BASEL, Switzerland -- It may not scream sun and fun like South
Beach or boast nightlife to rival London's, but this quiet Swiss
arts center on the Rhine has set its sights on becoming a gay
To that end, tourism officials here crafted a commissionable gay
vacation package as well as a discount-card program and are
devoting 12% of marketing funds annually to court gay and lesbian
Their goal might not be as out-of-character for supposedly
conservative Switzerland as it seems; cosmopolitan Basel -- the
country's oldest university town, smack on the French and German
frontiers -- prides itself on open borders and open minds, said
"We don't want to promote Basel as a 'gay city' like Amsterdam
or San Francisco," said Daniel Egloff, director of the local
tourism board, Basel Tourismus. "But many gay travelers are very
interested in culture, and therefore Basel is an ideal city for
Indeed, Basel, with a population of 170,000, is home to 30
museums within a mere 14 square miles -- the highest such
concentration among towns its size in Europe.
In addition, the city features a historical medieval core,
scores of excellent restaurants, plenty of shopping and a friendly
-- if small -- gay scene centered in the multicultural Kleinbasel
The traditional Swiss neutrality extends to matters of sexual
orientation, as well.
"In Basel, every visitor is welcome; we don't set apart gay
tourists from heterosexual ones," Egloff said.
Some specialists in gay travel said the time could be ripe for
Basel's efforts, as gay vacationers -- typically "dinks" (double
incomes, no kids) -- ponder whether to book umpteenth trips to
Paris or the Netherlands.
"Gay and lesbian travelers now want something off the beaten
path," said Thomas Roth, founding president and chief executive of
tour operator Gayjet and president of researcher Community
Marketing and agency-supplier consortium Travel Alternatives Group
(TAG), all in San Francisco.
"Basel provides a great side trip or alternative stay for gays
and lesbians who've been to Europe before, and our research
suggests most have," he said.
Basel -- served by three national railways and an airport it
shares with Mulhouse, France, and Freiburg, Germany -- is a quick
trip from many European cities as well a good base for day trips to
the rest of Switzerland, Germany's Black Forest or the French
region of Alsace.
Roth added that although the city's certainly not a "gay mecca,"
he's found its museums a pleasant surprise.
"The Fondation Beyeler is a real eye-opener," he said. "It's
worth a visit just to see it."
Arts and eats
The highlight of a trip to Basel for any visitor may indeed be a
stroll through the garden and galleries of the Beyeler, in the
nearby suburb of Riehen.
There, 200 works of "classic modernism" by a range of artists --
from Van Gogh and Monet to Warhol and Lichtenstein -- are displayed
in natural daylight (alongside 25 examples of tribal art) in a
trend-setting building that replaces a traditional roof with sheets
Other popular venues include the Museum Jean Tinguely, devoted
to mechanical art installations by Basel's most famous native-born
artist, and the Vitra Design Museum, in neighboring Weil am Rhein,
One collection of particular interest to gay visitors might be
the Cocteau Kabinett, a display of some 1,000 books, drawings,
ceramics and other items assembled by resident Max Madory, a fan of
pioneering gay novelist and artist Jean Cocteau.
The collection, housed in Madory's apartment, is open on
Saturdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; visitors can ask to view the 1947
first edition of Jean Genet's novel "Querelle of Brest,"
illustrated by Cocteau.
General sightseeing musts include the 12th century Munster
cathedral; the red-brick Town Hall on the Marktplatz, built in
1504; ferry rides across the Rhine; and strolls around the city's
oldest quarter near St. Andrew's Square, now home to a lively
Dining-wise, a number of establishments are popular with gay
Baselers, including Restaurant Kaserne + KaBar, Restaurant
Balthazar and Au Violon brasserie, which serves up French cuisine
in a former jail.
Specifically gay nightlife options are few -- clubs include
L'Opera and Dupf -- but clients shouldn't be sent to Basel for the
bars, as lively Zurich is an hour away by train.
The real deal
Built on elements of Basel's Weekend-Break 2002 short-stay
package targeted at all travelers -- with accommodations in a range
of two- to five-star hotels, breakfast and free public transport
from about $40 per night -- the Gay Life Package from Basel
Tourismus adds two discount perks -- a BaselCard (see sidebar
below) and the new Basel GayCard -- and starts at $54 per
The GayCard, available only with the package, affords discounts
of 10% to 15% at nine shops, a free drink at the Restaurant zur
Rebe and Bar Elle et Lui, and reduced cover charges at local
The 15 hotels participating in the Gay Life package, which pays
agents 10%, include the Basel Hilton, the Radisson SAS, the Merian
am Rhein and the new, 107-room Victoria am Bahnhof, located in the
city center next to the train station and a major tram stop.
Gayjet, which also can book the Gay Life package, offers its own
Swiss Basel Adventure plan with air fare on Swiss and
accommodations at either the Victoria, at $89 per person, double,
or the Swissotel, at $114.
The Swiss Basel Adventure package pays 12% to TAG member
agencies and 10% to others.
For more on gay travel to Basel, call Switzerland Tourism at
(212) 757-5944 or (310) 260-2421. Or, contact Basel Tourismus at
(011) 41-61 268-6868 or visit www.baseltourismus.ch.
GayCard pass just one of 4 visitor
BASEL, Switzerland -- In addition to the GayCard, tourism
officials here peddle three other discount visitor passes.
Basel is the first Swiss city to offer tourists unlimited public
transportation via a pilot Mobility Ticket program.
Provided to each hotel guest upon check-in, the ticket -- good
for travel on city trams and buses for the duration of a stay --
isn't free but is paid for by a daily $2 tax incorporated into
Meanwhile, the BaselCard offers free admission to 23 museums and
the zoo; free city tours and cross-Rhine ferry rides; discounts of
10% to 60% at discos, restaurants and shops; and reductions on
theater tickets and taxi rides.
The BaselCard is priced at about $17 for 24 hours, $22 for 48
hours and $30 for 72 hours; children's cards are half-price.
The city also takes part in a MuseumsPass program, which offers
free entrance to permanent collections and special exhibits at 150
museums in France, Germany and Switzerland, including 19 in
A short-term MuseumsPass, good for four days in a month, costs
about $20. -- K.K.