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Interesting town near Swiss/German border

My wife and I are returning to France in September of 2020 and will be staying for a bit in Colmar. My wife has been interested for several years now in visiting Switzerland and I'm wondering if there is something interesting near the German border. We could either visit something in that area as a day trip from Colmar, or actually stay there a couple of nights if it were an interesting town.

Our primary interest in our travels so far has been cathedrals, castles, old town city centers, and ruins. We have no particular interest in shopping, unless it might be in some of the small touristy shops carrying locally produced items. No museums. I'm not sure what exactly is attracting my wife to Switzerland as I've never actually researched it. I'm personally a bit dubious that this is actually something we should put on the agenda, but I'm prepared to be convinced otherwise.

Our next stop from whatever is suitable in Switzerland will likely be Heidelburg. We MUCH prefer traveling by train.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Talk to me like I'm 4 years old and it will help :)

Posted by
2718 posts

If you and your wife sit down together and look at a guidebook, images online or websites such as myswitzerland.com maybe you’ll see some ideas of what she is wanting to see.

If it’s lush green pastures, cows, colorful flower bedecked towns and alps in the distance let us know and we can recommend some area between Colmar and mid Switzerland.

If it’s alpine meadows, cows, timber and flowered villages with soaring alpine peaks right outside the balcony we can recommend some of those too.

If it’s lakes, beautiful towns or villages and alpine views in the distance those can be reached too.

All of these possibilities speak to me of Switzerland. They range from 2-3.5 hours away by train from Colmar. These are the images I carry of Switzerland in my head and go back every chance I can.

Posted by
3611 posts

Hi BJ, we love traveling by train, too. As Mona mentioned, there’s a lot of beauty in Switzerland which also comes at a higher price. But, let us know what activities you’re wanting there.

From your earlier description of your primary interests in France, I’m going to attach the link to my recent trip report since we don’t know the rest of your itinerary. If you haven’t been to Angers, Le Mans, etc. your interests were describing exactly what I enjoyed so much in those towns!
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/our-combined-solo-couple-vacation-in-france-2019

Posted by
6206 posts

Basel is a nice Swiss city that is easy doable as a day trip from Colmar by train or as a stop over for a night between Colmar and Heidelberg. It does not have the classic mountain views most expect from Switzerland but it has a nice old town and cathedral. And, if you spend a couple of nights in Basel you could do a day trip to Lucerne for those mountain views. In fact, if you want to go a little farther into Switzerland Lucerne is only a little over 2 hrs on the train from Colmar.

Posted by
15701 posts

If it is just a bucket list item to say you've been to Switzerland, there are hourly trains (or more frequent in the morning) to Basel. It only takes 45 minutes and has "cathedrals, old town city center".

Posted by
602 posts

Colmar to Basel is really easy as noted, and easy enough to get back to Heidelberg. Colmar to Lucerne will take up half a day. If you take the Lake steamer to the south end of the Lake of Lucerne you are in the Alps, and can catch a train back to the city afterwards. Two nights in Lucerne with a day around the lake would be very different from Colmar or Heidelberg.

Posted by
31185 posts

If you're able to work a few days in Lucerne into your Itinerary, that would be a great place to spend a few days. While there you could take the trip by boat and cable car to Mount Pilatus or perhaps even visit the Lauterbrunnen Valley for incredible scenery.

Posted by
4739 posts

Below is a paste of an old post of mine. It envisions car travel, but I think it must be possible to get to the Vitra Design Museum by (international!) taxi from Basel, because it is so very close. Even with good German public transportation, when you say "town" I think you mean the kind of place I went by car.

-The Rheinfall just is not a must-see. Stein am Rhein is touristy but fun, good local food. Farther West, Augusta Raurica is an excellent, substantial Roman site in good weather. Then you have Basel musuems for bad weather and the important but often overlooked Vitra Design Museum (and real architecture) just minutes over the border in Weil Am Rhein Germany. Aarau old-town section is not unique but to my mind, better than the Rheinfall, and fewer American tourists. Much easier with a car. In this area, Lucerne and the lake and mountains are higher priority, if you can afford them.

Note also the important chapel by Le Courbusier in Ronchamp, France, if modern architecture is important to you. An art and industrial design fanatic could make a full day of the Vitra Campus, if you arrange it far enough in advance to avoid weekly closings, and to book the sold-out longer tour. But it depends on your interests. I really wanted to see Zaha Hadid's first constructed building (which is not a screaming functional success, and is no longer an operating fire station.) Augusta Raurica could be a full half-day if the nearby restaurants are open, and you find economical transportation on a clear, attractive weather day.

My old post doesn't make clear that the Fondation Beyeler modern art museum is very much at the Rhine "end" of Basel, and thus closer to the Vitra museum, which is rurally located. All my suggestions require substantial amounts of level walking.

Posted by
24641 posts

A fun experience, but miles different from the "Swiss" stereotype, just down the German border from Basel is the twin towns of Rheinfelden. One town in Germany and one in Switzerland, each with a station, both on a line from Basel. Big landmark - the brewery. Very nearby is a salt water spa, and the Roman village.