I’ve got a secret to tell you. Come close, come closer. Come even closer. Basel (or EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg to give its full name) airport isn’t in Switzerland. In fact it’s in Saint Louis, France, a town in the Alsace region – and a 20-minute bus ride takes visitors over the international border.
Disclaimer: My trip was supported by the Alsace tourism board (thank you!) but all random art theories are very much all my own!
My first impression of Saint Louis is a blur from the bus window – blue skies, trees, a touch of grey asphalt, the intrigue of red roofed buildings – but I knew that I was coming back to explore this area (a ‘commune’ which doesn’t have a) the English translation or b) an exact equivalent in England) after exploring Basel, so the disappointment of un-wandered streets didn’t wound me too much this time.
From what I saw in the summer sunshine, it’s a curious mix of modernity and historic architecture. I hopped off the tram fresh from Basel, and the main street was alive with locals shopping at the established fair.
I made the 5-minute journey by foot to my hotel La Villa K (more about that soon) before being checked in and swiftly dropping my bag off in a delighted frisson of 4-star luxury.
The Fernet-Branca Foundation was my next destination, barely a stroll from my home for the night.
The foundation of the distillery in Saint-Louis dates from the 22nd July 1907 in Basel when the constructors Broggi and Appiani filed a request for a construction site on behalf of the family Branca from Milan and the construction plans of the Italian architect G. Merlini with the mayor of Saint-Louis.
In 1909 the distillery starts to distil a bitter liqueur called “Fernet Branca” which is named after its inventor Dr Fernet, medical doctor and botanist, and Branca, the factory’s owner. Dr Fernet produced a powder which was turned into liqueur by Bernardino Branca. The basement was reserved for massive oak barrels, which are locally produced by the Strasburg-based cooper Rudolph Fruhinsholz for the liquor’s storage – the distillery produced 300,000 bottles annually.
Fast-forward over a hundred years, and the impressive building is home to a permanent selection of art, and temporary exhibits that tantalised the senses.
Each room houses a selection of artworks that had me enthralled for an age. One section focussed on impermanence; the concept embraces not only that which does not last, but also everything that is subject to perpetual change and featuring art by Lea Barbazanges, Celine Cleron, Marie Denis, Stephane Guiran and Philippe Leput; another section of rooms housed the works of David Nash, a British sculptor and drawer who lives since 1967 in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales.
Some things simply rise above the need for language…
….and other works left me pleasantly bamboozled.
Other spots that I wandered through included the national nature reserve of La Petite Camargue, streets with boulangeries closing their ovens in the late afternoon sunshine and a selection of bars filled with locals enjoying the last moments of their weekend. It turned my thoughts to that of home…
…but, first, there was the matter of a beautiful hotel suite to fully enjoy.
Are you a modern or traditional art fan (or perhaps neither)?