Five beautiful Swiss villages located less than an hour from Basel

Live in or around Basel and want to get away but don't have too much time? These five beautiful villages are less than an hour away, making them perfect for a day trip.

The Swiss village Saint-Saint-Ursanne (JU). Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”
The Swiss village Saint-Saint-Ursanne (JU). Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

Just a few kilometres from the cultural capital of Switzerland, there are little gems to be discovered any time of year. 

These five villages have been selected by “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse” (The most beautiful Villages in Switzerland), an organisation which aims to protect and promote those villages and small towns that have a distinct architectural, landscape and historical beauty.

Whether you seek to discover them in just one day or combine them together, a pleasant journey awaits you!

Don’t live near Basel? Check out the following links for more beautiful Swiss villages. 

Five beautiful Swiss villages located less than an hour from Zurich

Six beautiful Swiss villages located near the Austrian border

Aarburg (AG)

On the banks of the river Aare, in the midlands, majestic Aarburg Castle can be seen perched on a rocky spur. This old medieval town lies at an important Swiss crossroads.

On either side of the castle are two historic quarters with different atmospheres and designs. On one side, in the shape of a triangle, the narrow old town with its colourful houses forms a picturesque ensemble around the elegant fountain. Next to the town hall, a local history museum tells of the exciting history of this incredible town and Its famous visitors.

Must see: the banks of the river Aare and the majestic castle.

The Swiss village Aarburg. Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

The Swiss village Aarburg. Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

Büren an der Aare (BE)

The former trading town on the river Aare is a little-known gem with a magnificent old bridge and one of the most beautiful mills in Switzerland. Büren delights visitors who stroll along the banks and explore the old town, which consists of typical Bernese houses from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The small, characterful town with its compact, triangular centre is on the list of national heritage sites and offers a variety of attractions. The first of these is the Hauptgasse with its arcades, fountains and the town hall with its beautiful Gothic façade. The many historic buildings stand out for their variety of colours and ornate signs. 

Must see: The banks of the river Aare showcase the typical Bernese houses.

The Swiss village Büren an der Aare (BE). Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

The Swiss village Büren an der Aare (BE). Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

Porrentruy (JU)

The fairytale castle dominates every corner of the town, which is the cultural centre par excellence of the canton of Jura. The stained glass windows of its churches are among the most impressive in Europe.

With its elliptical shape, the historic core of Porrentruy has been wonderfully preserved and forms a quite exceptional unified architectural heritage.

The Grand-Rue is made up of bourgeois, Gothic, Baroque and neoclassical houses; not to mention the countless monumental fountains, famous residences and free-standing buildings. 

Must see: The fairytale castle and the Grand-Rue.

The Swiss village Porrentruy (JU). Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

The Swiss village Porrentruy (JU). Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

Saint-Ursanne (JU)

The best-preserved medieval village in Switzerland invites you to discover its ancient monuments: the collegiate church with its cloister, the Hermitage of Saint-Ursanne and the bridge over the Doubs River.

The centre of the village is reached through three fortified gates. Its treasures are therefore well guarded: a collegiate church with a magnificent cloister and small houses with colourful shutters huddled together.

But also charming fountains, a medieval garden, four small rustic and friendly hotels and completely repaved alleys that immerse the visitor in another time.

Must see: The beautiful ancient bridge, the lovely cloister (see featured image above).

Luthern (LU)

In one of the greenest valleys in the canton of Lucerne, far away from traffic and noise, this rural village exudes serenity. Luthern invites you to experience the surroundings on foot or by bike.

The attractive village is a model of pastoral harmony and poetry. Located in the midst of a spiritual landscape in central Switzerland, it has also been a place of pilgrimage since a miraculous spring was discovered in the nearby hamlet of Luthern Bad.

This village is the starting point for many walks through the pastures where the dairy cows produce the famous Emmental cheese.

Must see: The old wooden houses and the many beautiful small chapels.

The Swiss village Luthern (LU). Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

The Swiss village Luthern (LU). Photo: Association “Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse”

All of these villages and many more feature in the Les plus beaux Villages de Suisse free app available in English for iOS and Android. 


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EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

Borders within Europe's Schengen area are meant to be open but several countries have checks in place but are they legal and will they be forced to scrap them? Claudia Delpero explains the history and what's at stake.

EXPLAINED: Which Schengen area countries have border controls in place and why?

The European Court of Justice has recently said that checks introduced by Austria at the borders with Hungary and Slovenia during the refugee crisis of 2015 may not be compatible with EU law.

Austria has broken the rules of the Schengen area, where people can travel freely, by extending temporary controls beyond 6 months without a new “serious threat”.

But Austria is not the only European country having restored internal border checks for more than six months.

Which countries have controls in place and what does the EU Court decision mean for them? 

When can EU countries re-introduce border checks?

The Schengen area, taken from the name of the Luxembourgish town where the convention abolishing EU internal border controls was signed, includes 26 states: the EU countries except for Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members.

The Schengen Borders Code sets the rules on when border controls are permitted. It says that checks can be temporarily restored where there is a “serious threat to public policy or internal security”, from the organisation of a major sport event to a terrorist attack such as those seen in Paris in November 2015.

However, these checks should be a “last resort” measure, should be limited to the period “strictly necessary” to respond to the threat and not last more than 6 months.

In exceptional circumstances, if the functioning of the entire Schengen area is at risk, EU governments can recommend that one or more countries reintroduce internal border controls for a maximum of two years. The state concerned can then continue to impose checks for another six months if a new threat emerges. 

Which countries keep border checks in place?

Countries reintroducing border controls have to notify the European Commission and other member states providing a reason for their decision. 

Based on the list of notifications, these countries currently have controls in place at least at some of their borders: 

Norway – until 11 November 2022 at ferry connections with Denmark, Germany and Sweden. These measures have been in place since 2015 due to terrorist threats or the arrival of people seeking international protection and have sometimes extended to all borders.

Austria – until November 2022 11th, since 2015, at land borders with Hungary and with Slovenia due to risks related to terrorism and organised crime and “the situation at the external EU borders”. 

Germany – until November 11th 2022, since November 12th 2021, at the land border with Austria “due to the situation at the external EU borders”.

Sweden – until November 11th 2022, since 2017, can concern all borders due to terrorist and public security threats and “shortcomings” at the EU external borders. 

Denmark – until November 11th 2022, since 2016, can concern all internal borders due to terrorist and organised criminality threats or migration.

France – until October 31st 2022 since 2015, due to terrorist threats and other events, including, since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Estonia – until May 21st 2022, from April 22nd 2022, at the border with Latvia “to facilitate the entry and reception of people arriving from Ukraine”.

Norway, Austria, Germany and France also said they are operating checks on non-EU citizens. 

Can Schengen rules survive?

Despite the exceptional nature of these measures, there have been continuous disruptions to the free movement of people in the Schengen area in the past 15 years. 

Since 2006, there have been 332 notifications of border controls among Schengen countries, with increasing frequency from 2015. In addition, 17 countries unilaterally restored border controls at the start of the pandemic. 

In December 2021, the Commission proposed to reform the system to ensure that border controls remain an exception rather than becoming the norm. 

According to the proposals, countries should consider alternatives to border controls, such as police cooperation and targeted checks in border regions. 

When controls are restored, governments should take measures to limit their impacts on border areas, especially on the almost 1.7 million people who live in a Schengen state but work in another, and on the internal market, especially guaranteeing the transit of “essential” goods. 

Countries could also conclude bilateral agreements among themselves for the readmission of people crossing frontiers irregularly, the Commission suggested. 

If border controls have been in place for 6 months, any notification on their extension should include a risk assessment, and if restrictions are in place for 18 months, the Commission will have to evaluate their necessity. Temporary border controls should not exceed 2 years “unless for very specific circumstances,” the Commission added. 

At a press conference on April 27th, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the EU Court ruling about Austria is in line with these proposals.

“What the court says is that member states have to comply with the time limit that is in the current legislation. Of course we can propose another time limit in the legislation… and the court also says that it’s necessary for member states, if they would like to prolong [the border controls] to really do the risk assessment on whether it’s really necessary… and that’s exactly what’s in our proposal on the Schengen Border Code.”

Criticism from organisations representing migrants

It is now for the European Parliament and EU Council to discuss and adopt the new rules.

A group of migration organisations, including Caritas Europe, the Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) have raised concerns and called on the EU institutions to modify the Commission proposals.

In particular, they said, the “discretionary nature” of controls in border regions risk to “disproportionately target racialised communities” and “practically legitimise ethnic and racial profiling and expose people to institutional and police abuse.”

Research from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2021, the groups noted, shows that people from an ‘ethnic minority, Muslim, or not heterosexual’ are disproportionately affected by police stops.

The organisations also criticize the definition of people crossing borders irregularly as a threat and a new procedure to “transfer people apprehended… in the vicinity of the border area” to the authorities of the country where it is assumed they came from without any individual assessment. 

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.