it as a base for sojourns into France or Germany. Lodging is expensive, dining moderate and higher.

A few fast facts: The Swiss franc recently traded at about 1.5 to the dollar, 66 cents each. Visit late spring to fall. Pleasant weather is the summer norm. Trams charge 1.40 francs (about 88 cents U.S.) a ride, but a day-ticket or use your Swiss Pass.

Getting settled in: City Hotel (Henric Petri Strasse 12; $99 double B&B;) is in the center of the city and has a helpful and friendly staff. Contemporary rooms are small, with desk, TV and mini-bar. Baths are spotless, and antiques add charm to corridors.

Kraft am Rhein (Rheingasse 12; $80-$119 B&B; double) is in a wonderful site on the Rhine at the center of town. Take breakfast on a terrace overlooking the water and the cathedral in Old Town. There's a fine restaurant here, a tree-shaded walkway along the river and an espresso cafe next door.

Hotel Helvetia (Kuchengasse 13; $104-$107 double B&B;) is just a step from the main railway station, with a tiny lobby and contemporary bedrooms also a bit small. Old-fashioned bar and moderate-priced restaurant serves Italian and French dishes.

Regional food and drink: In addition to fondue, raclette and excellent veal dishes, locals go for schwartenmagen, which is bits of cured bacon or ham in aspic that is eaten as a first course with vinaigrette or as a snack with sturdy Swiss bread and beer.

Frische Kalbsleberli, calf's liver in a red sauce, is always served with rosti, the seductive Swiss pancake similar to hash-brown potatoes.

Swiss wines, particularly the Fendant whites and red Doles, are surprisingly good, although expensive. The Swiss favor their own nation's wines and the locals seem fond of Oeil de Perdrix, an elegant rose from the shores of Lake Geneva.

Good dining: Lowenzorn (Gemsberg 2) is a good spot for local dishes such as kalbsleberli mit rosti and schwartenmagen . Dine inside or in a flower-strewn, 16th-Century courtyard. Lowenzorn also is known for its steaks and chops, cooked to order on a courtyard grill.

Zum Brauner Mutz (Barfusserplatz 10) is another institution on the second floor above a beer hall in a stately old building. The Swiss call this kind of restaurant heimelig, a cozy and very homey place with no pretentions. The menu depends on local dishes and game in season.

Try the Bierfuhrmann Salat (beer wagon-driver's salad), a luncheon special of cheese, wurst, radish, gherkins and tomato. Or the kaninchen (rabbit) fillet with ratatouille and dauphinois potatoes.

Der Teufelhof (Leonhardsgraben 47) is a new and modern restaurant in an old building at the top of the hill in Old Town. Artists in residence decorate the kitchen with their work and others give evening concerts and theater performances.

You'll dine on Parma ham with melon, venison ragout with dumplings and fish soup with saffron. The menu and wine list are extensive and prices are high.

Going first-class: Hotel Drei Konige (Blumenrain 8; $165-$248 double) has been a part of Basel's history since 1026 when it opened as an inn. Kings from almost every European country have slept here, as well as Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire, Charles Dickens and Napoleon I.

Drei Konige is near the Rhine, and the public rooms and bedrooms are grand. The Napoleon suite has its own elevator and goes for $502 nightly.

The elegant dining room, with a terrace on the Rhine, offers a six-course menu for $60.

On your own: Combine a Rhine cruise with a trip to Augusta Raurica, Rome's oldest colony on the river, where a city flourished in the 2nd Century. Plan on at least two hours to see underground baths, forum, museum and a 4th Century Christian fortress-church and the amphitheater, where plays are performed during summer.

Basel's Kunstmuseum of fine art offers a huge collection of Hans and Ambrosius Holbein, plus Ryn Rembrandt, Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Durer, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Georges Braque and Amedeo Modigliani.

Walk through the streets of Old Town and stop in Confiserie Brandli (Barfusserplatz 20) for what locals agree are the best chocolates in town. Afterward, visit the shop of Johann Wanner (Spalenberg 14) for exquisite antique and hand-made Christmas ornaments.

For more information: Call the Swiss National Tourist Office at (415) 362-2260, or write to 260 Stockton St., San Francisco 94108, for a brochure on Basel with a city map, hotel and restaurant suggestions, plus a map of Switzerland and information on the Swiss Pass. Ask for the Basel package.

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