This was supposed to be a city-based holiday. We planned to explore Basel, Bern and Lucerne to check out the culture, art and history of these three Swiss cities. But somehow the lure of the countryside was too hard to resist. Our new-found love of walking led to us choosing a rather different day trip from Basel. Thanks to a little tip in the Lonely Planet guide to Switzerland, we could still get our culture fix but with the added treat of a walk through meadows and vineyards and a saunter into Germany. All thanks to a new walking route: 24 Stops Rehberger-Weg
What is the 24 Stops Rehberger-Weg?
Two countries, two municipalities and two cultural institutions led to the development of this 5km walking trail. It links the Fondation Beyeler, an art museum in Riehen, north of Basel, to the Vitra Campus, an architectural and design hub in Weil am Rhein, Germany. There are 24 waymarkers – 24 stops – art installations created by Tobias Rehberger. This cross-border path has been generously supported by Swatch, the Swiss watch company renowned for its links with contemporary art.
24 stops: colourful, creative waymarkers
On a normal walking route you might expect a wooden post pointing the direction or the odd painted stone. On the Rehberger-Weg there are 24 large, brightly-coloured waymarkers positioned at specific points along the route. The objects sometimes have a function or they can inspire and amuse. Whether you begin the walk in Germany or Switzerland, there is a large brass bell to start the route. Give it a ring and start walking.
The 24 waymarkers include a beehive, cuckoo clock and a weather house (changes in humidity cause one of two spheres to push out from the box). Have a drink at the fountain, make use of the rubbish bin or see if any birds are using the nesting boxes. Tobias Rehberger’s creations are bold and beautiful. Despite their cartoon-like appearance, they don’t spoil the surrounding landscape; instead they are playful and seek to enhance the experience of going for a walk.
If you’re starting in Switzerland the trail begins in pretty meadows before crossing the river Wiese. A short distance after, the border between Switzerland and Germany appears. There was no-one there to question us so we ambled casually through the checkpoint.
The path then takes you through a few residential streets in Weil am Rhein, before snaking upwards on a fairly gentle gradient, towards the vineyards. On a fine day the views over to Basel are excellent, so make use of the binoculars at the 18th stop to enjoy the panorama. We passed through some apple orchards before spying the stunning buildings of the Vitra Campus and the bell to mark the end of the walk.
We had downloaded the free 24 Stops app before we set off so we could read about each waymarker and listen to extra information about the route. The app, together with an engaging map you can pick up at each end of the route, made the experience stress-free and so enlightening. Dougie and I had a great time on the walk, following suggestions to hug trees and study the sky. I can only imagine how much fun this would be for families.
How do you get there?
There are full instructions on the website for public transport to both ends of the walking route. From Basel we took tram route 6 towards Riehen, stopping at ‘Fondation Beyeler’. We used the free BaselCard provided to all overnight guests which provided us with complimentary public transport. The card also allowed us to travel free on the tram (route 8) back to Basel from just outside the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein. There are also buses which you can use to do the same journeys to either starting point.
The Fondation Beyeler is a very smart place to begin or end an art-based trail. Former art dealers Hildy and Ernst Beyeler assembled their private, but now public, collection of contemporary art in a stunning building designed by Italian architect, Renzo Piano. We weren’t sure if we had enough time to explore the museum and still enjoy the full walk and the Vitra campus in Germany. I’m ashamed to admit, we decided to skip the gallery but made use of their toilet facilities before we headed off on the trail. I do hope they will forgive us and we promise to call in for a proper visit if we ever return to Basel.
The extraordinary buildings that make up the Vitra Campus are visible on the final part of the route. There’s no mistaking the angular lines and curves of Frank Gehry’s world-class Vitra Design Museum. Unfortunately the museum was closed temporarily in preparation for a new exhibition. This was a pity but not a huge problem as we had the rest of the extensive campus to explore.
We headed for the Vitrahaus, Vitra’s flagship store, designed by Basel architects, Herzog & de Meuron. The building is a glorious treat for the senses and the interior, with its collection of classic furniture plus new contemporary items, is a dazzling display of everything that is cool, stylish and utterly covetable.
Admire an original Eames lounge chair then order your own bespoke version and watch it being made in the Lounge Chair Atelier. Or, if like us, you’re not buying just at the moment, be inspired as you wander around the showrooms. The café here is well worth a visit: delicious food in chic surroundings.
If the design museum is closed, Vitra Schaudepot is an excellent alternative attraction. Housing over 7000 pieces of furniture, as well as the estates of several important designers, this storage facility also displays 400 key pieces of modern furniture. This is a superb way to learn more about the progression of design from Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Le Corbusier to the present day 3-D printing creations.
Earlier this year we came across furniture created by Finnish designer Alvar Aalto in the Hotel Ylläshumina in Lapland. We were intrigued to see his original 1932 Paimio Chair on display in Vitra. He had created it for a tuberculosis sanitorium in Finland. The chair, designed with the patients’ needs at the forefront, had been developed after Aalto experimented with shaping laminated wood. It was clearly revolutionary for its time.
If all this divine design has set your head spinning, Vitra also provides, rather bizarrely, a 30m helter-skelter. The Vitra Slide Tower, designed by Carsten Höller, is on a walkway between the VitraHaus and Zaha Hadid’s Fire Station (yes, another famous architect featured here). Dougie, big kid that he is, couldn’t resist having a go. There’s no one in charge and nothing to pay, but anyone wandering past can pick up a sack, climb to the top, and relive their childhood. Note for others: if you lie completely horizontally you will shoot down the slide like a missile.
A walk with a difference
Tackling the 24 stops Rehberger-Weg has to count as one of the most unusual but hugely enjoyable days we’ve spent on a city break. A wonderfully wacky walk through the countryside of Switzerland and Germany, two incredible art and design establishments at either end plus free transport there and back – this takes some beating.