Commentary

Basel

Updated: May 15, 2008, 7:05 PM ET
By Nick Bidwell | Special to ESPN SportsTravel


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It's little wonder that this city on the Rhine has the honor of being Switzerland's premier venue for these championships, hosting all three of the host nation's first round games, a quarter and a semifinal.

Basel is, after all, genuine football territory, with the Swiss side always assured passionate backing at St. Jakob-Park and the local club FC Basel far and away the most popular in the country.

St. Jakob-Park, found in the south of the city, is nothing less than a gem. Designed by world-famous Basel architects Herzog and de Meuron and built over two years from 1999 to 2001, the 42,500-capacity ground known as the "Joggeli" is one of those intimate places where spectators feel right on top of the action and has a distinctive high-tech quality to it.

Like another Herzog and de Meuron creation, the Allianz Arena in Munich, the exterior facade can be illuminated in various color schemes: red and blue for FC Basel games; red with a white cross when Switzerland come to town.

Part of a sports and recreational complex, which also includes an athletics stadium, ice rink, equestrian center and indoor arena, St. Jakob-Park is easily reached from the city center. A mainline train will whisk you from the central railway station (SBB) to the St. Jakob station in just four minutes. Tram 14 (orange line) and bus 37 offer alternative connections. Buses will move swiftly and silently all day long for the duration of the tournament.

Tickets are bought from the automatic machines at every stop and cost 1.80 Swiss francs for a short trip and 8 francs for a day pass. Note there are three principal railway stations in Basel: the Swiss (SBB) station sits next door to the French (SNCF) at the end of Centralbahnstrasse, while trains coming from Germany arrive at a separate station (DB) north of the Rhine on Rienhenstrasse.

Switzerland's second-largest conurbation chose as its Euro 2008 slogan "Basel – More than 90 Minutes" and it could not be more accurate. A place with limitless passion for the game of soccer, it should rock throughout the month of June. Prepare yourself for some serious partying if the Swiss do progress to the latter stages.

The designated UEFA Fan Zones are to be found in the central Munsterplatz (Cathedral Square) – where there will be room for 10,000 people to watch games on a video wall – along the banks of the Rhine around the Mittleren Bridge (10,000 places), and at the Kaserne Arena (Barracks Arena – 15,000). The aforementioned bridge will make for a novel Euro 2008 vantage point. On each side of the bridge big screens are to be installed.

A Fan Boulevard featuring food and drink stands cuts through the city from the main SBB railway station along the following streets: Steninevorstadt, Streitgasse, Freie Strasse, Eisengasse, Greifengasse and Clarastrasse.

Generally speaking, the cooking is of the unpretentious Germanic variety. Platefuls of sausage, pork, schnitzel and tiny flour dumplings (Spatzle), washed down with a mug of the local brew – Warwick, Cardinal, Fischer or Unser. Liver with onions is another favourite, so is fish, particularly salmon.

The Fischerstube on Rheingasse is both an outstanding microbrewery and restaurant. There you will find great lagers and ales, copper tanks behind the bar, homemade pretzels, superb rump steak and sausage meatloaf (Fleischkase). Then there is Zum Schnabel, an atmospheric old inn in the pedestrianised zone at Trillengasslein, which is similarly unpretentious with excellent carnivorous fare.

Basel certainly has its share of sophisticated, high-end eateries dependent on expense-account customers, but don't despair. For those on a budget, value for money meals can be had in the cafeteria of the Migros or Coop department stores – both on Clarplatz – while there is a daily produce market on Marktplatz.

The main shopping district stretches along Freie Strasse and Gerbergasse. The biggest department store is the well-stocked Globus on Marktplatz.

For bar hopping try Barfusserplatz and Steinenvorstadt, south of Munsterplatz. The Brauner Mutz beer hall on Barfusserplatz packs them in on long wooden tables, while the Campari Bar behind the Basel Art Gallery is the place to go on warm, summer evenings.

Looking for a break from football-themed entertainment? Maybe a stroll around the Old Town and its 16th century buildings and cobblestone streets, or a visit to the city's 30 museums and galleries. Rock fans might be tempted to head out to nearby Pratteln and visit the Z7 concert venue, where there should be plenty of entertainment this summer.

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